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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As he walked swiftly to the podium, with a row of 25 cameras and maybe three times as many reporters seated in front of him at Gillette Stadium, there was still an uncertainty to how Bill Belichick might handle the subject of Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star turned murder defendant.
This is a coach famed for his gruff news conference demeanor and apprehension to opening up about much, particularly the inner workings of his football organization.
And that's in the best of times.
This was among the worst.
Hernandez, almost simultaneously on Wednesday afternoon, was standing 11 miles south of here in Attleboro District Court. His probable cause hearing for allegedly executing Odin Lloyd last month in the middle of the night behind an industrial park was delayed until late August because a grand jury in Boston is considering indicting him on two additional murders from a drive-by shooting in the summer of 2012.
This was, even by the standards of the long and illustrious history of the National Football League, a surreal moment.
The coach here. The former player there. Each standing in front of people demanding more questions than anyone could probably answer.
Hernandez would leave the talking to his attorney. Everyone wondered if Belichick would maintain his silence, going to his old "I only speak about players on the roster" routine or perhaps issue the briefest of comments. He certainly had that right, owing the media nothing.
Instead, Belichick, amid this fast growing case and on the eve of a training camp for his perennial Super Bowl contenders, tackled the subject head on.
"I'm going to address the situation involving Aaron Hernandez," Belichick said at the start of a nearly seven-minute opening statement [he'd take nearly 20 more minutes of questions later].
"It's a sad day," Belichick continued. "It's really a sad day on so many levels. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim."
Belichick was mostly forthcoming, contrite, introspective, revealing and reasonable. He said more than he needed. He said pretty much all he could.
There is no reasonable way to blame him for what Aaron Hernandez has been charged or may additionally be charged to have done. Yet he took a measure of blame in missing whatever warning signs were out there and not just drafting Hernandez out of the University of Florida, but handing him a rich contract extension a year ago. The Patriots' system of evaluating prospective and current players, he noted, clearly failed.
"Most of the decisions work out, some don't," Belichick said of the Patriots' process. "I'm personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this."
Belichick deferred plenty of questions directly about Hernandez and his past citing the ongoing legal process. It wasn't just the smart thing to do, it was the only thing. There is little doubt Belichick, among other Patriots players and officials, will be subpoenaed in the Lloyd case.
Besides, Hernandez remains a fluid situation, and one that keeps getting worse.
Prosecutors sought a continuance on the probable cause hearing – which was going to be a cakewalk anyway – by laying out the likelihood of additional charges coming from a Suffolk County grand jury. Judge Daniel O'Shea granted it, moving the hearing to Aug. 22.
By then Hernandez may be charged with the murder of three different men in two different incidents, an allegation that if true would mean the Patriots last season played a man who had committed a double homicide. There's never been anything like that in NFL history. That doesn't even include a third man who was shot three times but survived in the 2012 drive-by. Or another man who alleges Hernandez shot him in the face earlier this year in Florida.
Then there was a statement at the probable cause hearing that Carlos Ortiz, one of the men Hernandez was with on the night of Lloyd's murder, has told authorities that Lloyd knew about Hernandez's involvement in the 2012 double homicide. Police have leaked that as a possible motive for Hernandez to kill Lloyd.
The entire sordid case is still coming together, truth and details emerging by the day. The story is going nowhere, other than into the depths of hell. Even Belichick understands that.
"This is real life," Belichick said. "It's a substantial issue. I don't know how it could be more substantial."
That's what led Belichick to call this media session, a stand-alone event a full two days before training camp begins here. Just treating Hernandez as another cut player wasn't going to suffice. In another unusual step, six Patriots captains, including Tom Brady, will be made available to the media Thursday. Belichick's goal is clearly to address the situation the best they can and then get back to football. You can expect no one here to say a word about Hernandez by Friday morning.
"It's time for the New England Patriots to move forward," Belichick said, and in that regard, it is expected the team is unlikely to suffer from distractions. This is a transient league and despite the significance of Hernandez's charges, football players are trained to work on the single task in front of them – especially here in Foxborough.
There were some details that Belichick revealed in his session. He said he was out of the country when word of Hernandez's potential involvement in the June murder of Lloyd in North Attleborough came to light. He said the team had no knowledge of the reported 2012 drive-by in Boston or alleged shooting in Florida earlier this year. He said the organization has tried to find out as much information, including the presence of other players, at a Franklin condo Hernandez owned and used. Ammunition, among other evidence, has been pulled from that locale.
Belichick said the allegation and subsequent charge in the Lloyd case shocked and disappointed him. If anything, however, the situation has strengthened his relationship with owner Robert Kraft. And he said the franchise has already begun evaluating their process of looking into players since the Hernandez case is "not a good one on the record."
He said the basic system won't change, but he's open to improvement.
"Any information that we get, we take it for what we feel the value is, the sources vary," he said. "We make the best decisions we can for the football team. That process won't change. It will be modified or tweaked a little bit but I don't see the process changed."
And he wouldn't back down from demanding his players' focus on two goals: winning Super Bowls and being "pillars of the community."
"We certainly talk to our players and our team about what is expected of them and basic guidelines, absolutely," he said.
More than once he wore a look that seemed to express the same frustrations as everyone else in this case.
How could an organization that prides itself on being tightly-run have believed so completely in the character of a man alleged to have unleashed so much mayhem right in its midst? And how, seemingly by the week, could it just keep getting worse and worse?
"We'll learn from this terrible experience," Belichick said.
Soon he was heading back downstairs to his office where he could prepare for another run at a fourth Super Bowl title. Out on the Gillette Stadium field, workers continued to set up the stage for this weekend's Taylor Swift concerts.
And down the road, the Pats' one-time star tight end, the man everyone still wants to hear from, mouthed "I love you" to his fiancee yet said nothing before being hustled out of the courthouse and back to his stark, solitary jail cell.
NFL.com video of Belichick addressing the media:
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