Belichick Says He's Focused On The Future — Not On Malcolm Butler
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick started his first press conference of the 2018 season Wednesday with a friendly enough greeting for reporters gathered at Gillette Stadium. "Happy training camp,” he said, mustering a slight smile and about as much enthusiasm as he can with a microphone in his face.
But it wasn’t long before he went into full Belichick media mode. True to tradition, he stubbornly focused on the future and gave answers with an impressive lack of substance.
But there was still some drama when The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy asked about Malcolm Butler.
It’s been 171 days since the Patriots lost Super Bowl LII with Butler inexplicably benched for all but one special teams snap. And it’s been 134 days since Butler agreed to a sign with the Tennessee Titans. So, naturally, Butler was the most buzzed-about player on Wednesday.
What? You expected reporters to move on from the most controversial decision of Belichick’s coaching career?
Like the rest of us, Shaughnessy still wants answers about Butler. Here’s how the columnist-coach exchange went down:
Shaughnessy: Bill, I know you're all about this year, we all understand that. But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask about last year.
Belichick: Last year is last year. I'm not focused on last year.
Shaughnessy: What about the fact that everywhere we go, folks want to ask about Malcolm Butler? Coaches. Players. You're a sports fan.
Belichick: We've talked about [that]. That's multiple months ago.
Shaughnessy: Is there going to be any more explanation about why he didn't play?
Belichick: I'm focused on training camp.
Shaughnessy: Would you do it any differently?
Belichick: Training camp? We're getting started and we’re working on that right now. We'll do the best we can.
Shaughnessy: Does it matter to you, do you care, that the fans want to know more about this?
Belichick: I'm focused on doing the best that I can for the 2018 New England Patriots. That's my job. That's what I'm going to do. That's what I've always done in the past, every day that I've coached here, I've done the best I can for this football team and I'll continue to do that. Right now, my focus is on the 2018 season. Not 2017. Not 2014. Not 2007. Not 2004. Not 2001. Not 2000. I'm not focused on any of those seasons. They're done.
Shaughnessy: For this season's team, is it important for you to address the Malcolm Butler thing with your team?
Belichick: It's important for me to have a good season in 2018. I'm going to do everything I can to do that, to do the best I can for our football team. That's my job, that's my responsibility, and that's what I am going to try to do. Hopefully you can respect that, but maybe not.
Shaughnessy: Thank you.
What did we learn from that back-and-forth? Belichick will be Belichick, though he already appears in midseason form. The Butler controversy will rage on, likely for years, maybe even decades. And, surprise, surprise, Belichick is refusing to talk about the past. After all, it was what it was, right?
There are a lot of questions surrounding the 2018 Patriots and how good they’ll be this season. There are also, as always, a lot more questions Belichick prefers to evade. Almost every question, actually.
When asked about Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, Belichick pivoted straight into a typical non-answer.
“Julian is a very hardworking player," said Belichick. "We're all disappointed. It is what it is. He's moved on. We've moved on.”
About those Malcolm Mitchell trade rumors?
“I'm not going to engage in media speculation," said Belichick. "I certainly haven't talked to any media person about Malcolm Mitchell so you'll have to talk to whoever that is."
On whether he was bothered by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski missing offseason organized team activities?
“Right now, we’re getting ready for the start of training camp, so everything that happened last year, in the spring and all that, I’m not focused on any of that,” said Belichick. “I’m focused on what we need to do in training camp.”
And how much longer does he plan to coach?
“Again, I’m focused on getting ready for the team, getting ready for training camp and for the regular season. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
If this is how training camp starts, when does Belichick start dropping SnapFace and Mona Lisa Vito references?
One thing’s for sure: This strangely entertaining media game will go on and on. It’s arguably the most predictable part of every Patriots season. And Belichick will be asked again and again about Butler. Press conferences should get pretty interesting when it’s the actual midseason and the Patriots prepare to face Butler and the Titans.