Bill Belichick Spent Basically All Of Patriots Practice Talking With This Visitor

Like, well over half of it

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick, fully engaged in spring practices to the point of lining up at center, barely paid attention to Wednesday’s minicamp practice. In fact, the Patriots head coach spent the vast majority of the session talking with a mysterious visitor on the sidelines.

It wasn’t Robert or Jonathan Kraft, both of whom stood on the opposite sideline for most of the practice. It wasn’t rock star Jon Bon Jovi, a friend of Belichick who chopped it up with New England brass in front of a group of Patriots Foundation visitors. And it wasn’t seemingly retired running backs coach Ivan Fears, who’s been hanging around OTAs and minicamp practices and again was on hand Wednesday, sitting alone on a media cart located roughly 20 feet from Belichick.

Nope, it wasn’t any of those people. It was, of course, Utah State defensive coordinator/safeties coach Ephraim Banda.

Who else would it be?

Wednesday’s practice started normally enough. Belichick, who wore a green Celtics hat all afternoon and later went to Game 3 of the NBA Finals, said, “Go Celtics,” before largely dismissing the rest of his pre-practice questions from reporters. The 70-year-old, constantly twirling his whistle, checked in on various position groups early in the session. He spent some time talking with apparent quarterbacks coach Joe Judge while focusing on Mac Jones and the passing offense.

But after that, Belichick made his way to the sideline, around the 50-yard line, and greeted Banda. The two then talked about who-knows-what (probably football) for well over an hour. (Practice lasted around two hours.)

As the Patriots kicking team ran through punt return/coverage drills, Belichick and Banda kinda-sorta watched while animatedly talking, arm and hand gestures likely driving home points about football. The same was true during kickoff drills, additional positional drills and competitive team drills, which saw Jones and the offense have another mostly impressive day against New England’s defense. A couple of rousing, deep passing plays were completed mere feet away from Belichick and Banda, who on multiple occasions had to get out of the way of players toe-tipping down the sideline.

Belichick walked back onto the field late in practice to watch rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and the third-team offense and to give coaching tips to the defense. But even then, Banda followed and the two continued conversing between snaps.

So, who is this guy?

Well, as far as we can tell, he’s just … Ephraim Banda, defensive coordinator of the Utah State Aggies. There’s not an immediately obvious deeper connection, like Banda’s uncle playing lacrosse with Belichick at Wesleyan, or something.

Banda played safety at Incarnate Word (FCS) from 2008 through 2010. He served as a student assistant coach with the program in 2011 before working for Texas as a graduate assistant coach from 2012 through 2014. He then spent 2015 as a defensive quality control coach with Mississippi State and was hired by Miami the following offseason. With the Hurricanes, Banda coached safeties from 2016 through 2020, also working as co-defensive coordinator the final two years. He was hired as Utah State’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach before last season.

That’s really all there is on Banda, who, on paper, seems like someone who’s worked extremely hard from relatively humble beginnings to become a promising young coach. Honestly, his bio reads like something you’d find in the assistant coaches section of the Patriots media guide before saying, “Well, that makes sense.”

That said, there is some history with Banda and Belichick, as well as some Patriots connections.

Check out this excerpt from a 2017 Sun-Sentinel column about Miami’s pro day:

Belichick, who was sporting a cap and flip-flops during Miami’s workout, spent a good chunk of time Wednesday speaking with Miami defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski — who coached Patriots defensive end Kony Ealy at Missouri — and Hurricanes safeties coach Ephraim Banda.

So, Wednesday wasn’t the first time that Belichick and Banda have talked with each other. Also, Kony Ealy!

Additionally, while at Texas, Banda worked with current Patriots safety Adrian Phillips. And while at Miami, he coached Michael Jackson (the safety, obviously) who was active for one game for the Patriots in 2020 and spend most of his time on the practice squad.

But that’s really it. Just a couple of coaches talking ball for a couple of hours.

It’s not uncommon for college coaches to visit spring Patriots practices (it looked like a Holy Cross staffer might’ve been in attendance Wednesday, too). And it’s not particularly noteworthy that Belichick spent considerable time talking with a coach. But nearly all of practice? That’s rare.

It’s not at all a bad thing, to be clear — but it is interesting.

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