Tom Brady mentioned in a radio interview Monday that he watched a documentary on a recent airplane flight about one man’s quest to make the perfect piece of sushi. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a remarkable film and well worth your time. Once or twice, Brady must have looked at the sushi chef and seen his coach, Bill Belichick.
Jiro Ono is an 86-year-old sushi chef in Tokyo. His 10-seat restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is located in a subway station. Jiro’s creations have made him the first sushi chef to be awarded three Michelin stars. His tiny, sushi-only restaurant is booked months in advance and can cost over $300 for lunch.
The film illustrates Jiro’s commitment to making sushi. He considers it an art and is always seeking ways to improve, ways to find the best fish, ways to cook rice perfectly. Ways to get better. Remind you of anyone?
Jiro is completely committed to getting better at preparing ingredients and making sushi. He works long hours every day of the week and does not like holidays, when his restaurant is closed, because he doesn’t like days that do not involve making sushi.
To say that Jiro is a perfectionist is to say that Rob Gronkowski likes to have fun. Jiro frets over where exactly to put the placemats on his counter. In the film, one apprentice takes a good while to learn how to squeeze out a towel correctly. At Jiro’s restaurant, they massage the octopus for a precise number of minutes before it will be placed in front of a customer.
Jiro is married, but his wife is not in the film. We see him on the way to work, working, and on the way home from work. If he has outside interests, they are not revealed.
All of the single-mindedness and attention to detail seem worth it given the success he’s had. But it seems almost tragic by any other measure. His older son, Yoshikazu, is 50 and wondering when he will take over the family business. His other son, Takashi, tired of waiting and seeing no path to running the family restaurant, opened another sushi restaurant in another part of Tokyo.
Jiro’s kind of total devotion to preparation and perfection is, probably, the marked characteristic of the modern football coach, too.
Joe Gibbs used to sleep in his office. The mainstreaming of the phrase “burnout” can be attributed to Dick Vermeil, his own description of what happened to him because of how hard he drove himself as a football coach.
In advance of his return to coaching at Ohio State, Urban Meyer signed a contract, drawn up by his daughter, that essentially made him promise to remember he was part of a family.
Before Joe Paterno's tragic last chapter, I thought there was something amiss with him. Bobby Bowden, too. Why this endless , decades-long dedication to blitz schemes, pass patterns and recruiting? Why would men in their 80s, figureheads or not, want to be involved in any way with coaching college football? What needs, or demons, remained unaddressed for them after roughly 60 years of highly successful coaching?
I see all of those men in Jiro. But especially Belichick.
For years, I tried to figure out how Belichick does what he does. I decided that he simply had access to a focus and discipline that most people cannot comprehend. That is why Belichick is so famously terse at his press conferences. He could be in a coaches meeting or watching film instead of talking to reporters. He does it only because he has to. And he doesn’t like it because it is not time spent getting better.
His press interactions are always fascinating. He avoids any controversies, often saying, “That’s a league matter.” After playing the Dolphins, he’ll get a postgame question about the Dolphins. But he’ll just say, “We are focused on Buffalo.”
Wait a second, Bill. We have questions about the game that ended 10 minutes ago. But he doesn’t really care. He was probably thinking about Buffalo when he shook hands with the Miami coach.
It is easy to imagine Belichick taking weeks to teach a young coach how to conduct a drill or break down a free safety on film.
To be fair, Belichick does not live like Jiro. He plays golf, owns a boat and enjoys Halloween. If Jiro thinks about sushi 24/7, it seems Belichick would come out at around 22/6.25 thinking about football.
I marvel at these coaches as much as I can’t quite understand their lives and choices. I am glad Paterno and Bowden coached so long, because it seemed to work for them. Perhaps at the end, they were driven to achieve former heights with new teams and different players. But I, at some point, would have rather walked along the beach with my wife, children and grandchildren than prepare for Michigan again. Every job has an end to me, but that may be why I would not be a successful football coach. Or sushi chef.
Of course, something else may have occurred to Tom Brady while he watched that movie about Jiro Ono. It’s been a while since the QB played on a team that played consistently good pass defense. He may even think Bill Belichick is a bit of a slacker.