Why a Bill Belichick news conference remains performance art ... with a distinct purpose

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick had pretty much nothing to say at his first training-camp news conference Wednesday, unless you consider finding out the guys are “working hard” and “excited” for the season ahead counts as interesting.

It’s business as usual in Foxborough, which is a welcome development after a tumultuous Super Bowl loss, the fallout from that and a wild offseason filled with missed practices, a PED suspension, passive-aggressive social media activity, contract drama and a Tom Brady reality show that led to speculation he might retire.

“Happy training camp,” Belichick said with a smile.

One person Belichick did not want to talk about was Malcolm Butler, the hero in the team’s Super Bowl victory over Seattle four years ago who was ostensibly benched in last February’s crushing loss to Philadelphia.

Butler, a mainstay Patriots starter for three seasons, played one snap on special teams in the Super Bowl. It remains mostly unexplained why he couldn’t get on the field even as the Eagles’ Nick Foles was shredding the Patriots’ defense and New England wasted a 505-yard passing performance by Brady.

Bill Belichick, at Patriots mini-camp last month, has never been much for news conferences. (Getty)
Bill Belichick, at Patriots mini-camp last month, has never been much for news conferences. (Getty)

Since then, roughly one million hours of Boston sports talk radio has centered on the topic – discussions ranging from an airing of grievances against Belichick to theorizing about diminished play to full-on conspiracies.

The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy bravely broached the Butler subject with Belichick, noting that while the coaches’ focus was, undoubtedly, on the 2018 season, everyone still wants to know what happened with Butler.

Belichick only agreed that he was, indeed, focused on the 2018 season.

“That’s right,” he said.

As for Butler?

“Last year’s last year,” Belichick said. “I’m not focused on last year.”

Yes, but …

“We talked about that. That’s multiple months ago,” Belichick said, although there wasn’t much “talked about” after the game other than it was a decision that was made.

After that, it really fell apart.

“Focused on training camp,” Belichick said.

“Training camp, we’re getting started,” Belichick said.

“I’m focused on doing the best I can for the 2018 New England Patriots,” Belichick said. “That’s my job and that’s what I am going to do. Right now, I’m not focused on 2017, not 2014, not 2007, not 2004, not 2001, not 2000. I’m not focused on any of those seasons. They are done.”

“It’s important to have a good season in 2018,” Belichick said. “That’s what I am going to do.”

As for other topics, such as all the chatter about a rift between he and Brady, or Brady nearing retirement or anything else with Brady? Nope. How about Rob Gronkowski along similar lines? Forget it. What about new deals for either of those guys, notably Gronk?

“There’s never any contract news,” Belichick said. “We never talk about contracts.”

How about the fact neither Brady nor Gronkowski were at any organized team activities this offseason?

“Not focused on any of that,” Belichick said. “Focused on what we need to do in training camp.”

About the only player Belichick acknowledged by name was Julian Edelman, who will miss the first four games of the season after being suspended for PED use.

“Julian is a very hardworking player, and we’re all disappointed, but it is what it is,” Belichick said. “He’s moved on. We’ve moved on.”

How about these reports of wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell being shopped around the league in a possible trade?

“I’m not going to engage in media speculation,” Belichick said. “I certainly haven’t talked to any media person about Malcolm Mitchell.”

Good times. If Belichick dismissing every interesting aspect of his team as not relevant and acting surprised that the world isn’t as excited as he is for the first day of drills doesn’t say football season to you, then you’ve never heard the roar of a stadium through crisp autumn air.

This remains performance art for Belichick and Wednesday wasn’t even an all-time effort. He wasn’t combative, just focused. There was no mention of Mona Lisa Vito. There were no snarls about the “league office.” He looked fresh. The grind of having to answer questions hadn’t worn him out. Yet.

For Patriots fans, that’s all you’re really looking to hear. Yes, some explanation on Butler would be nice. It remains a puzzling decision from an infuriating loss. And sure, some reassurance that relations with Brady and Gronk aren’t as bad as they seem would be good. Maybe a little insight into the team would be appreciated.

Belichick long ago realized, though, that all that truly matters in the NFL is the next game. This is how he’s done things. This is how New England has won 15 AFC East titles and five Super Bowls under his leadership. It isn’t by creating a media circus on Day 1. It’s about stomping it out and setting the tone.

He’s been through a lot of drama before – cutting Ty Law, dealing with Randy Moss, confronting the Aaron Hernandez tragedy. He’s always barreled through with a basic truth — training camp is here, it’s time to coach.

“We all have a lot of work to do,” Belichick said.

They sure do. The Super Bowl is on Feb. 3. It grows closer every minute.

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