Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Jollier Answer Turneth Away Wrath and Maybe Even Fines

All performers run the risk of having their act grow stale. Bill Belichick's Grumpy Genius turn may be starting to grow a little mold.

At the NFL owners' meetings yesterday, Belichick treated his mandatory coach's press conference not merely as an annoying part of his job, but as a positive ordeal. Belichick's terse nonanswers to relevant questions sprinkled with even terser sarcastic answers to questions he deems especially dumb can be great surrealistic performance art for spectators who don't have to ask him those questions. But this time, it wasn't. The Patriots coach was just going through the motions of grumpiness. There wasn't a hint of evil genius in the whole event. If playing the villain doesn't look like fun, the whole performance falls flat.

I have some sympathy for Belichick's position. Here he is, Hall of Fame coach, and he's still expected to show up at the meetings and dance to the tune ordered by the spoiled richos who comprise his bosses. It's demeaning. But since he's gotta do it,  I think the Pats' coach would have been better served by breaking in some new material -- like candor.

What if Belichick had started his media availability with the simple truth? "You know, gang, I really don't feel like talking about football today. Why don't we talk about something else?"

Given that opening, even the dumbest reporter would jump at the chance to get Belichick on the record with more than grunts and monosyllables. The problem is, of course, what something else would they talk about? Belichick's too smart to get into the topic of politics. The Oscars are long over, so movies aren't news. Cooking doesn't appear to be a hobby of a man who brags about never going to the market.

There's one non-football topic I know Belichick is interested in, and if he chose to discuss it, he'd have plenty of interesting things to say. Other sports. Like most people in the upper reaches of a professional sport, Belichick is an avid follower of games that aren't his own. His busman's holidays at Fenway Park and the Garden are one of the few photo-ops where he smiles.

What does Belichick think about Steph Curry and the Warriors? How's he see the rest of the NCAA tournament? What has he learned from his participation in PGA Tour pro-am events? Does he have a sports bucket list?

Wouldn't you like to know the answers to those questions, reader? I sure world. I'd rather hear them than hear Belichick issue boilerplate praise of Marcellus Bennett. And it'd be no problem for Belichick to avoid any possible controversy while filling notebooks, tape recorders and video cameras. His long answers to football questions seldom give anything away. At a training camp in the early 2000s Belichick spoke for about 10 minutes on the differences between building and coaching a team in the pre-free agent era and modern times. Afterwards, those of us who heard him split exactly 50-50 as to which era he preferred.

Had Belichick taken this approach, SportsCenter anchors wouldn't be showing his grump highlights and rolling their eyes with poorly suppressed laughter. There'd be stories coast-to-coast about the new, mellower Bill Belichick. These stories wouldn't be accurate, of course, but there's more than one way to manipulate the media to one's own ends. Curt dismissal only works for so long. After awhile, it ceases to be the eccentricity of genius and comes off as being just another asshole.

Besides, even Belichick isn't grumpy all the time. He should save that portion of his personality for when it's really needed -- starting around the Sunday after Labor Day.


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