Commentary | Bob Ryan

These two Belichick personas not a good fit

Bill Belichick was more expansive, and informative, at his season-ending news conference than he was Sunday. Bill Belichick was more expansive, and informative, at his season-ending news conference than he was Sunday. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Staff / January 12, 2010

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Even for Coach Bill, it was an incredibly downbeat postgame performance.

It was amazingly brief (5 minutes 46 seconds), and it was nearly unintelligible. Bill Belichick often says nothing useful after games, but you can usually at least hear how he phrases it. This time his nothing was sotto voce and thank God for the transcription.

After an 87-word opening statement, he fielded 19 questions. His average words per question in response was 14.497, which is a personal, franchise, league, and perhaps even professional sports record low. The high wordage response was 39 (there was also a 38). There were nine single-digit word responses, with a low of one.

Q - Besides the disappointment, is there a sense of shock?

A - No.

Glad we cleared that up.

It was, as one wag put it, the Cleveland Bill. It was the boorish, dismissive, petulant, pouty Bill. It gave the inquisitors nothing, and, more important, it gave the fans nothing. It was Bill the Complete Jerk, and that is the image outsiders will carry back home to Wherever, USA.

Too bad.

It’s too bad because it’s not the whole story. The man would be better off not showing up at all after games, because it’s so far removed from what he can be. If they win, he’s no good at doling out praise. If they lose, he’s inconsolable, irritable, and terse to the max.

And then, of course, the outsiders go home. They don’t converse with the Day-After Bill. This Bill is civil, expansive, insightful, respectful, patient and, believe it or not, witty. Stick around for the Day-After Bill and you learn something.

The first thing we learned yesterday was why he was so totally down after the Ravens game. Was it because he had legitimately high hopes for his team? Was it because it confirmed all his worst fears about Life After Wes? Did he have a side bet with John Harbaugh? Or what? It’s not as if he’s never lost a playoff game before.

“Our season ended,’’ he pointed out. “It’s the finality of it. It’s like you’re on a treadmill, and you’re running however fast you run. I mean, I don’t run all that fast. But you’re on a treadmill and you hit the stop button. It stops, and you fall off. And that’s where you are in the NFL playoffs, at whatever point it is, whether it’s the first round, whether it’s the divisional round, or whether it’s the championship game, or whether it’s the Super Bowl . . . no matter when that feeling comes, it’s a pretty disappointing feeling.’’

We should never forget what kind of life these coaches lead. When players arrive, the coach already has been there. For hours. When they leave, the coach remains. For hours. If the season life is not 24/7, it’s at least 18/7. It is extraordinarily detailed and intense.

The games themselves contain extraordinary levels of concentration. When they conclude, successfully or not, some coaches possess the ability (and desire) to present themselves as responsible spokesmen. Bill Belichick is not one of those people. A day later, he can deal with it. He can even enjoy it, because it means discussing and analyzing football, and no one does it better.

After 35 years in the business, he has a pretty good handle on the process, which, and I quote, “it really, it is what it is.’’ (Of course!) Anyway, the goal is to be a better team in 2010, and you begin that, he said, by doing nothing.

“It’s good to sit back, reflect, and take stock of more than just your emotions and your feelings after that final game,’’ he said.

This time the process has a new wrinkle. Like everyone else, he’s staring at an uncapped year. “There’s no question that this year we’ll be dealing with some uncharted waters as a league,’’ he said. “We haven’t been oblivious to it, but now is where the real decision-making time relative to the 2010 season will start to come up once we get into the uncapped year at the beginning of March and all that.’’

I think we can safely assume that no coach has given it more preliminary thought. That’s just a hunch.

“Do we have some general plans now?’’ he said. “Yes. Will they be refined? I’m sure they will. And is it challenging? Absolutely, because there’s really no precedent for it. It’s different than any other year. Even before, when there was no cap you didn’t have the free agency. With the free agency came the cap. Now it’s sunk to a situation where you have both of them, to a degree.’’

To the question, “When your season ends, how long is the mourning period for players and coaches,’’ he had an enlightening answer.

“You know,’’ he said, “it really goes to the first day of training camp.’’ He went on to say that while, sure, you start doing things in January and February to get ready, and the draft and your OTAs and minicamp, your offseason conditioning, etc., the feeling of disappointment still lingers.

“I’m not trying to minimize the offseason,’’ he said, “but it’s a lot of hot air. ‘Well, this is going to be better; that’s going to be better.’ Or, ‘We’re going to do this; we’re going to do that.’ But until you actually get out there and start really doing it, that’s when you feel you can really make some progress. I’d say the first day of training camp, that’s when you finally address . . . you’re into 2010.’’

He was totally gracious, and even playful, kidding one writer who promised a ‘final question’ and who then asked another that, “Oh, so it was the semifinal question?’’ or teasing another writer who asked a question after that by saying, “No, so it was really a quarterfinal question?’’

By the way, after opening with a 424-word opening statement he took 22 questions. His answers encompassed 3,586 words, give or take. Average words per response: 163.36.

That kind of verbosity always has been part of the Belichick package. Monday through Friday, he’s great (as long as you don’t ask about injuries, what’s up with Randy, or why he traded Seymour). But if you’re looking for that Bill Belichick after a game, sorry. It’s his personal rule: Never on Sunday.

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