Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recognizes longtime research director Ernie Adams

The Patriots' two decades of excellence has often been represented by just one face: Bill Belichick.

Of course, there are many more working behind Belichick to put the pieces together and make sure New England's operation is running as smoothly as possible. We've seen more than a handful of those individuals rise to more prominent roles elsewhere, with the most recent being new Texans general manager Nick Caserio. Like Caserio, many spend a large portion of their career within the Patriots organization, and some never leave Belichick's side.

Consider Ernie Adams one of those people.

Adams is far from a prominent figure within the Patriots, but he's been with Belichick well before the coach was leading the Patriots to Super Bowl appearances and triumphs. He's moving onto the next stage of his life after more than two decades of work with Belichick.

The usually reserved and succinct coach took a moment to recognize Adams' contributions Wednesday.

"Before we sign off here, just wanted to take a couple minutes, if I could, and just again formally recognize Ernie and the contributions that he's made to this organization and, frankly, to myself and the league," Belichick said during his media session. "Ernie's had such a big impact on our success here at the Patriots in so many different ways, from his organization with (former Patriots VP of player personnel) Scott (Pioli) in the personnel department and the grading scale and so forth to strategic coaching situationally, game-planning in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense, special teams -- team building, personnel acquisition, and so forth.

"I've leaned heavily on Ernie for 21 years here and going back to Cleveland and New York, our relationship, which started at Andover, over 50 years ago. Ernie's been a great friend, he's certainly been a great asset to this organization and to me personally and I think that a lot of the things that he's done have also been recognized by other coaches and other staffs in the league, a lot of people, they're doing things that he does for different organizations but some of the things that he really I'd say started and uncovered and showed the value of 'em here. His versatility and ability to do so many different things, his passion for football is really second to none.

"This'll be his final practice today, we'll miss him but always welcome him back. Hopefully, he'll come back and visit us. I'm sure he will. I have a personal appreciation for Ernie and all that he's done and, on behalf of the organization, want to thank him as well. Ernie's one to kind of stay behind the scenes but we're gonna put him out in front here for you this morning as a special thank you."

Adams' final practice afforded him an opportunity to explain what he'd done for the Patriots for 21 years. Unsurprisingly, the answer was simple, but essential to what New England has accomplished during Belichick's tenure.

"Basically, my job is to figure out as many things as I can to help the New England Patriots win football games," Adams said. "In the end, that's what we're all about here, that's what we do. So, whether it's strategy, personnel or anything else. The thing that's been great about my job is I've never really had any constraints put on me, I could go in any area I thought would help us and hopefully I've made some positive contribution."

Adams could be seen as a jack of all trades for Belichick, or as an invaluable resource -- or as Belichick said, a great friend and asset. Regardless, while Belichick received the lion's share of attention and never allowed the downpour of praise to soak his hoodie -- sleeves crudely cut off at the elbow -- key figures like Adams worked behind the scenes to help the Patriots reach their full potential.

It produced six Super Bowl rings for New England, and two more for Belichick as a defensive coordinator in New York. And for Adams, it gave him a career filled with purpose, even if it wasn't easily defined or often recognized. If Wednesday taught us anything, it's that despite his thankless role, Belichick will always appreciate Adams for much more than just his work.

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