New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass., his first public appearance since tight end Aaron Hernandez was rung up on murder charges last month.
Belichick is the only member of the organization scheduled to speak. It's a full two days before the start of training camp. The team gave the media plenty of advance notice, so everyone from around the region and the country who wants to be there, can.
The question is whether Belichick will say anything of depth or detail on the subject, or instead lean on his patented deflective style, the gruff, old, "only-going-to-discuss-players-on-the-roster" routine.
Predicting Belichick is going to be even moderately effusive on almost any topic when stepping behind a podium is like betting the Pats will have a losing season. It's not advised.
Yet it stands to reason Belichick didn't set up such an event unless he was willing to address Hernandez, at least a little bit. Even if this is about getting the ordeal behind him, there has to be a reason he didn't just wait to talk Thursday when a slew of players, including Tom Brady, will also be available – or even early Friday morning amid the swirl of the first day of training camp.
Belichick is a man of planning and strategy. This is a standalone event he knows will be broadcast live locally and nationally, with multiple news cycles for his comments to be reported and dissected.
If he purposefully chose it while planning to scoff at any questions about his jailed tight end and only discuss, say, the development of the interior linebackers, it's the worst game plan of his life.
Make no mistake, Belichick owes the media nothing. Perhaps he owes a little more to New England fans, but even that's debatable. It's not like he ever made himself out to be the sage of the region, counted on to lead the masses in times of uncertainty.
He's the local pro football coach. He's there to win games. He delivers, and then some, on that task. If he wants to say nothing, it's his right.
Still, Belichick will do plenty for his reputation if he takes inquiries into such an historic story with at least a modicum of patience and perspective. Belichick is highly intelligent and, contrary to his news-conference demeanor, is mostly engaging, charismatic and interesting. The say-nothing approach is as much a coaching tactic as anything else.
This, he must know, is uncharted waters and can't really be treated like any other roster move – or even any other legal issue involving a player, where NFL coaches rightfully shrug it off and point to the courts to handle things.
While Hernandez was under Patriots employ, there are either allegations or an investigation into the shootings of five different men in three different incidents. Three of the men are dead.
One is Odin Lloyd, for which Hernandez has been charged with murdering, execution-style, in the middle of the night behind a North Attleborough industrial park. On Wednesday, Hernandez, coincidentally, will be at a probable-cause hearing at Attleboro District Court, just 11 miles from Gillette Stadium at the same time Belichick speaks.
Then there was the offseason non-fatal shooting in the face of a man in Florida, which has come to light via a civil suit. Meanwhile, Boston police continue to investigate whether Hernandez was involved in a 2012 drive-by shooting that lit up a crowded car and left two people dead and one injured with three gunshot wounds to the arm. One police theory is there was a dispute between the two parties at a nightclub.
In other words, the tight end was allegedly a complete menace. And while it's unreasonable, based on what we currently know, to hold Belichick even tangentially responsible for the alleged actions, it doesn't mean the coach should just avoid the subject.
The theory that Belichick and owner Robert Kraft, who previously admitted the franchise was "duped" by Hernandez, somehow knew or suspected this stuff makes no sense and is based on zero actual proof.
The Patriots might have gambled on Hernandez coming out of the University of Florida, when a first-round talent fell to the fourth in the 2010 NFL draft. The concerns, however, likely hinged on drugs, maturity or even minor legal issues. No one could have envisioned the guy would wind up spending his nights allegedly gunning down people. Besides, after two seasons the Patriots were so convinced by not just Hernandez's play, but also his person, that they handed him a $41.1 million contract, with plenty of it guaranteed.
In the NFL, guaranteed money talks. There is no surer sign of trust in a player. Even with Hernandez in the Bristol County House of Corrections, New England takes a $2.55 million cap hit this year and $7.5 million next.
No one expects Belichick to pour out his heart on Wednesday, or even address many specifics, considering this is still an open police investigation.
Still, Belichick could and should offer some perspective on what he thought of Hernandez, how he dealt with learning about the charges, what went into the decision to cut him immediately and how such a shocking realization – the Patriots might have employed a murderer, after all – has or hasn't affected him and the philosophy of the franchise.
Does anything change? Did any of this matter? How does the team move on – other than getting the questions about Hernandez over before training camp begins?
With Belichick, even a little openness and humility will go a long way. In a modern media world with so much trumped-up "controversy," this is an undeniably big and real story. It's a legit line of questioning.
Here's guessing Belichick knows all of that and realizes the best way to move on and prepare for another Super Bowl run is to set up his own press session, where despite having the right to say nothing, he'll be at least reasonably enlightening and open on the subject. Then he'll declare he's never discussing it again.
Bill Belichick knows strategy, and that's the best one available here.
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