HOUSTON – Bill Belichick stepped to the podium casually dressed in jeans and a pink button-down shirt Thursday afternoon for his final press conference of Super Bowl week at the J.W. Marriott hotel.
Having already answered hours of questions from the media gathered for Super Bowl LI, the coach has previously addressed many of the topics surrounding the big game against the Falcons and the endless storylines surrounding his latest championship-caliber team.
Three days from an attempt to claim his franchise's fifth Lombardi Trophy, Belichick and his team are heading down the home stretch of preparations for Atlanta.
So when a reporter asked the 64-year-old New England coach whether he'd thought about retirement or envisioned life without football – an end to his career that unfortunately for Patriots Nation will indeed come at some point – Belichick didn't take the talking-point bait.
"I haven't really thought about it, to be honest with you," Belichick said, allowing New England fans to breath normally again. "Right now all the focus is on this game. So I am not really thinking about next year. I'm not thinking about last year. I'm thinking about Sunday night and between now and then what I can do to help our team."
Belichick was followed by fellow aging Patriots legend Tom Brady at the podium and the topic of retirement came up a second time, this a query for the 39-year-old passer wondering if he or his head coach would retire first.
"That's a good question," Brady said after a hearty laugh. "I don't know what he plans on doing. He's the best. And I've been very lucky to play for him. He's so focused on coaching and doing anything he can to help us win. There is no B.S. with coach Belichick. I think that's what players appreciate. You realize when you come into the program it's all about football."
Really, that's what Belichick hopes the focus is this week for his team, on the cusp of yet another historic game. It's not about the future or the past. It's not about the parties or families, many of whom arrived on Thursday to enjoy the rest of the week with players and coaches.
Brady put it best, "How we remember this week will be determined by the score of the game."
Beyond the deflected retirement talk, Belichick's final press conference prior to Super Bowl LI was highlighted by hopeful praise of Ty Law's Hall of Fame chances, his thoughts on the success of the slot receiver role in the Patriots offense over the years and a boss's view of Dante Scarnecchia's return to the New England sideline.
1. "We're all pulling for" Law: The former Patriots legendary cornerback Law will find out his Hall of Fame fate sometime late in the day on Saturday after the 48-person voting committee handles its business here in Houston. Law is one of 15 finalists for 2017 induction in Canton, and Belichick was asked how the cornerback measures up to fellow former Patriot Mike Haynes in his Hall of Fame credentials. He focused on Law's 53 career interceptions.
"I think they are different players. Mike was a pretty special player. I'd say the similarity would be that both players could have played offensively because of their exceptional ball skills," Belichick said. "Mike Haynes was a receiver and they moved him because they had other great receivers. Ty's ball skills were exceptional. I'm sure he could have played on that side of the ball, too. But he's built a little bit differently. He had a different style of play than Mike. But both were very effective. Again, I think the turnovers, the interceptions, are what makes those players so special. They're game-changing plays. Tackles, that's great. Pass breakups, you have to have those. But guys that have the kind of interception numbers that Ty had. Everson Walls when I coached Everson in New York and competed against him in Dallas. Guys like that that are up in the 50s in interceptions, those are game-changing plays.
"Hopefully Ty will be selected. I think he's worthy of it. He had a great career. I enjoyed coaching Ty. I coached him in '96 as a position coach, where I was really able to get a lot closer and have more of an intimate interaction with him than as a head coach. Ty has been a good supporter of our team and our organization. So, we're all pulling for him."
2.Slot WR "always been a strength in our program":From Troy Brown through Wes Welker to Julian Edelman coming off a 98-catch season, the slot wide receiver has been a staple of the Patriots offense throughout Belichick's time in New England. Not only did the coach agree with that assessment when asked about the role, but described how it fits in with Brady's skills as a quarterback.
"That's always been a strength in our program, certainly in terms of number of catches, third down production," Belichick said. "And Tom does extremely well … any good receiver he can use, whether the guy is inside or outside, whatever he does. And we usually find a way to try to help that player be as productive as possible and the strengths that he brings to the team. So I think it's a combination of a system and a quarterback and a merge of the two. And obviously having good players at the position. Danny [Amendola] has made some huge plays for us and helped us win a lot of critical games. Julian's production. Wes. Troy. I mean those guys were phenomenal in terms of their production in the years that we had them. And most of it was in that spot. Not that there wasn't some production on the outside, but by far the majority of it was in that spot."
Belichick then compared the slot lineage to the sub passing backs that have also been so key over the years.
"You can pretty much say the same thing about the sub halfback. From [Kevin] Faulk to [Shane] Vereen to [James] White. That player has been has been productive for us too, over a long, extended period of time. We've had good players there. Kevin is a Patriots Hall of Fame player. Shane was very productive there. James has been productive there. Similar but different than the slot receiver, there has been a lot of production out of the position over a long period of time."
3.Scarnecchia "could probably coach any position": The New England offense has played a key role in the Patriots Super Bowl run this season. A healthy, young offensive line's development has played a key role in all the offensive production. And Scarnecchia's return from a two-year retirement has been a huge factor in the line's resurgent success this fall. Belichick certainly knows what luring Scarnecchia back to work has meant for his team.
"It's great to have Dante back. Dante's a tremendous coach. One of the very best I've ever worked with. He could probably coach any position on the field," Belichick raved. "He's done a great job with the offensive line in every area. He's a good fundamental coach. He's a good technique coach. He understands schemes and matchups well. He's very good at game planning. He's very good at in-game adjustments. He does an excellent job in pass protection and handling the fronts and the threat, the rush threats that we have, as well as blitz pickups. There is a lot involved there. It's tough with the numbers of looks defenses give you. He does a great job with all those things. He's a huge asset on our staff. I think we have a great staff. I'm very fortunate with the coaching staff that we have. I'd put Dante up there with Scott O'Brien, [Nick] Saban, with some of the best coaches, Romeo [Crennel], with some of the best coaches I've ever worked with."