In the three years since Microsoft and the NFL agreed to a $US400 million deal to put Microsoft Surface tablets on both sidelines of every NFL game, nobody has shown more blatant displeasure toward the technology than New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The technology was meant to replace print-out pictures of plays and formations, but it hasn’t always worked smoothly.
In the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the tablets on the New England sideline stopped working entirely, which Belichick complained afterwards was a “pretty common problem.” This season, Belichick was caught on camera bashing one helpless tablet into the side of a New England bench after his team conceded a touchdown to the Bills, and again in Week 6, the devices stopped working over the course of his team’s win against the Bengals.
On Tuesday, Belichick announced officially that he is done — once and for all — using tablets on the sideline. Amazingly, his explanation came in extremely un-Belichick-ian ways. When asked by a reporter about the devices malfunctioning, Belichick unleashed a five-minute, 700-word rant explaining his frustration (courtesy of NESN’s Zach Cox):
Belichick began by talking about the tablets’ lack of consistency:
“As you probably noticed, I’m done with the tablets. They’re just too undependable for me. I’m going to stick with pictures, which several of our other coaches do, as well, because their just isn’t enough consistency in the performance of the tablets. I just can’t take it anymore.”
And then digressed to talk about all the various forms of technology required for the coaches to communicate with each other and with their quarterback. Again he bashed the frequency with which the problems occur:
“The other communications systems involve the press box to the coaches on the field and the coach on the field — the signal-caller — to the coach-quarterback, coach-signal-caller system. And those fail on a regular basis. There are very few games we play — home or away, day, night, cold, hot, preseason, regular season, postseason — it doesn’t make any difference. There are very few games where there aren’t issues in some form or fashion with that equipment. And again, there’s a lot of equipment involved, too. There’s headsets in the helmets. There’s the belt pack, that communication. There’s a hookup or a connection to an Internet service, or that process and so forth with the coaches in the press box. There’s a number of pieces of equipment. There’s a number of connections. They’re on different frequencies.”
Belichick doesn’t pretend to know a ton about the technology. Only that it rarely works:
“Again, not that I’d know anything about this, but as it’s been explained to me, there’s a lot of things involved, and inevitably, something goes wrong somewhere at some point in time. I would say weekly, we have to deal with something. Dan Famosi is out IT person, and he does a great job of handling those things. This is all league equipment, so we don’t have it. We use it, but it isn’t like we have the equipment during the week, and we can work with it and (say), OK, this is a problem. Let’s fix it’, or, ‘That’s not how it works.’ We get the equipment the day of the game — or, not the day of the game, a few hours before the game. We test it, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Usually by game time, it is working, but I would say not always. And then during the game, sometimes something happens and it has to be fixed. And first of all, you have to figure out what the problem is. Is it a battery? Is it the helmet? is it the coach’s pack? Is it the battery on the (coach’s pack)? It could be one of 14 different things.”
He really, really does not like how often there are problems with the tablets:
“So I would just say there are problems in every game. There were problems last week, but there were problems the week before that, too. Some are worse than others. Sometimes both teams have them, sometimes one team has them and the other team doesn’t have them. The equity rule that’s involved there on certain aspects of the communication system but not on all aspects, meaning what happens on one side, then the other team has to have the same. If ours are down, then theirs have to be down, and vice versa. But that’s only true in certain aspects of the communications system, not everything. Overall, there’s a lot of complexity to the technology. There’s a lot of complexity to the multiple systems. I know our end, Dan does a great job to fix those as quickly as possible. He has very limited access.”
He’s also concerned that the NFL doesn’t show enough urgency to fix the problems with the tablets:
“I don’t know how much urgency there is on the other part — from the league’s standpoint — how much urgency there is from them to have everything right. I don’t know. I’m not involved with that. But, yeah. It was a problem last week. It’s basically a problem every week. The degrees aren’t always the same, but we’re usually dealing with something. But as far as the tablet goes, there was an experiment in a couple of the preseason games — it was one preseason game; we actually had two, because it was our home game and Carolina’s home game — where we had video on the tablets.”
In the end, he’s decided to go back to his old ways, using printed paper pictures:
“But for me, personally, it’s a personal decision. I’m done with the tablets. I’ll use the paper pictures from here on, because I just have given it my best shot. I’ve tried to work through the process. But it just doesn’t work for me, and that’s because there’s no consistency to it. Long answer to a short question, sorry.”
Microsoft and the NF can’t be happy about more bad PR regarding the tablets. Since 2013, when the deal was announced, television commentators have regularly incorrectly called the tablets iPads, and several coaches and quarterbacks have taken out their frustrations on the tablets while on the sidelines.
Nobody has so overtly ripped the product in a press conference yet. Leave it to Bill Belichick to be the first.
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