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Part genius, part jerk

Spy-gate raises questions about Belichick's character

Posted: Wednesday September 12, 2007 11:18AM; Updated: Wednesday September 19, 2007 5:03PM
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Bill Belichick has a rather extensive history of behavior that has garnered attention.
Bill Belichick has a rather extensive history of behavior that has garnered attention.
Julie Jacobson/AP
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NFL coaches, bless their controlling, obsessive, conniving, secretive little hearts, are not, as a rule, the most well-adjusted individuals you'll ever meet. The season is only one week old and already we've just about had our fill of their self-important personalities -- the way they address the media as if they're describing Operation Desert Storm instead of a third-down screen play, the way they refuse to reveal which mediocre quarterback they've chosen to start the next game as if they were protecting nuclear launch codes. Generally speaking, they're just weird guys, which is why it takes some truly abnormal behavior for an NFL coach to set himself apart from his peers.

That brings us to Bill Belichick. Surely you've heard about the latest apparent indiscretion from Belichick, New England's brilliant but bizarre coach: videotaping and attempting to steal the defensive signals of the opposing team. During the Pats' 38-14 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, a member of the New England staff had his video camera confiscated by NFL security. The league examined the videotape for evidence of signal stealing, which is expressly against NFL rules.

Reportedly league officials have determined that the Patriots were indeed trying to steal signs, the second time in two years that the team has been suspected of this violation. If found guilty, a fine and/or the revocation of draft choices could be the Pats' punishment. Maybe Belichick, the ruler of all he surveys in Patriot-land, isn't the mastermind of this little bit of espionage. And maybe Tom Brady has trouble getting a date.

Belichick's apologists counter that even if the allegations are true, the New England coach isn't the only head man who goes to such lengths to gain an edge, and that besides, if you're not cheating, you're not trying. (We'd pay good money to avoid having to hear that hackneyed piece of philosophy ever again.) Maybe if this were the first example of odd, rather classless behavior from Belichick, it would be easier to dismiss. But in addition to his three Super Bowl titles, Belichick has a fairly extensive history of behavior that makes observers wonder why a coach of his stature would stoop so low. He may be part genius, but he's also part jerk.

There was his inexplicably negative reaction to his protégé, Eric Mangini, leaving the New England staff to take over the Jets' head coaching job two years ago. Unlike most head coaches, who would never stand in the way of one of their assistants getting a head job, Belichick acted as if he'd been betrayed. During the Jets' courting of Mangini, Belichick had the locks changed at Patriots' headquarters, and the first time the two teams met last season, Belichick brushed off Mangini's attempt at a post-game handshake as if his ex-assistant had the plague.

No one is saying Belichick has to be Miss Manners, but would it kill him to be gracious, just for a moment or two? Maybe most damning was the allegation by former Patriot linebacker Ted Johnson that Belichick pressured him to play and subjected him to full contact in practice while Johnson was still suffering the effects of a concussion. Belichick has denied the accusation.

It's a disturbingly long list of behavior that paints Belichick as paranoid, unsportsmanlike, classless and, if Johnson's claims are true, even abusive. Taken separately, none of his actions may seem so objectionable, but together, they're troubling. It's doubtful that NFL commissioner Roger Goddell will go as far as suspending Belichick for his spying tactics last Sunday, but a short, enforced vacation might be the best thing for him. It might force him to realize that his behavior just isn't normal, even for an NFL coach.

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