New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick is the popular topic of discussion up and down the sports-talk radio dial this week. That’s because on Sunday, the three-time Super Bowl winner ordered his team to go-for-it late in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-two at the Patriots 28 yard line.
At the time, the Patriots were leading 34-28 with just over two minutes to go in the game. Conventional wisdom dictated that Belichick’s team play it safe and punt the ball away. Instead, Coach Belichick called in a passing play and running back Kevin Faulk was brought down shy of a first down. Peyton Manning’s Colts took over and marched the ball into the end zone.
Game over. Final score: Colts 35 Patriots 34.
Belichick is no novice. He was playing the odds. His defense was winded and had already given up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. His quarterback, Tom Brady, is a future hall of famer and he reasoned that he’d rather decide the fate of the game with his best man on the field. By going for it, Belichick had also decided he had a better chance of picking up two yards than he did preventing Peyton Manning from moving the ball 60 or 70 yards on offense.
So much for his strategy. Some analysts have called it the worst call of his career. If history is any guide, Belichick won’t allow the criticism to get to him. The man has tough skin—as any coach in the NFL needs to have if he’s going to survive more than a few games.
In thinking about the critics who are second-guessing him, I was reminded how often we’re judged on decisions whose outcomes are really outside of our own control. If Tom Brady had converted that play, Belichick is a genius, a courageous coach willing to take calculated risks. Instead, Brady failed and it’s Belichick who takes the heat for the failure, not Tom Brady.
As a father, I can counsel, advise and prepare Trent and Troy for the slings and arrows of life. I’m willing to make the tough decisions, eager to help them weigh the pros and cons of a not-so-clear choice. But when it comes to executing, when it comes to actually pulling something off, when it comes to living out their faith and conducting themselves in a responsible manner, it’s up to them to get it done. I am like the coach on the sidelines.
There comes a point when all you can do is pray. That’s all. That’s enough.
And yet I wonder if we parents are sometimes too quick to claim credit for our child’s accomplishments—and conversely, too easily convinced their mistakes and failures are somehow our burden to bear. Likewise, I wonder if we are tempted to judge other parents—who might be doing an admirable job coaching their kids—when their children fumble with poor choices.