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  • Writer's pictureMichael Hunter

QB or Coach? Who Deserves More Credit?

This has been a much-debated topic – in both sports and management circles – since Tom Brady decamped from the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.  🏈

My consulting clients have a range of problems that need solving, but they usually coalesce around one or two of "The 6 Ps" of Product, Price, Promotion, Placement, Positioning, and People. The last one is trickiest because it's the most subjective (and emotional).

To some degree the question in the title is flawed because it forces zero-sum thinking. Together they were like 1+1=3, which helped the entire team perform better.

That said, these types of personnel evaluations happen all the time in the business world. Corporate leadership – and boards of directors – often need to evaluate a company’s performance and the factors driving it, whether controllable by the CEO and his/her team or not (e.g., market / category growth rates and luck, whether good or bad). Every company is implicitly trying to determine the relative value driven by its leadership and employees (including the "stars"). 📊 

The most common arguments in support of each are:

  • Brady as QB was the leader on the field and touched the ball on every offensive play, while no coach has ever had to throw a pass or stare down 300-pound men lining up to bury him. The more dire his team’s circumstance, the better he performed in the clutch.

  • Belichick as coach was involved in building the entire team, and no QB can win a game without help from his 52 teammates. Like any chief executive, he was active in recruiting across all key functions in the organization, both his own coaching staff and the players they in turn led. He showed earlier coaching prowess as a defensive coordinator for two NY Giants Super Bowl victories.

To help isolate their performance, I laid out in the slide above the team’s performance as measured by regular season wins in each of their 20 years together. I guest lecture a graduate level class in digital marketing at Northeastern University on the topic of Super Bowl advertising and the digital/social game-within-the-game. Every year I update the slides and include a new angle, and I felt this one was topical given the National Football League (NFL) carousel of coaching job changes that occurs after each regular season. In my view, the slide paints a stark picture (and was created before we knew that none of the 8 NFL teams looking to hire a new coach chose Belichick).

The analogy here would be the CEO of a Boston company pushes out his star salesperson, who joins a mediocre company in Tampa that then immediately enjoys great success while the Boston company's results plummet. It doesn't get any more clear-cut than this in human resources / organizational matters.

While both individuals contributed to the team’s success, the data shows that the QB could win without the coach, but not the other way around.

(Posted to LinkedIn February 2024)

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