July 24, 2013
Belichick Pours Heart Out For Lloyd, Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Now we can finally get down to football.
Patriot Nation and the news media finally got what they wanted on Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. Bill Belichick met the news media in a scheduled press conference, with everyone expecting, if not demanding, to hear the head coach address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez. Belichick said right from the start that addressing the former Patriot tight end, currently incarcerated pending murder charges, was the purpose of this press conference.
What then followed was a major departure from what everyone is used to when it comes to Belichick press conferences. The normally laconic and impersonal head coach started right in by proclaiming this a "sad day", expressed his condolences for Odin Lloyd (though he never mentioned Lloyd by name) and "everyone who has been impacted", and made it clear that this was a tragic story about the loss of a human life.
The coach went on for more than five minutes explaining his inner feelings on what all happened, how the Patriots evaluate players, what can sometimes go wrong in that process, how they move forward, and how accountable the Patriots are for what happened with Hernandez. Belichick, who like Kraft was out of the country when Hernandez was arrested, said that he was "shocked and disappointed" that "someone in (our) organization is involved in a murder investigation."
Belichick often spoke up in defense of Bob Kraft, the owner's previous statements, and what the Patriots stand for. He mentioned that he and Kraft tried to build an organization that will "represent the community the right way, both on and off the field". Belichick made it clear that he stands behind the previous comments made by Kraft a few weeks back, which many media members cynically expected to be the only element of the press conference. But Belichick clearly went way beyond that.
Belichick clearly chided Hernandez without commenting directly on his situation or any legal proceedings. Belichick described this situation as a case that "involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot", that "we do not condone unacceptable behaviour" and it is not the way the Patriots want to do things. He took responsibility as head coach to make sure that players stay in line but acknowledged that players do make mistakes along the way and that they "look at every situation on a case by case basis" and try to do what is best for the franchise.
Belichick expressed pride in the "hundreds of players who have come through this program", but in perhaps his most expressive moment of the prepared statement, specifically said that he is "disappointed and hurt" with the Hernandez case. He showed great consternation during the entire presentation, and showed sincere contrition and regret along the way.
When talking about the process of evaluating players, Belichick mentioned that "obviously this process is far from perfect", and that the Hernandez case "is not a good one on that record." Belichick pledged that the process will be looked at and evaluated accordingly. Belichick went so far as to admit that he is "not perfect" when it comes to decisions made on players, but he "always tries to do what is best for the football team", a bit of a more familiar Belichick stock statement.
Belichick then set about taking questions from the media, but insulated himself with a blanket admonition that he cannot comment about any ongoing legal proceedings. He also made it sternly clear that this is the one and only time that he will address the Hernandez situation. The atmosphere that followed seemed to resemble a press conference at the White House, and it was up to Patriots media boss Stacey James to keep the members of the media in control and the questions delivered one by one. Belichick had to "take the fifth" for about half of the media questions, but there were many that he did answer, and in some cases took some time to come up with a thoughtful answer.
Belichick was asked about his feelings on how this last month has gone, and he mentioned that this situation was "unexpected" and followed the situation while he was out of the country. He was asked a few questions about how the Patriots will approach drafts in the future, and Belichick pledged to improve how the team evaluates potential draftees. He seemed impatient when follow-up questions about the draft came up subsequently, the only time where he came off feeling as such.
Belichick was asked bluntly about how the team can hire someone who flunks a maturity test (Hernandez apparently scored very low on such a test in that area). Belichick did not duck the question, mentioning that there are several tests that measure that sort of thing and that not all of them are completely reliable. The same reporter asked Belichick if the coach can monitor what happens off the field, and Belichick said that he talks to the players often and tries to coach them up on proper conduct off the field but did not offer anything specific.
Belichick ducked one question, regarding the recent signing and cutting of defensive lineman John Drew (who was kicked out of Duke University following a gun charge), saying merely that "we signed (another) player who we thought would best help our team". He bluntly declined to talk at all about the situation regarding Alfonzo Dennard.
Belichick was asked about the current players on the roster and "how are the fans supposed to believe you" about character assessment on the part of the team. Belichick defended the team's "long track record" and restated the team's desire to continue to evaluate players the best they can. He said that he was proud of all the current players but acknowledged that in the past, "some have worked out, and some have not." In stating his desire for a better evaluation for the future, Belichick conceded that they "won't be perfect" in going forward.
This conference should whet the appetite of whomever wanted to hear the head coach speak publicly about the Hernandez situation. Belichick basically did all he had to do, or whatever he was told to do. He came off as heartfelt, concerned and contrite, while still maintaining his closely guarded self when he had to be. It probably will have zero bearing on how many wins or losses for the 2013 regular season, but for those who needed to feel better, Belichick went outside his usual norm and basically gave everyone what they wanted.
Belichick will now be able to move forward and get ready for the opening of training camp on Friday. He can now deflect any ongoing questions on Hernandez, saying "I have already covered that" and now not be vilified for it. Perhaps the players will respect him for coming out and expressing himself, and will obey all his admonitions to his players regarding their statements on the subject. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have already declined to talk publicly about Hernandez or anything related to him.
Now, when camp begins on Friday, let's see which media member earns the first dunce cap of the year and asks Belichick about Hernandez. He came, he spoke, he left. Veni, Vidi, Vici, Belichick style.
Follow Bob George on Twitter: @bob_george
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