Bill Belichick has never gone out of his way to be solicitous of the reporters who cover his football team, and he's paying the price for it.
Wilson Mizner was a playwright, a man-about-town, and a bit of a conman a century ago who is credited with saying "Be nice to people on your way up because you're going to meet them on your way down." For all we know, that could have been said by Mizner's housekeeper, but he's the one who took credit for it.
No matter who said it first, it contains a kernel of wisdom, as the head coach of the New England Patriots is finding out. Bill Belichick has never gone out of his way to be solicitous of the reporters who cover his football team, and he's paying the price for it.
For two decades, he was thought as, if not the smartest boy in the room, then as the craftiest coach in the National Football League as the Patriots dominated the opposition, the standings, and the Super Bowl, but nothing lasts forever. Their days of glory seem to be at an end. They are back in the pack now, trying to keep up with all the other also-rans; and the man who is being blamed is none other than the guy who built the dynasty in the first place: Belichick himself.
He has never enjoyed a chummy relationship with reporters who cover the team and, in fact, has treated them with disdain in his postgame press conferences. Often their questions were treated with a grunt, a snort, or just plain ignored. And that's when the Patriots won! To call him Grumpy would be to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Graceless" would have been more like it. Granted, some of their questions were stupid or ill-informed, but others were thoughtful and precise; they were all the same to Coach Hoodie, though, and he never bothered to disguise that he thought their questions were none of the reporters' business.
They were the reporters' business, though. The media and the Belichicks of the world have different agendas, which can lead to conflicts, some of them serious. But both have jobs to do. The two sides need to recognize that in order to co-exist.
It is true that all coaches try to keep from disclosing information that might aid the opposition, but most of them try to do it without showing contempt for those asking the questions. Belichick seldom even tried. He got away with it as long as his team won. Now, though, they don't win every Sunday, and those same reporters who he disparaged for all those years are not cutting him any slack.
Why, we are asked, did he turn the Patriots' offense over to two failed head coaches who had little or no experience in coaching offense? Why didn't he draft more talent when he had the chance? And why did he practically chase the greatest quarterback in NFL history out the door when free agency came?
Over on the baseball side of the universe, the Red Sox are just in the process of cleaning up the mess that is otherwise known as the 2022 season. The Sox finished up as, to coin a phrase invented by Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe, "the tomato cans" of the American League East, dead last. Yet their manager, Alex Cora, has largely escaped blame for their sorry state. Baseball managers, like football coaches, have media responsibilities to fulfill. It's part of the job. It cannot have been fun for Cora to have stood in front of the media giving his reaction to many of the stinkeroo games the Red Sox let get away this year, but, unlike Belichick, he was able to do so without figuratively holding his nose at the same time. It's true that Cora wasn't responsible for the personnel that he had to deal with, but it's also true that he recognized that the reporters covering the team had jobs to do. His own job seems to be in no immediate danger, at least at the present time.
In Foxborough, Belichick is in charge of all things football. The buck stops with him and he appears to have no allies in the media. He has always taken the position of "It's us against the world" as far as his team is concerned. He once told a photographer with whom I used to work at WBZ-TV, and who was then working for the Patriots, not to speak with members of the team. He did not want them to become friendly with outsiders -- even those who worked for the same organization.
He's in his 70s now, one of the oldest coaches in NFL history, and people are beginning to ask questions like "Has he lost his edge?" and "Has the league passed him by?" These are not easy times for Bill Belichick. He faces perhaps the most daunting challenge of his career. His critics are doubting him for the first time. Is he in fact on the downhill side of his career? The calendar seems to be saying that is the case, but he's not buying into that story line, at least not yet. He's betting on himself, and he's doing it the same way that another occasionally pugnacious personality insisted on doing it. Frank Sinatra used to sing "I Did It My Way," but even he could not outrun or outlast the sands of time.
We'll know sooner rather than later how Belichick does.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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