ATHENS – A few years ago, the college football offseason arrived at Alabama, which as usual was coming off a good year. Nick Saban called his staff together. For reasons of what he called “professional development,” he wanted each of his assistant coaches to go somewhere else for a period of time to learn. Everyone was instructed to write down where they wanted to go.
Kirby Smart, then Alabama’s defensive coordinator, wrote down: The New England Patriots. Yes, he shot high.
“If you’re a carpenter you go look at the best carpenter in the world,” Smart said. “Whatever your profession is, you go do the best thing you can do to improve. So I sat down and said, I’m going up to New England.”
Smart had a couple connections there: His own mentor Nick Saban had worked with Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns. Smart had worked for one year in the NFL, the safeties coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2005. So Smart headed up to Foxboro, Mass., and figured he would get a bunch of big ideas, different drills, etc. Before he left, Saban told him to make sure to take notes, pictures and images to bring back to Tuscaloosa.
“So I fly up to New England, I’m fired up, I walk in, the first thing I see behind the main secretary’s desk (is) a big sign that says: DO YOUR JOB,” Smart said. “I’m writing this down. I got this. I’m writing this down.”
Then he went to the team meeting room, where he was going to meet with the defensive staff and share ideas. And in there was a sign that said the same thing: DO YOUR JOB.
“So throughout the day – I realized that when I went to the bathroom, they posted over the urinals, in the restrooms, and over the doors before they close: DO YOUR JOB,” Smart said. “So I’m kinda getting the message here.”
But he was wondering where the other stuff was. The pictures, the championship mementos.
So on the way out he met with Bill O’Brien, then an offensive assistant, now the Houston Texans head coach. After swapping some old war and recruiting stories – O’Brien had been at Georgia Tech – Smart finally asked him what was up with the “DO YOUR JOB” mantra.
“He said: To be honest, after they didn’t win the championship after coach Bill Belichick’s first couple years there, he took all the old pictures out of the buildings, they took out all the trophies and all the things they had done prior to him getting there out of the building, and he just wanted one simple message. Do your job,” Smart said.
Belichick defined the role of everybody in the organization, from scouts to administrative assistants. He defined the expectations for each role, and then set out to hold everyone accountable.
The players, of course, get the most accountability. The Patriots defined the role for each of the players on the 53-man roster. Smart showed used the example of the fifth receiver, who had to be the best fifth receiver in the game and also cover kicks. The third-string running back also better be great at special teams, protect the football on the rare occasions he carried it, and better be good at protecting the quarterback. And so on.
Each of the 53 spots were defined on paper, so the scouts would then have defined roles to go fill. So it’s no coincidence, Smart said, the Patriots always had strong special teams and could deal well with injuries.
Then it was time to report back to Alabama.
“Everyone expected me to have these grand ideas, and you can imagine what it’s like to walk into the room with a staff sitting there and everybody going over where they went and sharing their ideas,” Smart said. “And I basically said: Hey coach, the message was simple up there: Do your job. And that was the extent of it. It literally was.
“They all buy it. Believed in it. Everybody believes in it to a tee. Everybody on the 53-man roster can tell you what his defined role is.”
Smart relayed all this last year, shortly after being hired as Georgia’s head coach. He didn’t end up copying the Patriots’ motto, instead going with “Attack the Day,” though some players often cited the “Do your job” mantra. Georgia went 8-5 in Smart’s first season, and while it’s not a perfect comparison, the Patriots only went 5-11 in Belichick’s first season there.
The Patriots’ “Do Your Job” slogan emanated from Belichick’s early years in New England, and wasn’t as renowned when Smart made his visit. But it gradually caught steam and was celebrated in a 2014 NFL Films documentary: “Do your Job: Bill Belichick and the 2014 New England Patriots.”
A year earlier, the Patriots literally trademarked the phrase – filing a patent on it.
But Belichick, speaking during the documentary, amended the slogan.
“Maybe the one word that isn’t in that’s implied is ‘Do your job … well,” Belichick said. “It could be enough to make the difference.”