By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick is entering his 46th straight season as an NFL head coach, and his 21st year at the helm of the New England Patriots franchise. To call him a football lifer is to somehow understate just how much football is part of the fabric of his being.
Still, with the ongoing uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic in America, one might wonder if the 68-year-old Belichick might have spent a minute or two this spring and summer to ponder whether or not reporting to work during the COVID-19 era might not be the right decision.
On Friday morning, Belichick was asked directly if he did in fact consider opting out of the 2020 season, like eight of his players chose to do in recent weeks. Belichick didn’t answer the question directly, but what he did say indicates that opting out was likely never in the cards.
“I feel very good about the environment that we’re in,” Belichick answered. “So, I feel fine.”
As he has in both of his video conference calls with the media in recent weeks, Belichick praised the work being done by the organization to maintain an environment within Gillette Stadium that is as safe as possible, given the circumstances.
“It’s a good working environment. We’re getting a lot done,” Belichick said. “The organization has taken a lot of steps to ensure everyone’s safety and opportunity to do their job and do it safely and do it productively. Certainly there’s a lot of responsibility on each one of us to do things in a way that don’t affect others negatively, that we take the proper precautions that we can and should. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Belichick did say that he and his coaching staff got more experience with video conferencing than they ever rightfully anticipated, but that they’ve learned on the fly how to best utilize that tool. The coach said that the knowledge gained in that department will likely be used in a post-COVID future, too.
“Collectively, I think things went better than I thought they were going to go, to tell you the truth,” Belichick said of virtual meetings with players and coaches. “Going forward, it might be something that I probably never even would have considered a year ago. Now, after having a pretty significant amount of experience with it, I could see where there might be a place for it in the future. So, that’s kind of where we are on it.”
Virtual meetings, of course, have not been the only adjustment that NFL teams have had to make during this unique period. Yet Belichick downplayed the impact that the late start to practice and the lack of a preseason should have on his team, once again hammering home the point that this is how college teams prepare for the season. As for the rest of reality running a football team during a pandemic, Belichick said that the changes have been more or less easy to adapt to.
“You know, honestly, I wouldn’t say any of it has just been overwhelming. We wear masks. There’s not a buffet line for food; the food’s ordered and it’s boxed and packaged. The dining staff has done a great job. The meetings are in bigger rooms — we’re more spread out, but essentially it’s the same meeting. We’re just distanced and wearing masks. I think everybody’s just a little more conscious of the hand washing, the sanitizing, the distancing, you know, we wear monitors and all that. It’s just a higher awareness of it. But fundamentally, we’re still going over the same material in a similar progression. We have walkthroughs, we have meetings, we have training and conditioning, we’re going to eventually have individual drills when we get to phase two, then when we get to phase three and have 11-on-11 drills.
“So, I don’t think it’s monumental,” Belichick continued. “But certainly there are adjustments — none of which are particularly inhibiting. It’s a little bit different, maybe a little bit more time consuming and just more precautionary, but I think we’ve tried to address everything.”
Belichick added that the Patriots’ large facility at Gillette Stadium helps things go smoothly, along with minor changes, like plastic shields being installed throughout the building.
“We’re able to handle the number of people and what we’d normally do — it’s been pretty effective,” Belichick said. “Again, we’re not walking across the hall to a meeting. We’re walking maybe down the end of the tunnel to it, but to me, those are relatively minor. So I’d say overall we’re doing things pretty close to the way we’re normally doing them.”