The man behind the man

Northwestern’s alumni magazine comes a few times per year. It’s good to leaf through to see who got married, who got a promotion, who had a child and, morbidly, who died.

But this winter’s edition had a front-page headline, “The New England Patriots’ Secret Weapon.” And lo and behold, there inside, on page 30, was a four-page feature on “Bill Belichick’s voice-in-his ear, football-genius, right-hand man,” Ernie Adams.

The article dubs Adams “quite possibly the best football coach you’ve never heard of,” which is an apt description for a man who has been connected to Belichick since their days together at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts and followed him to NFL stops in New York, Cleveland and New England.

Adams, Northwestern Class of ’75, is the smartest man in the room, always. He agreed to an incredibly rare, three-hour, sit-down interview with freelance writer Tim Warren because, as Adams said, “I really appreciate how the school helped give me my start.”

There were few grand revelations in the story, no secrets as to all the ways that Adams helps Belichick. But it was interesting to read about why Adams prefers to work in the shadows rather than the spotlight.

“The truth is, I’ve always preferred to fly under the radar,” Adams said. “I just don’t need a lot of notice. I love what I do, and that’s enough. And there’s a lot of stuff about being in the spotlight that I just don’t want. Let someone else worry about the media and the second-guessing and all the pressure.”

Not that Adams hasn’t taken on his own. He once left the football business to work on Wall Street as a municipal bond trader, which reveals just how smart he is. He later started his own investment business. But he couldn’t shake his jones for football and his connection to Belichick.

“Those of us who know Ernie best understand that he is extremely well rounded,” Belichick told Warren. “He is one of the most educated and well-traveled people I have ever met. He is extremely knowledgeable in a number of areas, so his decision to pursue another field was perfectly reasonable to me. That said, I’m glad he decided to come back to football.”

The unexpected feature was a welcome change to the academic stories that usually fill the Northwestern alumni magazine. It was more insightful than many of the regular announcements inside the magazine. Still even after a rarer interview with one of the smartest men in the league, the mystery of Adams, and what he actually does, lingers.

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