I’m just guessing, but I bet Coach Bill loves coaching this edition of your New England Patriots.
I mean, anyone can coach a team loaded with All-Pros and smart, seasoned veterans. But not everybody can start off 4-0 with a roster that includes 14, as Dick Vitale would say, Diaper Dandies. (That’s “rookies” to you not well-versed in Vitalese.)
C’mon, you know and I know that Coach Bill loves a challenge. And while Nick Saban seems to have co-opted the concept of coaching being all about the “process,” whom do you think the Alabama mentor learned that from?
Coach Bill is all about the process. It’s his life. He enjoys the entire annual cycle. He loves the draft prep. He loves the minicamps and the OTAs. He loves training camp. He loves Monday through Saturday during the season. It goes without saying he loves Sunday afternoon at 1, or Sunday afternoon at 4:15, or Sunday night, or Monday night, or Thursday night, or Saturday night in December, if it comes to that. Ever hear him complain about travel issues? Nope. Ever hear him complain about anything to do with the National Football League? Nope.
We all know what he says when any peripheral issues are brought up. Ready? 1 ,2, 3 . . . repeat after me, “It is what it is.”
This is, to borrow another phrase, the life he chose. It is all he’s known since he was 21 and famously working for 25 dollars a week as a Detroit Lions gofer who was not remotely put off by the prospect of sleeping on a couch or floor or in a bathtub, as long as he had the opportunity to be associated with a professional football team.
He comes up for air on a limited basis in the spring. Has there ever been a more self-satisfied, contented, and almost euphoric look on anyone’s face to match that of Bill Belichick’s when, while in attendance at a Celtics playoff game, he would see his face up on the big screen and the crowd would applaud wildly? He doesn’t beg for your approbation, but he basks in it. And why not? He does what he does as well as anyone in the NFL has ever done it. He’s glad you appreciate that.
The man is bright and is there any doubt he would have been a success in any chosen field of endeavor? But football is the thing that floats his boat. I suppose it’s only natural to say, well, sure, he’s the son of a football coach, so what do you expect? Any parent knows that it doesn’t necessarily follow that an offspring is as infatuated with a parent’s area of interest as the parent is. Sometimes they are completely put off by it.
Steve Belichick’s kid was not one of them. Little Billy was to the film room born, a prodigy who could unravel the mysteries of formations and coverages as an adolescent. He was wise enough to know that his body type and level of inherent athletic ability would carry him only so far. He knew at age 12 what he wanted to do, and that was coach. He planned his life accordingly. And here he is, 61 years old, still at the top of his game, coaching up a team that has some holes but remains a team nobody particularly looks forward to playing.
He probably doesn’t yet know how good the 2013 New England Patriots are or can be. Does anybody? They go to Cincinnati Sunday afternoon as even odds to beat a 2-2 Cincinnati Bengals team, a circumstance that tells you all you need to know about the curious state of the Patriots. Denver, Kansas, New Orleans, and Seattle are likewise 4-0, and do you think any of them would be similarly disrespected were they heading on the road to play a 2-2 team?
Things were challenging enough, and now Coach Bill has a new serious problem to solve, given that Vince Wilfork will not be anchoring his defensive line. We all made our acquaintance with undrafted rookie free agent Joe Vellano last Sunday night, and we are about to become more familiar with him, now that the highly respected and truly beloved Big Fella has been lost for the season.
Coach Bill shops for the groceries, remember. Vellano is one of his many bargain items. His shopping acumen will now be put to a major test.
Coach Bill has been there many times before. Nothing is more frequently written in No. 2 pencil, or even disappearing ink, than an NFL depth chart. Every play in a football game can lead to someone’s personal disaster. Just ask Brian Hoyer if he’d like that supposed safety-first slide back on Thursday night. When you see what happened on a maneuver that is supposed to ensure his well-being, you ask yourself why that injury doesn’t happen more often. But I digress.
Coach Bill’s team passed a test last Sunday night in Atlanta, the final score not being indicative of his team’s control. Kenbrell Thompkins looked more like the Kenbrell Thompkins who drew training camp and exhibition game raves and less like the overmatched rookie we feared wanted to wee-wee in his pants in the first two games.
He’s a superior “athlete,” no doubt. But one constant in every sport is that raw talent is merely a beginning. The question that must be answered is, “Does this guy know how to play the game in real time, against top-flight competition?”
Times in the 40 and how many times you can bench 225 in a minute are no longer relevant when the game starts if you don’t have what it takes inside the chest and above the neck.
I’ll say this: Aqib Talib seems to know what he’s doing.
But was the Atlanta game a test, or merely a quiz? The Falcons have personnel problems of their own. They are far from the team that lost to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. A case can be made that the 4-0 Patriots still haven’t beaten, you know, anybody.
I don’t know about you, but I’d pay some serious cash money to have a little morning coffee with Coach Bill and his staff when, we must assume, they actually engage in some enlightening dialogue about the state of affairs in the NFL and, specifically, where they think their own team fits into the scheme of things. Forget about ever getting any truthful analysis in public. Standing at a podium, Coach Bill could make the 2008 Detroit Lions, who went 0-16, two-touchdown favorites over the 1985 Chicago Bears.
But wouldn’t you love to know if Coach Bill really thinks like so many of us, that it is an almost embarrassing stroke of fabulous good fortune to have gifted his incomplete and vastly inexperienced team with a schedule that gave it a chance to win four straight games while so many of the players were undergoing some rigorous OJT? And wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if Coach Bill could step up to that podium and say either A. “You know, the schedule has been a gift from the gods, and once we get Gronk, and maybe even Amendola back, I think we actually have a chance to be pretty damn good” or B. “Don’t be fooled with this 4-0. I’d be very pleasantly surprised if we do anything meaningful this year”?
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Even without Vince Wilfork, the Patriots will continue to improve, don’t you think? And once you get beyond Denver, and I can see them coming back to earth a bit with road games looming at Dallas, Indianapolis, San Diego, Kansas City, and, yes, Foxborough, is there an AFC team to, well, fear? But what does Coach Bill think about all this? Wouldn’t you love to know?
That’s not going to happen. Coach Bill is all about the process. And keeping all the good stuff to himself is part of the process.Bob Ryan's column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.