FOXBOROUGH - Patriots coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli broke their silence regarding taping procedures and suggestions of improper conduct from former employee Matt Walsh yesterday, with Belichick saying he "couldn't pick Matt Walsh out of a lineup" and Pioli noting that part of the reason for Walsh's firing was because of him secretly tape-recording conversations.
Since the days leading up to Super Bowl XLII when Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, questioned the NFL's destruction of tapes that resulted in record fines against Belichick and the Patriots, the club's taping procedures - and Walsh's potential role in them - have ignited a public firestorm.
The Boston Herald, citing an anonymous source, reported Feb. 2 that the Patriots had taped the Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots and NFL strongly denied that story, and Belichick further addressed it yesterday.
"In my entire coaching career, I've never seen another team's practice film prior to playing that team," he said. "I have never authorized, or heard of, or even seen in any way, shape, or form any other team's walkthrough. We don't even film our own. We don't even want to see ourselves do anything, that's the pace that it's at. Regardless, I've never been a part of that."
Belichick added that in his "entire coaching career, I have never filmed a walkthrough, our own. I've never been on a staff that has filmed a walkthrough. I'm talking about when I was a head coach. As an assistant, I've never seen a head coach film a walkthrough the day before a game."
Pioli said Walsh was terminated in January 2003 after he discovered Walsh was "secretly tape-recording conversations between him and me." Pioli said he learned of the recording because "two other employees saw him doing it, and I checked after, and heard it on the tape myself."
Walsh's lawyer, Michael Levy, disputed Pioli's story last night. After speaking with Walsh, he called it a "complete fabrication."
"This is a predictable and pathetic effort to smear Mr. Walsh's character rather than confront the truth about the Patriots' conduct," Levy said from his Washington, D.C. home.
Walsh has hinted he has materials that could prove damaging to the Patriots, and Levy said Walsh will turn them over to the NFL if the league provides him complete indemnification, protecting Walsh from being sued. But Levy said the NFL's most recent offer leaves Walsh unprotected legally against unfounded or unproven allegations.
Belichick further detailed his interpretation of the NFL's taping rules from the league's Constitution & Bylaws (article 9) and scoffed at a "Spygate" reference yesterday because what the team taped was in view to everyone.
The rule states: "Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game."
Belichick felt the Patriots' actions were in compliance with NFL rules, saying, "My interpretation was that you can't utilize anything to assist you during that game. What our camera guys do is clearly not allowed to be used during the game and has never been used during that game that it was shot."
At the time the Patriots were fined during the season, it was theorized coaches were utilizing the film of opposing signals to make halftime adjustments. Belichick said that was "never, never" the case.
He described the impact of the tapes as "minimal" to the Patriots' preparations, rating it a "one" on a scale of 1 to 100.
"On the tape of the signaling that we talk about, that film usually wasn't even completed until Thursday or Friday of the following week. It was that low of a priority," he said. "In other words, the video guys had so much other stuff to do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday getting ready for the other game, that a lot of times that film wasn't even processed until later in the week."
Asked, then, why the Patriots conducted the taping, he responded by saying: "Why do anything? Why study tendencies? Why study stances?"
In the NFL, it is commonplace for scouts to attend games of future opponents and study signals. Detailed records are kept of those signals, including which coach is delivering them.
The Patriots' videotaping of signals was deemed to cross the line, which Belichick apologized for yesterday.
"I respect the integrity of the game and always have and always will," he said. "I regret that any of this, or to whatever extent it has in any way brought that into question or discussion or debate. The decision was made by the commissioner, the practice was immediately stopped, and we're not doing it.
"Just going back over the whole taping incident, if I contacted the league and asked them about the practice, I'm sure they would have told me - as they have done - that it is not permissible. Then I could have avoided all of this.
"I take responsibility for it," he continued. "Even though I felt there was a gray area in the rule and I misinterpreted the rule, that was my mistake and we've been penalized for it. I apologize to everybody that is involved - the league, the other teams, the fans, our team, for the amount of conversation and dialogue that it's caused.
"I misinterpreted the rule. The commissioner made his ruling and we've been penalized for it and tried to move on."
Belichick explained why he felt yesterday was the right time to address the issue, and not during the season when it happened.
"I wasn't comfortable talking about it earlier in the year because my No. 1 job is to win football games," he said. "The more distractions there are, I think the harder it is to prepare. I thought the more conversation about this would just take away from what my primary job and our primary job is, which is to win football games.
"I felt like now, the season has been over for a couple weeks, there are certainly a lot of questions out there about it, I thought this would be the timely point to address it as opposed to during the season, at any point. Of course, it came up a number of times."
In the days leading up to this year's Super Bowl, Walsh's potential role in the taping became a hot topic. Yesterday, Pioli detailed the work Walsh did in the personnel department.
"He had come from video, so the first few months his job was to make highlight tapes of draft-eligible players, guys who were going to be free agents," he said. "It's like the entry-level position that we have all the scouting assistants in. It's essentially the same job that I did 15 years ago, which was making copies, picking people up at the airport, data entry, more of the highlight tapes of the players, the draft-eligible guys."
Pioli said reports that indicated Walsh was an "area scout" were incorrect.
Their relationship ended abruptly, according to Pioli.
"The job he was doing, there were two other guys doing it, so essentially the work he was doing wasn't up to the same level as the other people, in my opinion. However, I found out he was secretly tape recording our conversations and he was fired," he said.
Asked if he confronted Walsh for an explanation, Pioli said: "There was never a confrontation. He was just released."
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.