Brady’s Image Is Smeared, but Did Belichick Cultivate a Cheating Environment?

May 7, 2015 Updated: May 7, 2015

With the release of the Wells Report on Wednesday, Tom Brady’s once-clean image has been muddied. That much is clear.

Yet, the immensely popular, mild-mannered, but intensely competitive, four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who may be punished by the NFL for his role in the latest Patriots scandal—Deflate-Gate—was really only a product of his not-so-squeaky-clean head coach’s bend-the-rules-at-all-costs kind of environment.

No, Bill Belichick hasn’t been implicated in the Deflate-Gate scandal. Yet, the man who cost the Patriots a first-round pick in 2007 and a mammoth $750,000 fine for his role in the Spy-Gate scandal has set an example that it’s OK to gain any kind of competitive edge—with little regard for fair play.

Though Spy-Gate is the only scandal the man, once referred to as “Beli-cheat” by legendary coach Don Shula, has officially been found guilty of, there’s been plenty of other smoke coming from his office in Foxborough.

To wit, just the week before Deflate-Gate broke out, the Patriots were accused of using deceit to confuse the Baltimore Ravens in a game won by Belichick’s Patriots.

The Patriots, facing a stout pass-rush Ravens defense, substituted an offensive lineman for a position player, on several plays, and then waited until the last second to declare which player was ineligible—thus confusing Baltimore’s defense.

So a player lining up in the offensive tackle position was eligible for a pass, while another one lining up in the slot receiver position wasn’t. That part is legal; but the hurry-up part of it, which prevented Baltimore from knowing who was eligible and who wasn’t until the last second, was clearly meant to put the Ravens at a disadvantage—and it did.

Two months later, in a move that flew under the radar, the NFL changed the rules to make it illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to declare himself ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation—a clear response to Belichick’s questionable tactics.

Last year, former Patriots players Brandon Spikes and Aqib Talib claimed, via, that the team put false information about them on official injury reports. Spikes said he was put on IR with a knee injury—even though he wasn’t hurt—after showing up late for practice. Talib said he was listed with a hip injury when it was really a quad.

Two years ago, former Ram Marshall Faulk told Tom Curran of CSNNE, “I’ll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl,” which was a reference to the allegation that the Patriots spied on the Rams walk-through before beating them 20–17 in Super Bowl XXXVI—five years before they were caught by the Jets.

In 2011, Steelers linebacker James Harrison accused Belichick’s Patriots of cheating in the 2004 postseason in an interview in Men’s Journal. “We were the best team in football in 2004, but the Patriots, who we beat during the regular season, stole our signals and picked up 90 percent of our blitzes,” said Harrison.

Finally, last summer, Cleveland Browns coach, and former Jets assistant coach (under Rex Ryan), Mike Pettine told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that at Wes Welker’s wedding Tom Brady bragged to Jets linebackers coach Mike Smith (Welker’s college roommate) that the Patriots may or may not have had possession of a couple of Jets defensive playbooks. “It didn’t shock me because Rex would give them out like candy anyway,” Pettine says. “He gave one out to [Alabama coach Nick] Saban and I was like, ‘Don’t you know Saban and Bill [Belichick] are pretty good friends? I have a feeling it’s going to end up in New England.'”

Does all this mean that Belichick made Brady cheat? Of course not. But players are influenced by their coaches—especially the good ones. They can even learn from them.

And some players unconsciously emulate their coaches’ demeanor.

Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson, who coached notorious loose cannon Dennis Rodman for three years in Chicago, said that the more animated he was on the sidelines, the more animated Rodman was during the game.

Jackson, of course, was cool under pressure and so were his teams which won 11 titles. It works at the college level as well.

For example in the NCAA tournament, coaches like Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, and Tom Izzo have made a habit of routinely overachieving during the pressure-filled event, while others have routinely fallen short, despite whatever regular season prowess they had.

Are the coaches themselves playing? No, but clearly whatever players they have on the court are able to remain calm and take on their coaches’ personas, which allows them to succeed.

Belichick has succeeded as well. But how he’s done it is seen by his players, including Brady.

Expect a rule change this time around—but this one won’t fly under the radar.