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Bob Ryan

For the record, coach unflappable

Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Santa Claus have something in common - the cover of SI. Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Santa Claus have something in common - the cover of SI. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED)
Email|Print| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / December 28, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - In today's installment, Coach Bill starts with a minimonologue.

"OK, how's it going today?" he begins. "Good? Got the holidays over, ready for the new year. Got the game on every network. It will be like the State of the Union address - you can flip to every channel to see it."

Bada bing. Let the writers strike. Coach Bill is perfectly capable of coming up with his own material.

Truth is, he really is relaxed. Kind of loosey-goosey. He's even nice to the new guy asking some off-the-track, beginner questions. Like, "Coach, it seems over the last few weeks you've gotten a little bit away from the running game and controlling the clock as much as you had early in the year. Why do you think that is?"

"I don't know," he says, gently. "We rushed for 158 yards last week."

Nope, nothing's going to throw Coach Bill off his game on this day.

The Sports Illustrated cover thing, for example. Sure, he had to deal with it yesterday, but he's resigned to the fact this is one issue that's going to have legs. I mean, there he is, peering out at America with a beard and Santa Claus hat.

"Well, you know, being associated with Santa Claus, there's a lot worse associations to have," he says. "I'll take it. When you're a kid, sometimes you dream about being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That's not actually the one I pictured, but it's pretty funny. Whatever sells."

Then there's the daily elephant plopped down in the middle of the room, as it has been since October. It's about the fact that his team keeps winning. And winning. And winning. When you win 'em all, and never, ever lose, people have a word for it. Begins with a "U," I think. It has become Coach Bill's least favorite word in the English language, worse, even, than "turnover," or "Jets." You don't want to upset him and have this press conference terminated five minutes after it has started, so you try to approach the topic in a somewhat roundabout fashion. You try it his way and inquire if he has gotten some enjoyment out of the proliferation of one-game winning streaks that has now reached - wow, look at that - 15.

It is nothing more than a good try. Coach Bill is ready for you with a misdirection play, however well-executed, but a misdirection play, regardless.

"I think you always feel better when your record is better than when it isn't," he reasons. "But, still, the most important thing is to, after the game, turn the page. You certainly enjoy them for the 24, or whatever, the 18 or 24 hours after the game. You feel good about a week's worth of practice and preparation and film study and playing and coaching and all the things you do. You feel good about it for a while after you win. It's hard to win in this league, and it's a good feeling when you come out on top.

"If you win on the road, the plane ride home is a lot better than when you don't. The same thing at home. But once you get past all that, the dust settles; it's time to get back to work, time to move onto the next opponent. Then you're into preparation and meeting the next challenge."

Can you find that "U-word" in there anywhere? I can't.

Speaking of opponents, the New York Giants are next on the schedule, in case you haven't heard. They are coached by a man named Tom Coughlin, whose résumé includes a three-year stint as head coach at Boston College. In a prior incarnation, he was the wide receivers coach for the Giants, whose defensive coordinator was a cerebral sort by the name of Bill Belichick. Boy, that Bill Parcells really knew how to pick 'em, huh?

Well, yes, he did, and it turns out that Coach Belichick and Coach Coughlin were quite the goombahs for those three seasons (1988-90) in the Meadowlands.

Here is how Coach Bill remembers it:

"Tom and I worked together every day. Tom coached the receivers and I coached the defensive backs in '89 and '90, so we worked together in one-and-one and seven-on-seven - you know, all the passing drills. We had a good relationship . . . He's smart and I think we learned a lot from each other about different receiver techniques and coverages. He would help us [and] we'd help them, both in preparing for that particular game and also in concepts.

"Tom would say, 'Here's the way that corner's playing us; it's really giving us a hard time,' and I'd take a look at that, or vice versa. 'Hey, Tom, here's a route that we're having trouble covering. Here's the issue with it. This might be something you might want to take a look at.' . . . We talked a lot about the passing game and individual techniques and all of that in those two years . . . We weren't in meetings together because I was on defense and he was on offense, but as far as working with another coach on the other side of the ball, it was probably as good as anybody that I've worked with as an assistant coach. It was great."

Interesting, huh? Nope, you're not going to faze Coach Bill today. Say, for example, you want to know why Tom Brady is always out there game after game, when lots of other guys aren't. What is it, 61 quarterbacks have started a game this year?

"One thing Tom does," Coach Bill points out, "he trains hard, he works hard, and I think he gives himself every opportunity to be as healthy and as physically in condition as his own personal body will allow. I'm not saying he's the greatest athlete in the history of sport, but he works as hard as anybody does to give himself a maximum chance to be the best that he can be . . . I don't think there's any exact science to it, but some guys seem more, are able to stay healthier than others. Why exactly that is, you'd have to talk to somebody that knows a lot more about the physical body than I do."

Pretty soon he's got places to go and big guys to coach. He knows it's time to leave when he is asked about the 1948 Cleveland Browns, who, he is reminded, went, yes, undefeated (14-0) in the All-American Football Conference. "I respect Paul Brown and the Browns," he says, but "am I familiar with it? No." Yeah, right. Not only is he familiar with it, he probably knows what Otto Graham had for breakfast the day Cleveland crushed the Buffalo Bills (49-7) in the championship game.

But that's it. No more questions. It's time for Coach Bill to resume preparing his own little Patriots State of the Union address to an eager America, to be delivered at 8:15 EST, tomorrow night. Pick a channel, any channel. You'll catch it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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