Guregian: Retirements have shown softer side of Bill Belichick

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Day to day, during his daily press conference sessions, the media is treated to a version of Bill Belichick that is

Day to day, during his daily press conference sessions, the media is treated to a version of Bill Belichick that is basically an unsmiling, surly, short-answered grump.

One soon learns that’s just Belichick’s way of keeping the media at a distance, and protecting his team. As he would say, “It is what it is.”

But every so often the curtain is drawn back and a window opens. Over the past two weeks, during the retirement ceremonies for Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork, we actually got a glimpse of a different side of Belichick. If you tuned in, it was pretty eye-opening and shed some light on the Hoodie, and why he’s the best beyond the X’s and O’s. He’s not just a coach who twirls the whistle around his finger and yells at people. He’s not just a mastermind who outsmarts opponents every week.

He has a deep-rooted connection with his players. That was obvious watching both events, as people got to see the guy the players see.

In both cases, Belichick spoke from the heart, unscripted, remembering great detail about each player, and their families. He was charming, funny, even emotional at times.

No, this wasn’t the same Belichick that delivers monotone press conferences.

“If you’re there long enough, you see Bill along the lines of what’s purposeful for the team, but you also see his personality, what he’s really all about,” former Patriots fullback Heath Evans told the Herald Thursday. “I think what he’s really all about is trust and respect both ways.”

After his speeches on Ninkovich and Wilfork, you see why Belichick has been able to get players to deliver for him for nearly two decades in Foxboro. With no script, he recalled every detail, every statistic about the players both as Patriots, along with what they did in college and even, beyond. He also showed he’s tuned in to their families.

On Wednesday, when Big Vince signed a one-day contract to retire as a Patriot, Belichick told an interesting story about Wilfork’s wife, Bianca, who was seated in the front row with their son David. He talked about Bianca’s dedication to her husband and the team, and how he gave her an Ironman T-shirt for her efforts. The story actually might have been more revealing about Belichick.

“This is a great moment because I see Bianca, I see David and I think back to eight years ago — Aug. 5 — when David was born. Bianca — that was a hot training camp, which we are not having now. But in that year it was hot,” Belichick said. “She comes to training camp ready to deliver (the baby) every single day. Day after day, after day, after day, after day, after day. You just felt so bad for her. She came early and stayed late. This was not just show up the last two seconds of practice, she was there.

“Then finally on the 5th, she delivered and we are out there at practice two days later and she is back out there again. I said to Vince, ‘This is unbelievable. She’s made more practices than a quarter of our team has,’ ” Belichick said, recalling his comment. “So at the end of the year when we give out the Ironman shirts for the players that don’t miss a practice. They’re there for every practice — not half a practice with this or that or anything. They were there for every practice the entire training camp, it’s an Ironman T-shirt, and it really means a lot. It really means you’ve made it through every single day.”

And, so, Bianca Wilfork became an official Patriots Ironman.

It’s remarkable that Belichick would even notice or pay attention to someone in the crowd during camp, much less a player’s pregnant wife. He usually has laser focus on his team.

The Hoodie, however, connects no matter the circumstance or situation. Whether it’s a highly touted first-round pick such as Wilfork, or someone he collected off the NFL scrap heap like Ninkovich, it’s all the same. Belichick is able to get the most out of everyone he coaches.

“That’s the greatest thing about him,” said Evans. “I don’t think he cares if it’s someone like me, or if you’re a Hall of Famer. He connects. He loves the grindy (Tedy) Bruschis and the (Mike) Vrabels and the tough Rodney Harrisons who have been cast aside. I think he connects to a person’s heart and soul and their emotional make up and what they are versus their physical attributes.”

Belichick called Wilfork the “captain of the captains,” and Ninkovich the “most unselfish player” he had ever coached.

This wasn’t the typical grouch-speak of Belichick. This was the version of the five-time Super Bowl winning coach usually kept hidden from the media. It’s the version his players give their all for every week, every game.

McGinest: Ignore noise

Belichick had Patriots Hall of Famer Willie McGinest address the team last week after one of the practice sessions with the Jaguars. McGinest picked a timely theme.

“Belichick knew I was coming, so he wanted me to say a few words,” McGinest told us Tuesday. “Basically my message was the typical Patriot message. You guys have accomplished a lot. You’ve done a lot. Ignore the media. Ignore the outside noise.”

McGinest even told the players to ignore his commentary on NFL Network — ignore every compliment he throws their way.

Said McGinest: “They have to exclude what I say and focus and keep that tunnel vision.”

Some of that noise to avoid? Well, before training camp started, there was talk of the Patriots going undefeated. A few pundits have predicted the highly unlikely, 19-0. The discussion and debate really hasn’t died down.

“I think it’s great that people respect you. They see the talent and know what’s going on,” McGinest said. “But as a player, especially a player here, you’ve got to stay focused. You’ve got to be programmed. We’re programmed not to even hear that stuff, not to even think about it. Hit the refresh, restart button after big games and Super Bowls.

“The players are smart. They’re human. They realize they have a good nucleus here. They’ve got a good team. If they stay healthy and work hard, and do what the coaches put in front of them, they’ll have success. They’re not dumb. They understand that. They know if they play at a certain level, the expectations will always be high when you talk about the Patriots. So you have to do whatever it takes to withhold those expectations and try to exceed them.”

Bortles gets the idea

Just from competing in the practice sessions, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles left Foxboro with a pretty good sense of why Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have had successful defenses.

“They do a good job disguising coverages. I think schematically they mess with you a little bit and take away different things,” Bortles said after Tuesday’s joint practice at Gillette. “They make you think they are taking something away so you go the other way. You have to be sharp in what you are doing pre-snap. They are all really good players and do a good job.”

Wayne warns on Cutler

Former Colts star Reggie Wayne, in his new role as an NFL Network analyst, put the Jay Cutler signing in Miami in perspective. In a media conference call Thursday, Wayne basically said it’s up to Cutler not to screw Miami up. Sure, he has familiarity with coach Adam Gase having played for him in Chicago. But it’s on Cutler to make it work.

“You kind of just want Jay Cutler to don’t mess the game up. Don’t turn the ball over. Don’t try to squeeze a pass in where it doesn’t need to be,” Wayne said. “If there’s a third down and you’ve got to punt, then that’s fine. Your defense is good enough to hold the opponents out, hold them up and make the team punt. Then you play the field position game. So it’s going to take time as far as him getting on the same (page) with his receivers. He’s already familiar with the offense. It’s just how fast you can get him in football shape and get him ready to play. But you don’t need Jay Cutler to go out and be superhuman. We just need him to go in and manage the game.”

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    Article Guregian: Retirements have shown softer side of Bill Belichick compiled by www.bostonherald.com