No one would ever describe Bill Belichick as talkative, but even by his standards, he was terse Monday.
The New England Patriots head coach completed his NFL-mandated media obligations in a conference call with reporters, fielding 19 questions roughly 24 hours after his team suffered its first loss, an ugly 16-0 defeat to the Buffalo Bills.
Belichick scoffed at questions about the Patriots’ injury situation, especially as it pertains to injured quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was a late scratch before the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.
“We listed the inactive players as inactive,” the coach quipped. “Inactive players can’t play. They’re inactive.”
That’s nothing new when it comes to Belichick, especially as it pertains to his handling of the media. The Patriots hired him in 2000, and in the nearly 20 years that have followed, we haven’t learned a whole lot about Belichick, other than the obvious facts: He’s a really good football coach, he doesn’t like talking to the media and he has a questionable (nonexistent) fashion sense.
But there’s also a side of Belichick that Patriots and NFL fans don’t get to see very often, probably by design. In two lengthy features about the longtime coach this week, we were offered a rare look into Belichick the person, not just Belichick the coach.
NFL.com’s Marc Sessler detailed his odd relationship with Belichick: They used to be pen pals … of sorts. On a whim, Sessler — then a college student — sent a letter to then-Cleveland Browns coach Belichick.
Belichick twice exchanged letters with Sessler, the first letter accompanied by an overview of the Browns’ weekly preparations.
“Thanks for your great support and good wishes,” Belichick wrote. “I admire your drive and determination and have no doubt you will do well in anything you undertake.”
And an oral history of the coach featured in this week’s ESPN The Magazine sheds even more light on how good of a person Belichick can be.
Phil Savage, who served as a Browns assistant coach from 1991 to 1995, said Belichick’s experiences as a football lifer who started at the bottom made him sympathetic to everyone within the football operations department.
“He’s been in that position himself, living in an empty apartment with a cardboard moving box as your coffee table,” Savage recalled. “So when we’d win a big game, on Monday he’d give you one of those $100 handshakes. It was the kind of gesture people would never, ever connect to Bill Belichick. There’s a generosity to Bill most people don’t get to see.”
Jon Robinson, a former Patriots scout and eventually the team’s director of college scouting, shared a touching story about Belichick’s kindness.
“After my daughter was diagnosed at 6 with Type 1 diabetes, a week later on my desk there was a little teddy bear, with a Belichick hoodie on it. And he had written a little note: ‘I know this doesn’t cure it, but just something for Taylor to know we are thinking about her and praying for her.’ She knew it was from Coach. She named her bear Hoodie.”
Finally, from Bob Quinn, who left the Patriots to take the Detroit Lions’ general manager job:
“I accepted the Lions job at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. His assistant said he was in the weight room on the treadmill. I went down there and he turned the treadmill down and he walked really slow and we just sat there and had a conversation for well over an hour about everything. The river just unloaded. I wish I had a tape recorder. I didn’t even have a piece of paper with me, so I was just trying to remember everything. People don’t know. They don’t see that guy on the treadmill. They see the guy in front of the press podium. One of the things Bill said to me was, ‘Don’t try to be me, try to be yourself.’ ”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images