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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Just Do Your Job

The New York Times tried to do a feature on one of the great 'behind the scenes' guys in pro football history, our man Berj.  Once an entry-level, game night staffer at The Garden, Berj quickly proved he was one of the guys you could really depend on.  No nonsense.

He's brought that talent to the NE Patriots to help coach Bill Belichick get the job done, quietly and thoroughly.  Here's the story:

Blocking for the Patriots Coach So He Can Do His Job


The Coach
INDIANAPOLIS — The man inside the coffee shop is Bill Belichick’s chief of staff, one of his most trusted confidants. Since Belichick became the coach of the New England Patriots in 2000, this man has spent more time with him than quarterback Tom Brady, Belichick’s family members or anyone else, really. Yet even Patriots fans have never heard of him.

As he politely but begrudgingly spoke on background in the coffee shop, a short walk from the Patriots’ hotel for Super Bowl XLVI, no one recognized the man, or how important he was — and is — to New England’s success. His name is Berj Najarian. By title, he is director of football/head coach administration.
On Sunday, the Patriots will play in their fifth Super Bowl since the 2001 season. That run, the best stretch in the N.F.L. in recent years, is defined by three championships and the aura of secrecy that surrounds the franchise, which is part of the Patriot Way. In a system in which injuries are guarded as state secrets and coaches conduct their business like C.I.A. operatives, the Patriots allow little understanding of what, exactly, they have done to reach such sustained success.
Najarian’s role exemplifies that paranoid mystique. He is the gatekeeper to Belichick, the monitor of the monotone.
“He is the consigliere of the New England Patriots,” the team’s offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, said. “No question about it.”
All week, as Belichick conducted interviews, Najarian stood off to the side, close enough to hear and observe, but far enough not to attract attention. He wore no media credential, nor any identification. A few members of the Boston and national media recognized him. Otherwise, he went unnoticed.
Najarian was there from the beginning, before this Patriot Way existed, before Belichick became a Hall of Fame-caliber coach. Najarian was there when Belichick, never a master of public relations, scribbled, “I resign as HC of the NYJ,” shortly after the Jets promoted him to head coach.
The Patriots snagged Belichick instead. He drove to New England with part of his inner circle: Najarian, Eric Mangini and Scott Pioli. Mangini and Pioli eventually left for other jobs. Belichick and Najarian remain. Even their offices at 1 Patriot Place connect.
Earlier in his career, in Cleveland from 1991 to 1995, Belichick bombed at news conferences. His demeanor: surly. His personality: prickly. His image: tyrant.
Once in New England, Belichick sought to soften that image, to show his sense of humor, his human side, both of which, those close to him insist, actually exist. Najarian advised Belichick in this role, and while the coach infamous for his hoodie and his icy handshakes never came to resemble a teddy bear, he has been credited this week with appearing more comfortable and relaxed. If the Kraft family and Belichick created the Patriot Way, Najarian burnished it, especially as it related to all things Belichick.
At the same time, Najarian also handled Belichick’s major crisis, the so-called Spygate videotaping controversy, which engulfed the Patriots on their last run to the Super Bowl, four seasons ago. Belichick took his first Spygate-related question here Thursday. Count that as another win for Najarian.
“He’s one of our hidden weapons,” the team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft, said.
The retired quarterback Drew Bledsoe said that in the organizations he played for — New England, Buffalo, Dallas — he never encountered someone with a role similar to Najarian’s. Because Najarian stood between Belichick and the rest of the world, that role “gave him a ton of power,” Bledsoe said. He added: “With the Patriots, it’s an efficiency thing. Berj worried about stuff so Bill didn’t have to.”
Najarian, because of his proximity to Belichick, also took some ribbing. Bledsoe and some co-conspirators, whom he declined to name, once sent Najarian a dozen roses on Secretary’s Day. “From what I understand, he was a little offended,” Bledsoe said. “We thought it was hysterical.”
Najarian’s job description can be summarized in six words: help Belichick carry out his program.
Najarian does not coach players. He does everything else, deciding which issues are worthy of Belichick’s attention so the coach can focus on football, his staff, meetings, practices, strategy and film sessions.
Najarian handles the logistics of Belichick’s day: whom he meets and what interviews he conducts. If a corporate sponsor needs a Patriots coach to speak, Najarian determines which coach. When the rookies arrive, he helps indoctrinate them. When Brady creates a stir with a comment about fans getting “lubed up,” Najarian handles damage control and helps deliver the team’s strange response that Brady was referring to drinking water. At practices, he even selects the music, from Bruce Springsteen to Dr. Dre.
This affords Najarian a place in Belichick’s inner circle, which changes but remains relatively small. His other longtime confidants include Ernie Adams (director of football research), Nick Caserio (director of player personnel) and assistant coaches.
“Berj is really important,” a relaxed Belichick said this week, cracking a rare public smile. “There isn’t nearly enough time in this press conference to talk about him.”
Just as coaches around the N.F.L. have tried to emulate Belichick’s approach to football, his former assistants have also hired their own version of Najarian, including Mangini with the Jets and Josh McDaniels in Denver.
Najarian gave one quotation for this article. “One of our sayings is for everyone to ‘just do your job,’ ” he said. “Contributing to Bill Belichick doing his job and at the same time helping uphold the standard of excellence set by the Kraft family is a privilege. With that comes many responsibilities within the football operation and organization, and I appreciate the opportunity to fulfill them.”
Growing up on Long Island — his father was a child psychiatrist, his mother a housewife — Najarian never anticipated this career path. He graduated from Boston University and interned with the Knicks in 1994. John Cirillo, then the senior vice president for communications of Madison Square Garden, said Najarian possessed a quiet calm and tireless work ethic.
From there, Najarian worked in public relations with the Jets. Frank Ramos, who was a longtime public-relations director with the franchise, said Najarian “came to get along very well with the defensive coaches.” He added: “He got really close with Belichick. There aren’t that many who can get that close to Bill. I don’t know why he did.”
Often, Ramos noted, Najarian stayed late at the Jets’ complex, talking football, hanging around Belichick. The Belichick crew once took part in a weight-loss competition, with official weigh-ins and hefty penalties, and Belichick would hide slices of pizza in everyone else’s desks.
When he arrived in New England, Najarian joined Stacey James, now the Patriots’ vice president for media relations, in a potentially awkward situation. They divide their duties at Belichick (Najarian) and everything else (James). Reporters who cover the team regularly said they expect to hear from Najarian when they write critically of Belichick. Some said future access depended on what they wrote.
Not that Najarian wanted to address any of that. If Belichick is happy and the Krafts are happy, he prefers to stay in the shadows.
On the ESPN set, Tedy Bruschi, the retired Patriots linebacker turned analyst, raised both eyebrows when asked about Najarian. No longer affiliated with the team, he still declined to comment.
“How many people talk about the consigliere?” he said.
Very few, it turns out, just as the gatekeeper to Belichick, in line with the Patriot Way, prefers it.

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