In the three years since Microsoft and the NFL agreed to a $400 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.
On Tuesday, Belichick announced officially that he is done — once and for all — using tablets on the sideline, calling the Surface tablets "just too undependable."
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."
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.
Belichick continued on Tuesday, talking 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."
NFL Power Rankings: Week 7
NFL Power Rankings: Week 7
31. Bears (1-5)
Last Week: 28
The Bears faced a vulnerable opponent in Jacksonville at Solider Field on Sunday, and squandered a chance at their second win of the year. They'll now face the Packers, at Lambeau, on short rest. Not a great combination.
(Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
30. 49ers (1-5)
Last Week: 29
Colin Kaepernick didn't play badly under center, but the results were still the same in Week 6. With a bad quarterback, or with a slightly-less-bad quarterback, the 49ers still don't stand much of a chance.
(Photo by Michael Adamucci/Getty Images)
29. Jets (1-5)
Last Week: 25
One more loss will match their total from all of last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick's five touchdowns and 11 interceptions have fans clamoring for a replacement -- though Todd Bowles is sticking with his $12 million quarterback for now.
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
28. Dolphins (2-4)
Last Week: 30
After weeks of futility, the Dolphins easily took care of business against the Steelers -- albeit without Ben Roethlisberger for some of the game. Next week, they'll host the hottest team in the division -- the Buffalo Bills.
(Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
27. Panthers (1-5)
Last Week: 23
The Super Bowl hangover is real. After winning the NFC last year, the Panthers are 1-5 and coming off a loss to the Saints. Their playoff hopes are already all but gone -- they'll have a bye week to figure things out before a Week 8 matchup against Arizona.
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
26. Colts (2-4)
Last Week: 18
Six weeks in, it's clear that the Colts are a mess. They blew a chance to hop right back in the AFC South race with a Sunday night win, but with an overtime loss to Houston, it'll take a massive turnaround to get back into the thick of things.
(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
25. Saints (2-3)
Last Week: 27
New Orleans became the latest team to knock off the Panthers, but at this point, that's not necessarily all that impressive. The Saints managed to outscore their horrid defense, which is how they'll have to win all their games this season.
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
24. Titans (3-3)
Last Week: 22
The Titans dropped two spots despite a win in Week 6, but that kind of thing happens when you play the Browns. They're not quite Browns-bad, thankfully. But they're still pretty bad.
(Photo by Greg McWilliams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
23. Chargers (2-4)
Last Week: 31
The Chargers showed up on Thursday night, topping Denver at home in an impressive win. This team, even despite injuries, seems to have more talent than their record would suggest -- but another tough test awaits next week in Atlanta.
(Photo by Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
22. Jaguars (2-3)
Last Week: 26
Jacksonville is slowly recovering from their slow start, winning their second consecutive game. In a Week 7 battle between teams with the most offseason hype, the Jags host Oakland -- but at 4-2, they're no easy opponent.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
21. Rams (3-3)
Last Week: 19
Case Keenum had maybe the best game of his career, but it still wasn't enough for Los Angeles to top Detroit. Keenum's great outing, though, will keep Jared Goff on the sidelines for at least a few more weeks.
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
20. Buccaneers (2-3)
Last Week: 21
Coming off its bye, Tampa has a good break, playing the 49ers in Week 7.
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
19. Ravens (3-3)
Last Week: 15
Remember when Baltimore was 3-0? They've now dropped three straight, but a matchup against the lowly Jets should help them get back on track.
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
17. Bengals (2-4)
Last Week: 16
Cincy had the misfortune of facing the Patriots in Foxboro in Week 6, but some good karma was tossed its way with a home game against the Browns this week. Some things just work themselves out.
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
16. Giants (3-3)
Last Week: 24
The Giants' strange season continued with a fairly impressive win against Baltimore -- driven mostly by Odell Beckham's first monster game of the season. With Dallas and Washington seeming to hit their stride, New York will need to string together a few more wins.
(Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
15. Cardinals (3-3)
Last Week: 17
Against a slumping Jets team, the Cardinals came out and did exactly what they were supposed to on Monday night, beating up on New York 28-3. Carson Palmer suffered a hamstring tweak, which will be important to monitor heading into a Week 7 matchup against the Seahawks.
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
14. Raiders (4-2)
Last Week: 9
Oakland couldn't get much of anything going against Kansas City's defense in Week 6, but carries a winning record into a matchup against Jacksonville on Sunday.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
13. Eagles (3-2)
Last Week: 10
The Wentz Wagon may be loosing some bandwagoners after Philly lost its second straight game. A divisional loss against Washington hurts, but a tilt against the Vikings next week could be even more punishing.
(Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
12. Redskins (4-2)
Last Week: 14
Washington won its fourth consecutive game on Sunday, knocking off an Eagles team that seems to have peaked a bit too early.
(Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)
10. Bills (4-2)
Last Week: 13
After an 0-2 start, the Bills are now one of the hottest teams in the NFL, and, barring a meltdown this week, await a Week 8 game against New England with major divisional implications.
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
9. Chiefs (3-2)
Last Week: 11
Efficient play from Alex Smith and solid rushing from Spencer Ware have highlighted Kansas City's success this season. Against New Orleans' brutal defense next week, they shouldn't have a problem continuing this trend.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
8. Packers (3-2)
Last Week: 5
It's not time to panic, but Aaron Rodgers' recent decline is at least a bit concerning for Green Bay. A game against the Bears should help him get back on track, but if not, there may be a problem.
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
7. Falcons (4-2)
Last Week: 6
Atlanta finally came back down to earth with a Week 6 loss to Seattle, but on the road, that's nothing to be ashamed of.
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
6. Steelers (4-2)
Last Week: 4
We're not quite sure what happened in Week 6 against Miami, but the Steelers came out flat and got embarrassed. They'll be without Ben Roethlisberger for at least a few weeks, which makes their future even murkier.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
5. Broncos (4-2)
Last Week: 3
They suffered a bad loss to San Diego on Thursday night, but with a longer week of practice, hosting the Texans on Monday night, they should be able to get back on track at Mile High.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
4. Cowboys (5-1)
Last Week: 8
It looks like this is really happening. Led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are one of the best teams in football. And with the way things are going, there's just no way Jerry Jones can re-insert Tony Romo, whenever it is he's ready to return.
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
3. Seahawks (4-1)
Last Week: 7
It was their toughest matchup of the season thus far, and Seattle passed the test, winning a tough one against Atlanta. Matt Ryan threw for 335 yards, but Russell Wilson's 25-for-37 passing clip led the Seahawks to their fourth win of the year, setting up for a primetime game in Arizona this week.
(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
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 NFL 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.
"We respect Coach Belichick's decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface," Microsoft said in a statement. "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."