If you have spent any time online this week, you have likely seen at least one incredibly misleading headline about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and comments he made on a conference call. Unfortunately, the internet can be a place filed with misinformation, as seems to be the case here. I'm not sure if this is a case of an industry looking for an opportunity to make Microsoft look bad, or simply a case of not understanding the man's comments, but I'm here to try and clear up what happened.
During a post-game interview on Tuesday, Belichick was asked,
It was reported that there were some issues Sunday with the sideline technology like the headsets and tablets you use. Does that affect the number of plays you guys may be able to call and how does it affect any potential adjustments that you would make over the course of a game?
Belichick, a man who is not known to be long-winded, took over 5 minutes to answer this question. The full text of the answer is available here if you are interested in reading it. In short, Belichick said that all of the communication technology that they use on the sidelines has problems. None of it is owned by the teams or the stadiums, but instead by the NFL, and teams do not receive it until a few hours before kickoff.
These devices include the Motorola headsets, wireless microphone packs, wireless earpiece and microphone transceivers inside key helmets and sideline Wi-Fi that provides network access for the provided Microsoft Surfaces. The thing to notice about all of this technology is that it works off of wireless frequencies. While all of them work on different frequencies, the stadiums are filled with wireless technology. From hotspots setup by fans to Clearcoms used by the broadcast team, there is plenty of additional technology that could interfere.
That is exactly what happens, according to Belichick, nearly every week. In fact, the technological failures are so common and so widespread that the league has rules that allow for one team to have an outage and for the other team to have the same technology taken away. For example, if the Wi-Fi fails and the coaches are unable to access their playbooks on their Surface, the other team cannot use their Surfaces anymore, either, to level the playing field.
For Belichick, the issue is that he doesn't have control. He is tired of the league equipment not working, and he is tired of losing essential communication with his coaching staff and players. Because of this, he is going to take back control where he can. Obviously he is not going to give up the headsets, because they are easier than making phone calls every 30 seconds. He's not going to give up the helmet communication, because you don't want to lose time on the play clock while your quarterback comes to the sidelines for a chat. The only place he has left is the tablets.
He was very clear that he didn't dislike the tablets themselves. What he did say was that he was tired of not being able to use them. He mentioned liking the ability to pull up previous game video, but only when the Wi-Fi worked. And, because the tablets are owned by the league, it means none of his data is local - it all has to be retrieved from some sort of network storage, which isn't possible if the league's Wi-Fi fails. So, in this case, he is willing to sacrifice the benefits of using the Surface sometimes for the consistency of using a physical playbook.
If I were in his place and, no matter how hard I tried, a piece of technology occasionally made my life harder instead of easier, I would retire it entirely. His feelings and his response are completely rational, though misinterpreted by seemingly every publication that wrote about it.