FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick’s final news conference before Christmas Eve was his most spirited of the season.

Dour at the podium in the vast majority of his 2023 media appearances, the Patriots head coach was loose, insightful and engaging Friday as he addressed reporters ahead of New England’s Sunday night road matchup with the Denver Broncos.

Belichick offered thoughtful answers to questions about backup safeties Adrian Phillips and Marte Mapu, the Patriots’ and Chiefs’ footballs being underinflated last Sunday, and his respect for Denver head coach Sean Payton. But his best responses came after he was asked about the one season he spent as a Broncos assistant in 1978.

Here’s the full transcript:

Story continues below advertisement

“Yeah, it was a great year for me. It was a great experience. The two years before that, I was in Detroit — coached the tight ends and receivers in Detroit. And then, in Denver, I went back to working on the special teams — worked on special teams in Detroit, too — but worked more on special teams and the defensive side of the ball in Denver. And that was with Joe Collier and Richie McCabe, so it was Stan Jones, Bob Zeman, Richie McCabe and Joe Collier. And then, I did the breakdowns and stuff like that.

“So, I learned a ton out there. It was a graduate course from Joe, from Richie about the secondary play, and just in general the 3-4 defense. And then, we played an over defense. It was like a version of a 3-4 Detroit, but it was a little bit different. Joe played the 3-4 defense that he played in Denver, which was –the spacing was the same, but it was configured a lot differently than what we eventually ran in the Giants when Coach (Bill) Parcells came.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

“So, Baltimore was all 4-3. Detroit was a different version of odd spacing, 3-4 defense in Denver. Then, we played 4-3 for a couple years with Ralph Hawkins in New York. And then when Coach Parcells came, it was all 3-4, but it was a different type of 3-4 defense than what Joe ran in Denver, even though the spacing was the same. And that was — looking back on it — again, that was a great learning experience, because I saw kind of the same thing, but they were actually very different in the way they were coached and the way they were — the schematics of it.

“And, of course, that changed some of the fundamentals too. The red area coverages that Joe ran out there, I’d say at that time, he was pretty far ahead of his time. They’re pretty common now, but at that time they were pretty unique for the most part. So, that was a great experience. I really didn’t have too much interaction on the offensive side of the ball, other than — I was there, but I wasn’t in those meetings, and that type of thing. We lost in the playoffs there, but had a good team the year before — they had gone to the Super Bowl, beat Oakland three times. So, coming off of that year, coming off the ’77 season, they lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl.

Story continues below advertisement

“So, a lot of good players, a lot of really good players out there, and a lot of good coaches, a lot of good experience that I gained. Babe Parilli, who was quarterback coach — they had (Craig) Morton — I learned a lot from Babe, too, because I spent a lot of time with Babe. He kind of mentored me from the opposite side of the ball. I mean, I asked him a lot of questions and bothered him a lot, but he couldn’t have been more accommodating, from just the quarterback coaching perspective, because that’s something I hadn’t done. So, I learned a lot out there that year.”

No Matchup Found

Click here to enter a different Sportradar ID.

A follow-up question about the evolution of the 3-4 defense prompted a similarly detailed monologue that included a scouting report of the ’78 Broncos’ front seven:

“Right, well, Pittsburgh has their 3-4 defense. I would say that’s a lot different than — way, way different than what Joe’s defense was in Denver. The spacing is the same, but the coverages and the way the defense is structured is just a lot different. In Denver, we played the ends in five techniques. Pittsburgh plays them inside the tackles. We call it 4i. They over, over, shift and some under.

Story continues below advertisement

“Joe, at Denver, we’d go into a game with 50 different fronts. So, the 3-4 became a 4-3. It became an over, it became an under, it became an even, it became a multitude of fronts and stunts that went with those fronts. But, we really only ran, call it two coverages, three coverages. But the variety of the fronts were — it was hard to block those fronts because there were so many different looks, so many different combinations.

“And we had good players. We had Rubin Carter on those, who was really good. (Lyle) Alzado, who was good, (Barney) Chavous, who was good. Then (Randy) Gradishar. (Tom) Jackson and (Bob) Swenson were the two outside linebackers, so they were both really good. They could rush. They could set the edge. Jackson was fast.

“So, those guys on the front were a real problem. If they just sat there and never moved, they would have been a problem, then, when you put all the different combinations together. And Billy Thompson is the safety who was really one of the best. I mean, I’ve coached a lot of good safeties, but he’s right up there. He’s one of the best ones I’ve coached, that I was with.

“So, it’s just a different system, that’s all. Again, it was a good learning experience. When (Parcells) came to New England from the Giants and brought the 3-4, his version of the 3-4, which was from Fritz Shurmur. Fritz was in Detroit when I was there. When we played that over 5-2 at Detroit, Bill’s 3-4 was a lot different than Joe Collier’s. As a coach, I kind of sat back and saw some ways to maybe merge some of those things together, which as I’ve gone on in my career, I’ve taken some things that Joe did, some things that Bill did, merged them together along some other stuff, too.”

Story continues below advertisement

You can watch Belichick’s full responses, which went on for nearly seven minutes, in this video:

Kickoff on Sunday night in Denver is set for 8:15 p.m. ET.

Featured image via Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports Images