SportsJam with Doug Doyle: "Belichick" Author Ian O'Connor

Nov 15, 2018

Nationally-acclaimed sportswriter and author Ian O'Connor and SportsJam host Doug Doyle at WBGO
Credit Chris Tobin for WBGO News

Ian O'Connor grew up in Englewood, New Jersey as a Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Roger Staubach fan.  He also graduated from St. Cecilia High School, the same school where the legendary Vince Lombardi coached.

O'Connor is a senior writer at ESPN.com, a nationally-acclaimed columnist and the author of three New York Times bestsellers.  His most recent one is the definitive biography of the NFL's most controversial but successful coach, Bill Belicheck.

O'Connor chats with SportsJam host Doug Doyle about Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time.

Belichick was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in late September of this year.  Two of his other  sports books became New York Times bestsellers too, Arnie & Jack and The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter.

"Belichick" is the third New York Times Bestseller for author Ian O'Connor
Credit Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Ian O'Connor interviewed 350 people for Belichick, but coach Bill Belichick was not one of them.  That was frustrating for the writer but not shocking.

"Well I knew three years ago when I signed up for the project that would likely happen, that he would not cooperate because Belichick is not a type of cooperative individual.  So I wasn't surprised by it.  I was a little disappointed that he reached out to some friends and associates, either directly or through his one of his aides, and asked those people not to cooperate.  I was disappointed in that, on the other hand, he doesn't owe me anything.  And I was prepared to pretty much deal with any obstacle in front of me and he did put some in front of me.  I almost felt at times, Doug, like one of his players, where he does put hurdles in front of them to make them better and I really do feel like it made me better in some ways as a reporter that I had to mine additional sources and work around those obstacles as best I could and really dig deeper to find information behind those Kremlin-like walls in New England.  And I do believe I pulled it off."

"Belichick" has some great photos of the coach and his father Steve
Credit Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In Belichick, O'Connor paints a human side about the hoodie-wearing and news conference smug Super Bowl coach rarely talked about.  Throughout the book, O'Connor shows how Bill Belichick's late father, Steve, was major influence on his now famous son.

"People have looked at Belichick and his style of coaching and how curmudgeonly he is and he just comes across as the ultimate old school guy.  How does he relate to the modern player?  The modern athlete, particulary the African-American athlete, and I think just coming out of that house in Annapolis, Maryland where those values were instilled with him really gives you an understanding as to why that connection, at least behind closed doors, because the figure he presents in public would lead you to believe he'd have a hard time connecting with anyone, but I think one on one he's underrated in that way.  I think the way he has connected with athletes of all colors and creeds really does speak to the way he was raised by his parents." 

O'Connor gets into the time Belichick spent with the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns.  Belichick's relationship with former Giants head coach Bill Parcells is always one that the author is asked about.

"Even though I interviewed (for the book) would say what was the real relationship between Bill Parcells and Belichick?  They were never friends.  That doesn't mean that Parcells wasn't a strong influence on Belichick as a coach.  They had ultimately very different styles.  I do think Belichick did learn a lot from Parcells but he took the good of Parcells and left behind the bad, at least in his mind, and I think he ultimately ran his program and team in an entirely different way."

O'Connor details Belichick's time with Patriots legendary quarterback Tom Brady, including Deflategate and Spygate.

How did the author start his writing career?  O'Connor gives credit to a professor at Marist College named David McCraw who is now a New York Times lawyer.

McCraw asked O'Connor wanted he wanted to do with his life.

"He was really the first person to sit me down and put me on that path (to writing about sports). I've spoken to classes at Marist and other colleges and high schools about the craft and the one thing I always try to leave students with is that to me anyway as a reporter it's always about the reporting, the information.  The writing will take care of itself.  I think the one surest way to improve as a writer is to read and then to write as much as possible.  Always making the extra phone call, always conducting the extra interview and that's help me really in my career.  I'm maybe not the most talented guy in the world, but I don't think too many people when pursuing a story work harder than I do in pursuing one..like I feel l did in this book." 

His advice to aspiring reporters?

"Don't let somebody else outwork you on a story." 

To hear the entire SportsJam with Doug Doyle interview with Ian O'Connor, click at the top of the page.