Bill Belichick is brilliant at football. Everyone knows that. But he has another gift, too, which has somehow gone unrecognized. The man is a parenting genius — a Snark Slayer.
His lessons for powerless parents have been there all along — all you have to do is watch his press conferences and imagine the reporters as teenage drama queens trying to push mom’s or dad’s buttons, and Belichick as parent.
He’s in control. He doesn’t give an inch or a damn. He deflects unwanted questions with ease — deploying a death stare, a disgusted exhale, or a long silence as appropriate.
Let’s look at one of the teen whisperer’s most famous parenting lessons, otherwise known as the “We’re on to Cincinnati” press conference of 2014 (which followed a blowout 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs).
Notice how he doesn’t get sucked in to the reporters’ urgent needs. How he’s not trying to be anyone’s friend. His limit-setting.
Reporter: How difficult is it to adjust to the adversity of Monday night’s game and get back on track?
Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati.
Reporter: You mentioned Tom Brady’s age at the draft —
Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati.
Reporter: Do you think having a 37-year-old —
Belichick: We’re on to Cincinnati. It’s nothing about the past, nothing about the future. Right now we’re preparing for Cincinnati.
And so on.
Like a lot of parents, I saw that press conference, and so many others, but sadly didn’t grasp its relevance to my life until earlier this month when my own children Belichicked me.
It was a few days before the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, when the hopes of an entire region were seemingly riding on a single hand. In an attempt to engage my sons on a topic of intense interest to them, I asked if they were worried about Tom Brady’s injury.
Belichick’s ‘dead-sharkeye stare is so perfect when they are being sassy and mouthy but you don’t want to blow up and lose your cool.’— Erin Clune, author
A look overtook their sweet faces — indignant, irritated, disgusted.
“We’re getting ready for Jacksonville,” they said, mini-Belichicks stonewalling their own mother.
I probably should have been upset about their veneration of a cranky figure known for tormenting the media, but as the mother of teenagers, I’ve got no time for professional pride or lofty maternal goals. I’m not playing the long game. I’m looking for help in the moment, and my boys gave it to me.
They woke me to the Belichick school of parenting.
It may be hard to see Belichick as Dr. Spock (Mr. Spock might be easier). But there is precedent for unrecognized talents emerging in the rough and tumble of a press conference. In the early 2000s, George W. Bush’s secretary of defense used the media as muse, in his case for poetry. A book was even made from his works, “Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld.”
Rumsfeld debuted what would become his best-known poem in a 2002 Department of Defense news briefing:
“As we know/ There are known knowns,” he told reporters. “There are things we know we know./ We also know/ There are known unknowns./ That is to say/ We know there are some things/ We do not know./ But there are also unknown unknowns,/ The ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Swap out the Boston and national sports media for the Washington press corps, and parenting for poetry, and you’ve got Belichick.
Consider some of Belichick’s best teachings, delivered not by an academic in a tweed jacket at some boring seminar, but by a bully in a short-sleeved hoodie running a press conference:
“Do your job.” “It is what it is.” “You sure that’s the question you want to ask?” “This is the end of this subject for me for a long time.”
With so many parents in need of guidance, I asked mom experts to watch the films — of press conferences, not games — and to analyze Belichick’s methods
Sherry Kuehl, author of the “Snarky in the Suburbs” books, isolated four classic Belichick plays and described how she used them to block an “unholy meltdown” by her 16-year-old daughter:
1. I didn’t respond to any questions or accusations she was lobbing at me.
2. When I finally did acknowledge a question I kept my answer monosyllabic and grimaced.
3. I also mumbled so my daughter would have to dial back her complaining about how her “life sucks” so she could hear me.
4. I acted very disinterested in the whole proceeding.
“All of this resulted in my daughter leaving me alone and seeking out the healing properties of Snapchat,” Kuehl e-mailed. “#belichickforthewin.”
Erin Clune, coauthor of “Sh*tty Mom for All Seasons: Half-@ssing It All Year Long,” noted that Belichick’s “dead-sharkeye stare is so perfect when they are being sassy and mouthy but you don’t want to blow up and lose your cool.”
Clune described an ideal scenario in which to pull a Belichick: “You’re working your butt off getting a taco dinner on the table and they waltz into the kitchen with 100 narcissistic questions. ‘Did you warm the tortillas?’ ‘Eww, did you put tomatoes in the guacamole?’ ”
You don’t hustle the tortillas into the stove, or pick out individual tomato chunks as if you were desperate for a good Yelp review, said Clune. “You continue to stare until they feel awkward and go set the table.”
As for me, I had an opportunity to put my new skills to work the morning after the Pats defeated the Jaguars. We were running late for school, which was already threatening my tightly choreographed schedule, when an emergency erupted. “Mom, I can’t find my Patriots jersey!” one of my sons called out.
The old me? I would have dropped everything I was doing — feeding the dog, stuffing work and gym clothes into my backpack, straightening up in case a criminal broke in so our house would look neat on the evening news.
Instead, I channeled my inner Belichick.
“I’m focused on yoga,” I said stone-faced (OK, I said this to myself quietly, and my son couldn’t see my expression, but it was a start, and I drew strength).
We’re on to Philadelphia!Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.