FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick was stunned.
The Patriots coach had heard many a college coach give him the standard spiel about how smart this prospect or that prospect was, so when Rutgers coach Greg Schiano gushed about Devin McCourty’s smarts, Belichick wanted to see for himself.
As Belichick peppered Devin McCourty with questions regarding the responsibility of Scarlet Knight defenders during an impromptu predraft film session in 2010 — he was on campus to see his son, Steve, play lacrosse — the standout cornerback blew the coach away by spitting out all the right answers with batting an eye.
“I started asking him a few questions about the secondary,’’ Belichick said Tuesday during McCourty’s official retirement ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame. “He went through all that pretty good, so I thought well, ‘I’ll ramp it up here and start asking about the linebackers.’ He knocked that out, too.’’
At this point, Belichick figured it was time to put McCourty in his place.
“So, I figure, all right, I’m going to push it out and embarrass him a little bit here. So, I started talking about the defensive line,’’ said Belichick, who threw out a few misdirection calls, none of which tripped up McCourty.
“McCourty knocks out the whole defensive line, too,’’ said Belichick, simultaneously smiling and shaking his head at the memory. “I’d never really had an interview like this. I mean, I was completely stunned that he would know as much as he knew about the entire Rutgers defense.”
It wasn’t long after Belichick made McCourty the club’s first-round pick that the rookie started digging in on learning the responsibilities of not only his position, but of all his defensive teammates.
And so began McCourty’s 13-year New England journey that included three Super Bowls, position change to safety, and four Pro Bowl invitations.
“It’s been an honor to coach you and have you on this team,’’ said Belichick. “See you in four years [for his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame].”
The ceremony for McCourty, 35, was attended by McCourty’s family, a bunch of current Patriots players, coaches, and staffers, and included speeches from Robert Kraft and Belichick, and two video montages, one of McCourty’s highlights and another that featured good luck messages from former teammates, including Tom Brady.
“Devin, congratulations on your retirement,’’ Brady said. “I’m so happy for you. I know how hard you worked over a long period of time. Seeing you coming in as a young player, and to maximize your potential — starting at corner when you balled out your rookie year, and then made a big transition to safety and become one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL — speaks to who you are and what you’re all about. I certainly loved all our time together, and I always tell everybody, for as great of a player you were, you’re a better person. You have tremendous values, you always stood up for what you thought was right, and we all learned from you. We love you, man. Congratulations.”
Among the other highlights of the day:
▪ McCourty said his twin, Jason, always told him he wasn’t better than him, he was just luckier because he joined a team with Belichick and Brady. “It’s the truth,” Devin said. “The journey I got to experience here was one of a kind.”
▪ Belichick said the night before the Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seahawks, the McCourty twins pulled the first of their many pranks when Jason (posing as Devin) walked by the coach and told him he wouldn’t be at the pregame meeting, but he was good to go for the game. Before a stunned Belichick could react, Devin jumped out and yelled, “Gotcha!” The hijinks continued when Jason joined the Patriots, and the twins often would dress alike to throw off the coach. “Got to be double digits,’’ Belichick said. “I still can’t tell you guys apart.”
▪ McCourty said no coaching staff works harder than the Patriots.
▪ Because Boston College recruited only Jason, Devin acknowledged he still has some “animosity” toward the Eagles.
▪ He believes the team is “in good hands” with Mac Jones at the helm of the offense and Ja’Whaun Bentley leading the defense. He shouted out both players, who were in the audience. “I look at my guy Mac here — first row, here to support me,’’ he said. “I know the team has great leadership.”
▪ McCourty said television is in his future and he jokingly said he can’t wait to question moves by the coaching staff.
▪ Additionally, he said was looking forward to being “one of those crazy, avid Patriots fans” and that he will no longer be shy about wearing his Patriots gear “all over New Jersey.”