Coach Speak article

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by Nors, Sep 6, 2004.

  1. Nors

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    FARINELLA: Coachspeak is hard to understand

    This is one of those columns that, even before I started writing it, I knew I'm not going to get a lot of sympathy for what will be said in it. But I just have to vent.

    You know what it feels like to vent, don't you? Of course you do. So please, bear with me and I promise I'll wait until the next losing streak before I do it again.

    You see, I know it's not fashionable these days to question the wisdom and methodology of Bill Belichick as he prepares the Patriots for the defense of their Super Bowl championship.

    What can I say? The guy has won two Super Bowls in the past three years. He's a genius. Just ask anyone who writes for Sports Illustrated,, Pro Football Weekly, the New York Times (and wholly-owned subsidiaries), and any number of other national publications who make their fawning judgments from afar.

    To be honest, I can't argue with that assessment. Belichick is brilliant, organized and motivated, and at least for the time being, he has a rapport with his athletes that engenders respect and all-out effort.

    And as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I don't call him Coach Two Rings for nothing.

    But does his success justify a methodology which is inherently dishonest, and at the very least, unnecessarily paranoid?

    I refer, of course, to Belichick's distaste for full disclosure -- his refusal to offer accurate information about injuries to the public (as reported dutifully by ink-stained wretches such as myself), or his frequent forays into what the political pundits used to call ``disinformation'' during the Nixon White House.

    A classic example of the latter took place at Tuesday's press conference.

    Belichick was asked by a reporter generally regarded as friendly to his cause a couple of nondescript and harmless questions about quarterback Jim Miller, who had been inactive throughout the preseason as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.

    The questions, and the answers:

    Reporter: Is Jim Miller eligible for the reserve PUP (physically unable to perform) list?

    Belichick: Jim Miller? Yes.

    Reporter: Does he have a shot at practicing this week?

    Belichick: Yeah, I would say he has a shot. He's getting better. He's getting close. So, yeah, I would say he has a shot.

    Five hours later, Jim Miller was released -- one of the three players removed from the Patriots' roster so they could reach the 65-man limit.

    Now, I fully understand that coaches often resort to ``misdirection plays'' in their press conferences to guard information that they don't believe should be for public consumption -- or, more accurately, for the consumption of their opponents. It's part of the game and I don't really have a problem with a coach who doesn't answer a question because he's guarding his game plan.

    But Belichick obviously knew he was going to release Miller when the press conference took place. There was nothing about the timing of the transaction or the transaction itself that could have given aid and comfort to the Jets, Bills or Dolphins. So what possible reason could Belichick have had for answering the question as if Miller still had a future on this team, other than for the sheer pleasure of misleading the media?

    The disinformation campaign had already been kicked into a higher gear following Saturday night's preseason game against Carolina. Troy Brown, the all-purpose player of this training camp, was buried under a pile of Carolina tacklers on a first-quarter punt return and came up limping, never to return to the game.

    Reporters have repeatedly asked Belichick whether Brown is injured badly enough to miss more than Thursday night's preseason finale against Jacksonville, and all they get in return are smirks, shrugs and pronouncements that since he is not a doctor, Belichick has no idea how injured Brown is or when he will be better.

    ``I feel good about Troy,'' was about all Belichick would reveal on Tuesday.

    Of course, that's a crock.

    Professional football teams probably have the best medical care in the world. The Patriots have the diagnostic resources of Massachusetts General Hospital to back up their own on-site medical facilities, all of which put an average Joe's trip to the emergency room to shame. I don't doubt that at a moment's notice, Belichick has plenty of medical information at his fingertips about any and all of his injured players, and that he proceeds with his planning with all of it in mind.

    He can't come out and say, ``it's none of your business,'' however, because the NFL believes that injury information is, to some extent, the public's business after all. The league requires injury reports to be published by all 32 teams during the regular season to prevent illegal gamblers from attempting to gain inside information by nefarious means, and possibly gaining a measure of control over the outcome of games.

    So, Belichick only reports the bare minimum of what the NFL requires. Ankle, knee or thigh injuries become ``leg'' injuries, and so on. The team doesn't report which limb is injured, and injury-related information is deleted from biographies in the team's media guide.

    Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, sensing that more teams are turning to Belichick's ``Code of Silence'' approach to reporting injuries, issued a directive to all 32 teams a few weeks ago that will require at least a little more detail in the injury reports once the regular season begins. But you can bet the farm that Belichick will continue to issue reports that are as vague as the law allows.

    Again, that's all part of the game. It doesn't even pay to complain about it, because things aren't going to change until the regime changes in Foxboro -- and that won't be any time soon.

    What's really sad about it, however, is having to watch players like Troy Brown participate in the charade. Brown stood before reporters in the locker room Tuesday, grinning a nervous grin and mouthing pre-scripted ``non-denial denials'' about his condition.

    It was embarrassing.

    Again, would revealing the true nature of Brown's injury have a significant effect upon the AFC East race? All of the teams in the league see game films and have scouts who observe with their own eyes what has happened to a player. They learn more through traditional means of investigation than by anything that might appear in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, The Sun Chronicle or the Ahern School PTA Newsletter.

    But that's how it's done, and we have to live with it. Some teams choose to do things otherwise, and some of those won a lot of games and more championships just by doing what they did best and not giving a rat's behind what anyone else learned by reading the papers.

    But none of those teams have done it lately. The privilege of setting the rules goes to the team that's currently on top, and that's the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots.

    So, in essence, I've vented for nothing. Things aren't going to change, and let's face it, it's better than the alternative -- which is an existence without the two Super Bowl trophies that now make their home in Foxboro. I just wish it was a more truthful existence.

    But you know what? I do feel better. Isn't that what venting is all about?

    MARK FARINELLA may be reached at 508-236-0315 or via e-mail at

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