FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick is a historian of football, his home library filled with volumes on the sport. Ask him about a game played long ago and he can recount the smallest details, including the down and distance.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with reporters following NFL football minicamp in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 18, 2014.  The Associated Press

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with reporters following NFL football minicamp in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The Associated Press

Just don’t ask Belichick about his place in football history. A national reporter attempted to do that last week as Belichick prepared the New England Patriots for their AFC Championship matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night with a berth in Super Bowl XLIX on the line.

“Right now, I don’t really care about any of the other games – last week, last year, 10 years ago, whatever it was,” Belichick said, his voice never fluctuating. “All our focus is on the Colts and we’ve got to do a good job with our preparation for Indianapolis.”

Belichick isn’t interested in personal plaudits. He is simply consumed with winning football games.

More to the point, he is consumed with the journey it takes to win football games – from his creative strategies and the fanatical preparation he demands of players to his blunt manipulation of the team’s roster.

The 62-year-old Belichick has 231 career victories, including playoffs. He has won three Super Bowls and five AFC championships as head coach of the Patriots, another two Super Bowls as an assistant for the New York Giants. Last weekend Belichick won his 20th playoff game as a head coach, tying him with Tom Landry for the most in NFL history. If the Patriots win Sunday, he will tie Don Shula with six head-coaching appearances in the Super Bowl.

But it’s the chase for the win, the preparation, that drives him.

“I enjoy it all,” he said at his Friday news conference. “I enjoy it from the start of the season in February and the combine and the draft process to putting the roster together.

“It’s a new process, bringing new players onto the team, working with them (and) coaching some of the best players in the league … just as much as working with the guys who don’t know anything or in some cases can’t do anything, but they work to improve and rise above that.”

He is often portrayed in the media as cold, insensitive, grouchy. And it certainly appears that way when he casts off players who have been crucial to the franchise’s past success – such as Adam Vinatieri, Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch and, just last training camp, Logan Mankins.

But the players who stay, who buy into his philosophy, know why he makes such moves.

“We know he wants what’s best for this football team and that’s why we love playing for him,” said Matthew Slater, New England’s special teams ace.

They see a side of him that is hidden from public view, from his postgame hugs to his jokes – which no player dares repeat.

“Look, as much as people would like to paint him as a stone-faced guy who has no feelings, he’s a human being like anyone else,” said Slater. “We know that he cares for us.”

GROWING UP WITH THE GAME

Belichick is a football lifer, the son of Steve Belichick, a former NFL player and assistant coach at the Naval Academy for 33 years. He has been learning to win football games since he was a child, spending countless hours with his father watching film of Navy’s next opponent and breaking down its weaknesses.

When he played football at Wesleyan University, it was not at a glamour position. He was a center and a tight end, positions that demand hard work and quick thinking. Those are the same characteristics he demands of his players.

Among his coaching tactics are weekly – sometimes daily – quizzes in which he grills players about how they will react to specific situations in a game, depending on the opponent. Sometimes the quizzes take place in team meetings. Other times, he’ll quiz players when he sees them in the hallway.

Heath Evans, a former Patriots fullback and now an analyst for NFL Network, told The Wall Street Journal, “There’s no limit to the knowledge Bill expects you to have on an opponent, and the craziest part of it is he has the answers to all of it.”

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks on his head set during their football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Dec. 9, 2007. The Associated Press

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks on his head set during their football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Dec. 9, 2007. The Associated Press

No detail goes uncovered. Belichick can tell you how a cornerback reacted when the opposing quarterback pump-faked to his left in a particular formation. He can tell you whether the gunner on punts has a good spin move – and which way he spins – to get away from blockers.

Soon after wide receiver Julian Edelman was drafted by the Patriots, he would get anxious when he’d see Belichick approaching him for fear of what question the coach would ask.

“When I see him in the hallway now … I don’t have anxiety, but you’re always being tested with him,” Edelman told reporters last week. “He’ll say, ‘Who’s the opponent, what (are) his strengths?’ It does keep you on your toes.”

Offensive tackle Nate Solder said the quizzes aren’t simply about being prepared, but about being accountable to your teammates.

“We’re all held to a very high standard on what we know,” Solder said, “how much we know, and I think it shows our coaches but it also shows each other that we’re preparing and we’re doing the things that we need to be doing to be ready to play.”

If Belichick’s prepared for every eventuality, he expects his players to be as well because you never know what’s going to happen in a game. He made that point clear Friday at the news conference when he quoted former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II: “Preparation is everything until the battle starts.”

“You never … go into a week not thinking you are prepared,” said Edelman. “It’s definitely a different mentality around here. We definitely do the whole grind thing to the max here, in comparison to anywhere I’ve ever been.”

SUCCESS BREEDS RESENTMENT

Belichick is not only the coach, but the architect of the New England roster – from drafting collegians to acquiring role players who have been released by other NFL teams. That’s unusual in major league sports; typically there is separation of duties between coaches and front-office executives who assemble the rosters.

“I think he means everything to this football team,” said Slater. “He’s a pillar in this organization, he brings a sense of stability, he brings leadership. He brings toughness. Everything good that this football team has and stands for, I think it starts with him and (owner) Mr. (Robert) Kraft.”

But the Patriots’ success has made Belichick a lightning rod for resentment. The Patriots have had 14 consecutive winning seasons and will be playing in their fourth consecutive AFC championship game.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sidelines in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. The Associated Press

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sidelines in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. The Associated Press

When the Patriots rallied to beat the Baltimore Ravens 35-31 last Saturday night in the AFC divisional round, much of the postgame talk revolved around the strange formation the Patriots trotted out when they were trailing 28-14 in the third quarter – and whether it was legal.

Instead of the normal five offensive linemen in the lineup, Belichick had only four, replacing one with a receiver. That player who came in was, according to NFL rules, ineligible to receive a pass and reported as such to the head referee, who announced that to the Ravens.

Baltimore was rattled, never able to properly adjust. The Patriots ran the formation three times, completing passes of 16 yards, 11 yards and 14 yards before Ravens Coach John Harbaugh ran out onto the field and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

After the game Harbaugh said it “was clearly deception” and that he was sure “the league would look at it.”

The Patriots scored on that drive. And on their next one, they came up with another trick play – in which quarterback Tom Brady lateraled a pass to Edelman, who threw a 51-yard touchdown strike to Danny Amendola.

After the fact, the NFL did investigate the four-lineman formation and found it didn’t violate any rules.

But there was the perception that it did. And that brought out the Belichick haters, those who point out that he and the Patriots have never won a Super Bowl since they were caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets defensive coaches from the sideline in 2007. The incident was dubbed “Spygate,” and Belichick was fined an NFL-record $500,000, the team $250,000 and the Patriots lost their first round draft pick in 2008.

Ever since then, every move he and the Patriots have made has been scrutinized and categorized. “South Park” even devoted an entire episode to Spygate.

And just a week ago, Shula, now 85 and the NFL’s career leader with 347 victories, called Belichick “Belicheat” during an interview.

That’s fine with the Patriots. The more time an opponent has to spend on things the Patriots might do, the less time they have to prepare for the real stuff.

Belichick simply swats that stuff away. When asked if he had a reaction to Harbaugh’s claim of deception, Belichick’s answer was pure Belichick: “No.”

NOT AFRAID TO CUT TIES

The Patriots’ success isn’t limited to tactical moves and formations. Belichick has become a master at finding the hidden gems in the draft, treasure among another team’s trash.

Brady was taken in the sixth round, the 199th player selected, in 2000; Edelman, one of the most versatile and dynamic performers in the NFL, was a seventh-round pick in 2009; tight end Rob Gronkowski was a second-round pick, but other teams passed on him after he missed most of his college season with a back injury.

Belichick’s Super Bowl championship teams included free agents that other teams cast away: Mike Vrabel, Antowain Smith, Roman Phifer, David Patten, Ted Washington, Christian Fauria.

This year’s team includes former free agents Dan Connolly, Rob Ninkovich, Sealver Siliga and Brandon LaFell, among others. During the season he traded for Akeem Ayers, who couldn’t get on the field for the woeful Tennessee Titans, and Jonathan Casillas, from Tampa Bay.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his team play the New York Giants in a preseason football game in East Rutherford, N.J. on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. The Associated Press

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches his team play the New York Giants in a preseason football game in East Rutherford, N.J. on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. The Associated Press

Belichick is not afraid to cut ties with a player he feels is slipping or asking for too much money. Milloy was cut just before the first game of the 2003 season. Richard Seymour – the team’s best defensive lineman and entering the final year of his contract – was traded to Oakland eight days before the 2009 season opener. Vinatieri, who had game-winning kicks in the team’s first two Super Bowl victories, was cut loose after the 2005 season. Branch was shipped to Seattle in 2006 after holding out for a bigger contract (and brought back years later when the Patriots needed another receiver). And this year, Mankins, the team’s best offensive lineman, was shipped to Tampa Bay 12 days before the season opener.

All were gambles. Most paid off.

Belichick has often won games with lesser talent. Stephen Neal, who was a wrestler in college, was a key lineman on the 2004 Super Bowl winner, as was Russ Hochstein.

Who? Exactly.

Dexter Reid, Earthwind Moreland, Dan Klecko, and Randall Gay also contributed to Super Bowl championships. Not exactly household names.

The Patriots have enjoyed a decade-and-a-half of success because Belichick convinces players to follow his lead. Work hard, focus on the job at hand and the wins will come. No matter what controversy might be swirling around – like Spygate or the Aaron Hernandez arrest – just do your job.

“He tries to keep it even keel and that’s one of the reasons why each and every week we ignore everything out of our little office and just worry about what we have to do and it usually prepares us for the games,” said Edelman.

‘THE MOST CONSISTENT … COACH’

Every now and then, Belichick does drop his glower.

He will talk with reporters about his Halloween costume (always, it seems, a pirate), his favorite Halloween candy (“Whatever is in the bag. I like them all, whatever you drop in there.”) or ask about holiday shopping (“Christmas shopping done? Started? Yeah, I’m with you.”).

He will address media members by name and has gone out of his way to answer questions for individual reporters after the end of news conferences. In 2008, one of the members of the Patriots’ press corps, Danny Pires of New Bedford, Massachusetts, died unexpectedly during the summer. Belichick attended his funeral.

New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick smiles as he offers an analogy between the start of a new NFL season and jumping off of a building during a media availability in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday morning Sept 6, 2006. The Associated Press

New England Patriots head football coach Bill Belichick smiles as he offers an analogy between the start of a new NFL season and jumping off of a building during a media availability in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday morning Sept 6, 2006. The Associated Press

No, he’s not going to let reporters know who’s injured or how severe the injury might be. He’s not going to release any tactical secrets. When pressed on those questions, that’s when he responds, “It is what it is,” or this year’s favorite after the Patriots were walloped early in the season by Kansas City, “We’re on to Cincinnati.”

His job is getting his team ready to play the best game of the season every week. That’s why he spends countless hours studying film, firing pop quizzes at his players and examining every page in the NFL rulebook.

He’s changed some things over the years (“The good ones have to adapt,” said Slater. “The game changes, the team’s different every year.”) but has remained true to his core values.

“I think he’s so consistent and I think we as players know what we can count on with him and he always talks about consistent, dependable players and we have the most consistent, dependable coach,” said Brady.

“Every day we show up to work knowing what to expect and he expects a high level of concentration from us. He wants us to go out there and perform at our best every day and when we don’t he lets us know. He holds everybody accountable, certainly holds himself accountable and I’m very fortunate to play for him.”