They call him Belichick’s Belichick.
Ernie Adams is a constant presence in the New England Patriots organization but there aren’t many people who actually know him or know what he does. In fact, Bill Belichick, Adam’s long-time friend, may be the only one who truly understand’s Adams’ role with with the franchise and the impact he has had on the Patriots’ status as an NFL dynasty.
There have always been questions surrounding Adams, a notoriously private man, whose obsession with statistics and football strategy have become the stuff of league legends. Now, Adams’ name is back in the headlines after an ESPN Outside the Lines report detailed the relationship between the “Spygate” and “Deflategate” controversies. Adams was a key player in “Spygate” and yet there are still questions surrounding him. Here’s what you need to know about the longtime NFL personality and his relationship with Bellichk:
1. Adams Met Bill Belichick at Phillips Academy in 1970
Adams grew up in Massachusetts and has been surrounded by football from the get-go. He devoured statistical books as a child, reading up on game strategy while his fellow students at the Dexter School were simply thinking about playing pick-up games. In fact, Adams’ knowledge of the game was so extensive that he was asked to coach the school’s intramural football team as an eighth grader.
He later attended Phillips Academy in Adover, Massachusetts and that’s where he met Belichick. Adams recognized Belichick in 1970 after he had read his father’s book Football Scouting Methods. The two quickly became friends, spending hours together and pouring over football film. They diagrammed plays for fun and once snuck into a Boston College practice so they could “scout” together.
After attending Northwestern, Adams broke into the NFL ranks, working as an administrative assistant with the Patriots in 1975 before landing an assistant coaching job with the New York Giants in 1979. He got Belichick the job as the Giants special teams coach.
2. Browns Owner Art Modell Offered $10,000 to Anyone Who Could Explain What Adams Did
When Bill Belichick became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1991, he took Adams with him. Adams didn’t have a specific title, according to an ESPN Outside the Lines report, the coach’s long-time friend was brought onto the team payroll as a consigliere of sorts, but no one was really quite sure of his actual role.
Browns owner Art Modell once famously said he would pay to find out what Adams did on his team:
I’ll pay anyone here $10,000 if they can tell me what Ernie Adams does. I know he does something, and I know he works for me, and I know I pay him, but I’d love to know what it is.
No one on the Cleveland staff came forward with any kind of information because no one on the Cleveland staff truly had an answer. ESPN’s report suggests that Adams role was whatever he and Belichick wanted. He was in charge of statistical analysis, scouting and strategy.
Matt Walsh, a former New England Patriots video department staffer, told Senate investigators that Adams used to recall stories from his time in Cleveland, detailing how he would give Browns video staffers NFL Films shirts and assign them to film the opponent’s sideline huddles and grease boards from behind the bench.
3. Adams is the Football Research Director for the New England Patriots
When Belichick and the Browns parted ways in 1996, Adams returned to his “day” job, working on Wall Street, and started his own investment business. He claimed to have ‘a real interest in investments” but when Belichick and the NFL came knocking again in 2000, with a proposed return to the New England Patriots, Adams couldn’t say no.
This time, Adams joined the team, not as a coach, but as the team’s “Football Research Director.” He pours over stats and videos unlike anyone else in the league, analyzing each play from every possible angle and reporting back to Belichick with his findings. Then, on game day, Adams assists the coaching staff from the box, advising on which plays to issue a challenge.
Adams has developed a reputation in using mathematical analysis to influence his on-field suggestions to Belichick. He once worked with Rutgers University statistics professor Harold Sackrowitz, evaluating the pros and cons of the two-point conversion. Adams also came up with a study that proved the Patriots punt too often on fourth down.
4. He Was at the Center of the Patriots’ ‘Spygate’ Controversy
No one on the New England Patriots roster really knew Adams. They knew his face. They were impressed by his football knowledge. But they didn’t know Adams and they certainly did not know how involved he was with the team, particularly when it came to his involvement with what would eventually be known as “Spygate.”
Teams across the league regularly attempted to decode opposing squad’s sideline signals but the Patriots, and Adams, took the practice to a whole new level. According to Outside the Lines, Adams helped fine-tune New England’s sideline taping practice, taking over the reins of the Patriots behind-the-scenes attack. Sources told ESPN that a scout would attend the games of upcoming New England opponents and assemble a spreadsheet of signals and corresponding plays, delivering it to Adams who spent the better part of the game week matching notes to the tape.
During games, Adams was in the coaches’ box above the field, matching play calls with decoded signals and wearing a had set with a direct line to Belichick. A former Patriots employee told ESPN “it helped our offense a lot.”
League officials reportedly interviewed Adams as part of the “Spygate” investigation and Patriots staffers insisted that spying never had a real impact on games or their result. Eventually, the tapes were destroyed, by NFL officials, and, as quickly as it began, the “Spygate” investigation was over.
5. Adams Has Been Shrouded in Mystery Throughout His Career, Rarely Giving Interviews
Bill Belichick rarely talks to the media. Not really. His quick, short answers in press conferences have become the stuff of NFL legend. No one expects to get much information from Belichick or, for that matter, from the New England Patriots organization.
This is a football team that draws the metaphorical walls in tight. Then, there is Ernie Adams. No one knows Ernie Adams. Not really. Even the people that have worked with him, have paid him, don’t know him. Former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells was unaware that Adams was the “director of pro personnel” for the team in 1983 and 1984, working with Belichick. Parcells told The Boston Globe:
He was? I don’t remember that. I don’t remember him being on my staff. If he was on my coaching staff, I don’t remember what he was doing. I don’t have Alzheimer’s. I have a pretty good memory, and I didn’t have any interaction with him.
This simply appears to be how Adams works. The Globe suggested that Adams, whose NFL career has been completely tethered to Belichick, works up to 100 hours per week during the season, studying film and analyzing statistics. In 2008, Adams gave a rare interview to Northwestern magazine, telling his alumni periodical that when he fills out his taxes, he lists his profession simply as “research.”
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