Sports

Meet the Mysterious Svengalis and Rasputins Behind the Patriots’ Magic

Bill Belichick
Who’s in the headset?
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are different. Their record makes this plainly apparent (four Super Bowl appearances in five years and only two playoff absences since Richard Hatch won the first season of Survivor), but the organization accentuates its mystique with a healthy dose of homebrewed mythology. Other NFL teams have slogans, but “The Patriot Way” is an ethos worthy of Harvard MBA lesson plans. Secrecy is a key tenet of the franchise’s philosophy. While all teams have assistant coaches, operations managers, and IT employees, New England boasts an array of mysterious contributors toiling behind the scenes: a cadre of Svengalis lurking in the shadows, appearing in daylight just long enough to make everyone wonder what it is that they do.

What follows is a brief look at just some of the characters we know, leaving us to ponder the types of dark magic being performed by the truly anonymous wizards of Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Ernie Adams. When Bill Belichick was coaching in Cleveland, Browns owner Art Modell told his staff, “I’ll pay anyone here $10,000 if they can tell me what Ernie Adams does.” No one came forward to claim the reward. In 2008, ESPN’s Wright Thompson asked Patriots players about Adams. “Ernie is a bit of a mystery to all of us,” offensive lineman Matt Light said. It was the most information anyone on the squad had to offer.

“I couldn’t tell you what [Adams] does,” New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski told Boston Globe reporter Dan Shaughnessy in 2015. “No one knows.” It should be noted that Adams keenly watches Gostkowski and his teammates during practices. He just never talks to them.

Plays and schemes are treated like launch codes in Belichick’s secretive world, and the 65-year-old Adams appears to be his Dr. Strangelove. The head coach and his right-hand man have been connected at the clipboard since high school, when Adams approached Belichick to ask about an obscure book on scouting by his father, Steve Belichick. Adams helped get Bill his first long-term NFL job, with the New York Giants, and he has been following the coach around ever since.

Adams’ formal title is “football research director,” though no one besides Belichick truly knows what he does. According to Shaughnessy, Adams sits in the booth during games and communicates to Belichick via his headset, and the head coach leans on his friend’s supposedly all-encompassing mental football database when making key decisions. “In a minute, we can get a lot communicated,” Adams told Northwestern Magazine, his alma mater’s publication. This 2008 profile is one of the only occasions in which Adams has consented to be interviewed. In it, he reveals his work schedule (100-hour weeks during the season) and what he lists as his job on his taxes (“research”).

To understand Adams’ mystique, follow the “pink stripes.” The phrase appeared on a white board behind Adams in a scene in Do Your Job, a multipart NFL Films documentary about the 2014 Patriots that contains an ultra-rare on-camera appearance from Adams. Considering he showed his face while sitting in front of a pointedly mysterious message, surely “pink stripes” had to mean something.

The phrase has become an in-joke among Pats fans—an indecipherable codex that surely contains the key to Adams’ football genius. There are multiple Reddit threads dedicated to unlocking its meaning, but all investigative efforts have come up short. New England beat writers have pursued leads to no avail. When asked by a radio reporter about “pink stripes,” Belichick replied, “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Berj Najarian. The man credited with keeping the Patriots tight-lipped has a mystical reputation of his own. Najarian, the team’s director of football/head coach administration (the slash is part of his official title), has been a member of Belichick’s inner circle since the mid-1990s. He’s essentially a chief of staff—a 2012 New York Times profile labeled him “the gatekeeper to Belichick,” a role that “exemplifies … paranoid mystique.”

Najarian is Belichick’s one-man PR shop, which is sort of like being Medusa’s makeup artist. Nonetheless, the Times profile credits him for dubious achievements like “soften[ing Belichick’s] image … to show his sense of humor, his human side.” The article also reveals that some reporters following the team “expect to hear from Najarian when they write critically of Belichick” and that their access depends on keeping Najarian pleased.

According to the Thrivetime Show podcast, “[Neaarian] keeps Bill Belichick from being distracted or interrupted, being asked anything, and having any of his time wasted because Bill Belichick’s mind is a commodity.” You get the sense that Najarian would take over the head coach’s motor functions if he could, just to free up some gray matter for X’s and O’s. Maybe he already has?

Sean Harrington. The Patriots won’t tell anyone what Harrington does, but it involves programming. The computer whiz and former Tufts linebacker graduated from college in 2014 and reportedly turned down a job with Google to become New England’s director of software engineering. Patriots blogs are already calling him “the next Ernie Adams.” (What color are his stripes? one wonders while scribbling Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Patriots logo on reams of scratch paper, having failed to leave the house for six weeks.)

MassLive found an old post from Harrington on the developer platform GitHub—it doesn’t appear to be up any more—wherein the young staffer describes his day-to-day routine. He said he works on “all sorts of Machine Learning and Analytics Jobs for the coaching staff, scouting department, training staff, and IT department.” We’ll probably have Harrington to blame when the nanobots coursing through Tom Brady’s ligaments allow the quarterback to play for another 50 years.

Nick Caserio. The Patriots don’t have an official general manager position, but Caserio, the director of player personnel, has formed a two-headed GM monster with Belichick, one that’s dedicated to building ruthlessly efficient rosters. When the Houston Texans asked to interview Caserio for their GM role last year, Belichick flat-out denied them the opportunity. He needs his other head.

Unlike many of his behind-the-scenes brethren, Caserio’s job requires him to occasionally speak with the media. This should not dent his mysterious bona fides, though. What does Caserio do, exactly? According to Belichick, “He does a tremendous amount,” adding, “I can’t think of any other personnel person that would even come close.” The man with the big, unspecific workload seems to be everywhere, even throwing passes in practice, and NESN dubbed him a “cyborg unicorn” due to his rare combination of skills. The Miami Dolphins don’t even have a noncyborg unicorn. How are they supposed to compete in the AFC East?

Alex Guerrero. Unlike the people listed above, Guerrero isn’t under Belichick’s umbrella. He’s Tom Brady’s trainer and business partner, and he is behind the quarterback’s notoriously strict diet that forbids Brady from indulging in nightshades or any foods that are pale or white. A controversial figure in his own right, Guerrero earned the attention of the FTC for pretending to be a doctor in an infomercial and claiming that his “Supreme Greens” supplement cured cancer. Brady’s shaman reportedly became such a frequent specter last season that New England banned him from the team plane and revoked his sideline access. Only Belichick is allowed to have a Rasputin.

The ghosts. History has shown that those who benefit from the Patriots’ mystique can only exist when under Belichick’s control—he is the Necronomicon that makes their dark alchemy work. Eric Mangini was once a member of Belichick’s inner circle, but New England’s former defensive coordinator lasted only five years out on his own. The “Mangenius” tallied a 33–47 record as the head coach of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. There is little to no chance for a reunion in New England. Mangini says he hasn’t spoken with Belichick since 2007.

Matt Patricia, another former New England defensive coordinator, had a miserable first season as the Detroit Lions’ head coach. Prior to leaving the Patriots, Patricia maintained the aura of a shaggy genius—the aeronautical engineering student who called up blitzes with a pencil tucked behind his ear. One season away from Belichick, though, and he was revealed to be a tardy rube. Patricia may yet reform his image, but he’ll have to do so on his own, away from the sorcery pinging through the halls of Foxborough. It would be a feat that truly defies explanation.