Column: The mystery, appeal of the Patriots’ head coach

Column: The mystery, appeal of the Patriots’ head coach

I can see you right now. You’re poring over fantasy football statistics and reading columns about perceived coaching “game plans.” But remember these stories are penned by writers who, given the keys to take charge of a team, would be clueless fools.

Next on your agenda is to consume alcoholic beverage after alcoholic beverage, only to produce such philosophically debatable questions as “What in the world is going on in the head of Terrell Owens?”

Get my drift? I need you to stop for a minute. I want you to re-examine why you are a sports fan. What is it that causes you to spend countless hours each day reading and watching matters related to the sporting world?

I’ll help you out.

I’m what you call a “character guy.” What drives me to the television and what gives me the energy to read countless sports publications and newspapers is to try to look inside the heads of all of these talented, wealthy and famous people.

I want to learn about clubhouse feuds and coaches who can’t get messages through to their players. I like reading about incompetence and those who display it during live games. That alleyway clash between Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons and hotheaded first baseman Shea Hillenbrand? Brilliance in my eyes.

I want to see coaches and players when the spotlight is on them; when the big question is asked and when, after embarrassing moments or nearly-unforgivable actions, they try to claw their way back into our oft-forgiving worlds.

I’m fascinated by the back stories of these people. On a given team I like figuring out who falls into the following categories: the consummate professional, the media’s best friend, the moping scoundrel or the charismatic team leader.

Like a politician on top of his game, there’s nothing better than a coach or athlete who blends skill both on and off the field. The perfect politician can respond reassuringly to an angry citizen’s question on the street and then go back to the office and make something happen. A good coach or athlete can sense a region’s growing frustration or doubts, whether in press conferences or in public appearances, and then go out and reverse a team’s trek down a losing path.

Funny then that the person I’m most fascinated by in the entire expanse of the sporting world doesn’t exactly command the public’s attention. A man who deliberately selects gray clothing, ducks assertively out of quick paychecks for public appearances and talks with the vigor of someone who has just seen his house burn down doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Bill Belichick, the greatest football coach the world has ever seen, doesn’t really like me, just because I’m a member of the media. But I like him, and he’ll have to deal with that.

Not that the three-time Super Bowl champion and New England Patriots head coach knows me, but chances are, if he ever saw me he’d be in a rush. He’d be getting out of his Volvo station wagon in the hopes of making it to his office as quickly as possible. He’d be trying to ignore the latest media inquiry into the status of his team. He’d be figuring out where his red flag is so he could stuff it in his sock before game time.

Here’s a man who commands a dynasty. Here’s a man who wins three Super Bowls in four years in the sports league most often viewed and most often talked about in America. Here’s a man who has shaped coaches who went on to become head coach at Notre Dame (Charlie Weis), the New York Jets (Eric Mangini), and the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel).

You could never tell. While other head coaches reap the benefits of being part of a successful, moneymaking organization such as the National Football League, Belichick, as we learned from “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam, is the type of person who watches the change in his pocket, buys just enough food for the week, and lives his life with the manner and composure of a middle-class suburbanite.

What’s it like being a diehard Patriots fan? It means knowing you have the most confidence-inspiring coach that competitive sports has ever seen. It would take many books to explain the art of fandom during the Belichick era in New England football history, but there would be one key section. It would say that while Belichick could be stripped of essentially an entire coaching staff and lose countless well-known starters on his team, his passionate fans would still be thinking Super Bowl once training camp started.

The way Belichick’s unwavering voice permeates a media conference room is inspiring. Since this is our closest look into his world, we can see how Belichick masterfully avoids questions and turns simple, bland responses into “Communications Studies”-worthy verbalization.

It all adds to the mystery and appeal of the man. He made a choice when he stepped into our world as a prominent public figure. He could fake smile his way out of conversations and use his distinctive success to his advantage – both for economic and social benefit. Or he could continue to not give a damn about any of our thought patterns, whether it’s the jealous and grudge-holding fans in Cleveland and New York, or the pathetic New England fans and media members who inexplicably still have a problem with him.

A different kind of sports character, right? I suggest you look into it.

– Jeff Powalisz can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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