Saturday, March 8, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick is often depicted as cold, detached, unfeeling, dour.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks to reporters in Foxborough, Mass., on Wednesday. Starting with his opening statement, which lasted about seven minutes, it was obvious Belichick had been affected by the events of the last month.
Wednesday afternoon, he was none of those.
Speaking for approximately 22 minutes in a press conference specifically called to address the Aaron Hernandez situation before training camp begins Friday, the New England Patriots' coach was candid and very human.
Belichick stressed throughout the press conference that he couldn't answer any questions specific to Hernandez because he had been "advised not to comment on any ongoing legal proceedings. And our players have been advised the same."
Hernandez, a former tight end for the Patriots, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd on June 26.
The Patriots released Hernandez, who had signed a five-year, $40 million contract extension less than a year earlier, within an hour of his arrest.
Starting with his opening statement, which lasted about seven minutes, it was obvious Belichick had been affected by the events of the last month.
"It's a sad day, it really is a sad day on so many levels," he said. "A young man lost his life, his family has suffered a tragic loss. There's no way to understate that."
Hernandez, who was back in court while Belichick spoke, has pleaded not guilty.
Hernandez had his probable cause hearing delayed by a judge on Wednesday to give prosecutors more time to present evidence to a grand jury.
Belichick was out of the country when he learned about the investigation into Hernandez.
"I and other members of the organization were shocked and disappointed with what we learned," he said. And he added, "we acted swiftly and decisively" when Hernandez was arrested.
The situation, he said, has caused the organization -- perhaps especially himself -- to look at the way it does business. As coach, he said, he is personally responsible for the players in his locker room.
When something like this happens, it reflects badly on everything the organization stands for -- and on their judgment.
Belichick understands that, saying the Patriots will look at ways to improve their evaluation process, whether it's for incoming veterans or college players.
They'll look to improve the way they counsel their players once they become members of the organization, not only about football but about life.
"I think that we'll continue to try to look at ourselves in the mirror and see where we can do a better job, maybe where we can improve the process," he said. "But I think the fundamentals of the process will remain the same."
As bad as this situation is, he stressed that the team has many players in its locker room who are model citizens and role models.
"This case involves an individual who happened to be a New England Patriot," said Belichick, who spoke Hernandez's name just once. "We certainly do not condone unacceptable behavior. And this does not in any way represent the way that the New England Patriots want to do things."
Asked how the Patriots could have missed the red flags that accompanied Hernandez before the team drafted him in 2010 -- he slipped to the fourth round because of several character issues -- Belichick spoke extensively about the process the team uses to evaluate players.
"I can tell you that we look at every player's history from the moment we start discussing it, going back to his family, where he grew up, what his lifestyle was like, high school, college experiences," said Belichick. "We evaluate his performance, his intelligence, his work ethic, his motivation, his maturity, his improvement and we try to project that into our organization on a going-forward basis. It combines a player's personal history, but again it also has to project what we think and how we think he will be in our environment.
"Obviously this process is far from perfect, but it's one that we've used from 2000 until today."
There have been many instances throughout the years when Belichick has been less forthcoming to the media -- such as Spygate, when he essentially threatened to end a press conference unless the next question dealt with football and not allegations of cheating. But as more allegations about Hernandez came out on an almost daily basis, there was no way Belichick or the Patriots could ignore this situation.
On Thursday, the team -- in another unprecedented move -- will make the 2012 captains (Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Logan Mankins and Matthew Slater) available to the media. Certainly, questions about Hernandez will be asked.
You can expect the answers to be similar to the one Brady gave to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, when asked about Hernandez: "I have moved on."
Belichick said as much Wednesday. Asked how this franchise can move forward, he spoke about the simple task ahead. Training camp opens Friday. There's a season to prepare for.
"I've been asked to address this once," said Belichick. "It's time for the New England Patriots to move forward.
"Moving forward consists of what's always been here: build a winning football team, be a strong pillar in the community, be a team that fans can be proud of."
That might take some doing this year, but Belichick understands that. And he wants the fans to know that the team is doing everything it can to regain that trust.
"We stress high character and we stress making good decisions," said Belichick. "We'll continue to do this and we'll work to do a better job of it as we go forward. We'll learn from this terrible experience that we've had. We'll become a better team from the lessons that we've learned."
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: