Tracy White noticed the first of Bill Belichick’s motivational signs as he reached for the front door of the New England Patriots’ practice facility just after getting traded from the Philadelphia Eagles in September of 2010.
“Check your ego.”
Eight games into the season, the head coach sidled up to his new linebacker during a Wednesday lunch break.
“How are you adjusting?” Belichick asked White, a Charleston native who graduated from Timberland High School and Howard University.
White had already played for Mike Holmgren in Seattle, Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and Andy Reid in Philadelphia. None of those guys are softies.
But, White told Belichick, “It’s a little different here.”
The coach who holds the NFL record with five Super Bowl wins goes for No. 6 on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.
White, 37, is a linebackers coach at Fort Dorchester High School, retired from the NFL after 10 seasons, including a starting role for the Patriots in a Super Bowl XLVI loss to the Giants. He knows that, along with having Tom Brady at quarterback, the secret to Belichick’s success is in the tiny details of teamwork.
He learned some of that the hard way.
The Patriots’ weekly full-squad team meeting begins sharply at 8 a.m. That’s when Belichick goes over the previous week’s game. The play-by-play analysis is both methodical and brutal.
“He calls everybody out,” White said. “Nobody’s safe. Tom Brady sits in the front row but he isn’t safe in that room.”
A teacher at heart, just as his father Steve was for 33 seasons as a Navy assistant coach, Belichick favors repetition as a tool.
“He knows what he’s doing, knowing that you messed up while showing how a play is supposed to go,” White said. “He just keeps rewinding and rewinding the tape. And you just keep sinking into your seat. And you’re thinking, ‘When is he going to get to me?’”
“It makes you think, ‘I am not going to get embarrassed in front of the whole team like that again,’” White said.
The Tom Brady factor
More than most NFL coaches, Belichick has shown a liking for smart players from small colleges. The current Patriots roster includes representatives from Navy (Joe Cardona), Brown (James Develin) and Monmouth (Chris Hogan). Note that Belichick attended Wesleyan College in Connecticut, where he lettered in football, lacrosse and squash.
So a versatile, unselfish linebacker who majored in Speech Pathology at Howard fit nicely into Patriots culture.
For guidance, there’s always No. 12.
Brady got to New England when White was a freshman at Howard.
White has been out of the NFL for six years and Brady, 41, remains an elite quarterback.
“Playing against Brady, you see he’s one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league,” White said. “Playing with him, you see the work ethic. He’s like a coach on the football field. If you really look at it, he’s taken on everything Bill Belichick is.”
Four kids and a life plan
Tracy and Shamika Ann White and their four kids will host a Super Bowl party Sunday night. The menu will include ribs, chicken, chips and dip, pizza, finger foods and Shamika’s homemade meatballs.
“A pretty nice get-together,” Tracy White said.
At some point during the Patriots-Rams game, someone might ask the 136-game NFL veteran if he longs to return to a role in big-time football.
Fort Dorchester High School is fortunate that White enjoys his role as Steve LaPrad’s linebackers coach.
"Coach White is greatly respected by our players due to his success," LaPrad said. "But the one attribute I would say sticks out is his preparation and game-planning. You can tell he was a Belichick pupil."
White likes helping players develop and fulfills his competitive spirit by challenging the linebackers to become the top talents on the team.
“I have four kids and I’m real involved with my kids at school and with the sports they play,” White said. “It’s all about my kids. I was away for 10 years playing football. I just think the higher you go in coaching, it’s more time away from your family.”
But along with food and drink, the Sunday visitors at White’s house will get some tasty Belichick stories, maybe even a few one-liners.
Yes, the famously focused taskmaster has a sense of humor.
“He’s a funny guy once you get to know him,” White said. “But you have to let him crack a joke and literally see him smile first before you add anything to it.”
White figures he might see Belichick’s next smile under a Gatorade shower sometime late Sunday night.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff