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Bill Belichick has had it with tablets, wonders where’s urgency from NFL to fix communication issues

10.18.16 at 1:02 pm ET
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Oct 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts to a call during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick isn’t always in sync with technology on Patriots sideline. (Stew Milne-USA Today Sports)

From the moment that Bill Belichick was trying to fix his car clock in his own NFL Films documentary, it’s been clear that the head coach and technology don’t always mix.

But the coach gave it his best chance, using tablets on the sidelines to read pictures of plays on the field and make in-game adjustments. That even included video this preseason in an experiment through the NFL.

But now, Belichick has reached his breaking point. No more tablets on the sidelines. Why? They’re just not dependable. He went into great detail Tuesday, spending over five minutes explaining his decision to break with technology.

“As you know, there are multiple communication systems on the sideline. And as you probably noticed, I’m done with the tablets. I’ve given them as much time as I can give them,” Belichick said. “They’re just too undependable for me. I’m going to stick with pictures as several of our other coaches do as well because there’s just not enough consistency in the performance of the tablets. I just can’t take it anymore.”

There was the image of Belichick destroying his tablet during the 16-0 loss to the Bills. But there’s more to it than that. Much more. Belichick was one of thousands on Sunday who was inconvenienced by a breakdown of the internet service at the start of the Bengals game.

What Belichick doesn’t understand is why the NFL limits teams to their ability to work with the equipment during the week to make sure both teams can have good communication with their players and coaches during games.

“The other communication systems involve the press box to the coaches on the field and the coach on the field, the signal-caller to the quarterback-coach signal-calling system. Those fail on a regular basis. They’re very few games that we play, home or away, day, night, cold, hot, preseason, regular season, postseason, doesn’t make any difference, there are very few games where there aren’t issues in some form or fashion with the equipment. Again, there’s a lot of equipment involved, too. There’s headsets in the helmets, there’s the beltpack communication, there’s a hook-up or a connection to internet service or that process and so forth with the coaches in the press box. There’s a number of pieces of equipment. There’s a number of connections. They’re on different frequencies, again not that I know anything about this [technology].

“But as it’s been explained to me, there’s a lot of things that are involved in it. Inevitably, something goes wrong somewhere at some point in time. I’d said weekly, we have to deal with something. Dan Famosi is our IT person and he does a great job of handling those things. This is all league equipment and we have it. We use it but it isn’t like we have the equipment during the week and work with it and say, ‘OK, this is a problem. Let’s fix this.’ That’s not how it works. We get the equipment… a few hours before the game and we test it and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Usually, by game time, it is working but I would say not always.

“Then, during the game, sometimes something happens and it has to be fixed and first of all, they have to figure out what the problem is. Is it a battery? Is it the helmet? Is it the coaches’ pack? Again, it could be one of 15 different things. I would just say there are problems in every game. There were problems last week but there were problems the week before that, too. Some are worse than others. Sometimes, both teams have them. Sometimes one team has them and the other team doesn’t have them. There’s an equity rule that’s involved there on certain aspects of the communication system but not on all aspects. What happens on one side the other team has to have the same. If ours are down theirs have to be down and vice versa. But that’s only true on certain aspects of the communication system, not everything.

Ironically, the Patriots are playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh this week. The last time these two teams played, the season opener of 2015 at Gillette Stadium, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suggested that the Patriots were piping in radio play-by-play calls of the game to the Steelers coaches’ headsets, interfering with their ability to call plays. Belichick’s point is that it’s the NFL is in charge of controlling that, not the Patriots, something Rodney Harrison agreed with, calling Tomlin’s charges “utterly ridiculous” in response.

“Overall, there’s a lot of complexity to the technology, there’s complexity to the multiple systems,” Belichick noted. “There are a lot of failures. I know on our end, Dan does a great job to fix those as quickly as possible. He has very limited access to. I don’t know how much urgency there is on the other part, from the league’s standpoint. How much urgency is there from them to everything right? I don’t know. I’m not involved in that.

“It was problem last week. It’s basically a problem every week. The degrees aren’t always the same but we’re usually dealing with something. But as far as the tablet goes, there was an experiment in a couple of preseason games… where we had video on the tablets. But for me, personally, it’s a personal decision. I’m done with the tablets. I’ll use the paper pictures from here on because… I’ve given it my best shot. I’ve tried to work through the process but it just doesn’t work for me and that’s because there’s no consistency to it. Long answer to a short question, sorry.”

Read More: A Football Life, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, nfl
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