To think Willie McGinest almost never came to the Patriots.
As he was elected to the team’s hall of fame Tuesday, one of the greatest defensive players in franchise history took a look back on that fateful day in the 1994 NFL draft when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones almost moved up to the No. 4 spot and drafted the stud defensive end/linebacker out of Southern Cal.
As it turned out, the Cowboys couldn’t sweeten the pot enough for Patriots coach Bill Parcells and the organization to make it worth their while. The Patriots drafted McGinest and the rest is history.
“It’s a funny situation because Parcells never really called me or kept in touch. I had one visit and I thought I was going to Dallas just because of the all representatives I had in the room and what was about to take place,” McGinest recalled on conference call. “They were going to trade [Alvin Harper] and move up and I happened to be in New England. I really didn’t watch a lot of New England football. The only way I knew about it was because Drew got drafted No. 1 overall the year before. We’re in the same draft class. It all worked out pretty well.”
In Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, McGinest had the privilege of playing for three head coaches in New England who have won a remarkable seven Super Bowl titles while going to another four. He spoke at length about all three Tuesday, paying particular respect to Parcells and Belichick.
“Parcells is a different animal, of course,” McGinest said. “But his knowledge of the game at every position, what he expects out of every player, how he pushes you. I had coaches with his mentality and his demeanor growing up as a kid so it didn’t bother me at all. I was actually attracted to his style as well as Bill Belichick’s style. You can’t have thin skin but the one thing that he does is he prepares you, he teaches you and he expects a lot out of you. You have some success, but to get his approval you have to have consistent success. That’s why he’s won Super Bowls, he’s in the Hall of Fame and I think Bill Belichick carried some of those same traits as a head coach.”
As for Belichick?
“The preparation. Definitely one of the smartest, not just coaches but one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around, putting you in a position to succeed, knowing and understanding all the players’ strengths and weaknesses and not leaving any detail unturned,” McGinest said. “There’s been more times than not where he’s sat in the meeting room and told us what exactly was going to happen and that Monday morning guys are turning around looking at each other because some of the things he said would happen definitely happened and took place.
“So, both of these coaches are highly intelligent. Their football IQ as well as just being smart individuals and they see both sides of the ball. I think that’s the one unique thing about both coaches. They’re not just one-dimensional when it comes to coaching offense and defense. They can see and understand how to coach every single position and put those players in position to succeed.”
It was Belichick who reminded McGinest and the Patriots what it took to win the Super Bowl after they failed to make the playoffs in 2002, one year after winning their first.
“I think when we won it in 2001 and didn’t make the playoffs the next year, I think that was the thing that really let us know that regardless of what happened the year prior, you have to hit the reset button and you have to start all over,” McGinest said. “You just can’t show up and win Super Bowls. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of offseason preparations. The other thing is free agency, trying to keep a nucleus together, the foundation together. In today’s game, it’s tough because when the players have success, they want to be paid accordingly. There’s a lot of things that factor in.”
Belichick’s message is what leads McGinest to think this 2015 bunch will have what it takes to repeat.
“I think the biggest thing that was helpful for us was when we didn’t go to the playoffs [in 2002], we went back to work like we never accomplished anything. Bill Belichick set a precedent that it doesn’t matter what you did last year. It doesn’t matter what you did last week. Nobody cares. It’s the all about going forward and you have to play each game like it’s your last game. You have to have that mindset and you have enough guys that buy into that and don’t get caught in everybody telling them that they’re the best and the whole Super Bowl thing because it can last the whole offseason. The faster you forget about it and get on and start prepare for what’s coming, you have the best chance [to repeat].”
McGinest went to the playoffs in his rookie season, the Super Bowl in his third and wound up playing for three Super Bowl winning teams in New England.
“Pretty quickly. We went to the Super Bowl in my [third] year with the Patriots,” he said. “We had some success early. I knew when Mr. Kraft bought the team he had a lot of expectations to grow the organization and make this one of the best premiere organizations in the league. The coaches and everybody there were determined to get the best players on the roster,” McGinest said. “Just being around some of the guys I played with, after that first Super Bowl in ’96, I just knew we had an opportunity to do something great. Of course, I didn’t imagine it would be one of the most winning franchises in history and everything its accomplished. And where the organization is now, it’s exceeded all my expectations. I had success early in my career with the Patriots so the expectations for and for the organization were always set high.
“I just want to say I’m honored to be the 24th inductee into the Patriots hall of fame. I want to thank, first of all, the Kraft family, the entire Kraft family, the writers, all my teammates and coaches along the way and of course the fans for making all this possible.
“I was one of a couple of a really, really talented players who were also deserving. Just paying my respects to all the players that put on Patriots uniform that also deserve this honor. I’m just happy and blessed to be in this position and humbled by being inducted.”