Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who has never been one to embrace technology, has had it with Microsoft Surface tablets on NFL sidelines. He went on a surprisingly long-winded rant about the devices in today’s presser, where he essentially said that the tablets suck ass and he’s not using them anymore.
The Patriots had dealt with issues in Sunday’s game where their technology and headsets weren’t functioning properly. Belichick told reporters that the team’s IT guy had done all he could, and any issues beyond that were on the NFL. “I don’t know how much urgency there is on the other part from the league standpoint,” he said.
Belichick isn’t the only one to complain about the result of the league’s multi-year, $400 million deal with Microsoft. As Kevin Clark of The Ringer wrote in August, the NFL’s players and coaches have had mixed reactions to the prevalent tablets on the sidelines. Many of them preferred binders to look at plays and formations, since those don’t require batteries.
From the Patriots’ transcript (his answer is very long):
BB: Yeah, well, first of all thank you for your comment there. As you know Phil [Perry], there are multiple communication systems on the sideline. As you probably noticed, I’m done with the tablets. I’ve given them as much time as I can give them. They’re just too undependable for me. I’m going to stick with pictures as several of our other coaches do as well because there just isn’t enough consistency in the performance of the tablets, so I just can’t take it anymore. The other communication systems involve the press box to the coaches on the field, and then the coach on the field, the signal caller, or the coach-to-quarterback, coach-to-signal caller system. Those fail on a regular basis. There are very few games that 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 are headsets in the helmets, there’s the belt pack, that communication, there’s a hookup or connection to internet service or that process and so forth with the coaches and the press box. So, there are a number of pieces of equipment, there is a number of connections that are on different frequencies. Again, not that I know anything about this but as it has been explained to me there are 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 our IT person and he does a great job of handling those things. This is all league equipment so we don’t have it. I mean we use it but it isn’t like we have the equipment during the week and we can work with it and ‘OK, this is a problem. Let’s fix this.’ That’s not how it works. We get the equipment the day of the game, or I’d say not the day of the game but a few hours before the game and 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 coaches’ pack? Is it the battery on the coaches’ pack? I mean you know, again, it could be one of 15 different things. 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 doesn’t have them. There’s an 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 has to be down and vice versa, but it’s only true in certain aspects of the communication system; not everything. Overall there is a lot of complexity to the technology. There is complexity to multiple systems and there are a lot of failures, and so I know on our end Dan does a great job to fix those as quickly as possible. He has very limited access. I don’t know how much urgency there is on the other part from the league standpoint. However much urgency there is for 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, I mean 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. 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’ve 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.
Coincidentally, Belichick said today that his son Steve had his first child, which makes Bill a grandfather, perhaps explaining his struggle with the batteries and the process and the dang frequencies.
Update (6:10 p.m. ET): Microsoft released a toothless statement in response to Belichick’s comments in which it respected the coach’s choice to not use sucky tablets.
We respect Coach Belichick’s decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface. We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players and team personnel across the league. In the instances where sideline issues are reported in NFL games, we work closely with the NFL to quickly address and resolve.
The NFL released a reminder that Microsoft paid the league a lot of money for this deal:
Microsoft is an integral, strategic partner of the NFL and implementing their technology on our sidelines has increased the efficiency and speed of collaboration between coaches and players to an all-time high. Within our complex environment, many factors can affect the performance of a particular technology either related to or outside of our partner’s solutions. We continue to work with all of our partners to ensure the best systems are in place to most effectively assist the clubs in the execution of their game plan.