Bill Belichick has a reputation of being somewhat of a Machiavellian figure in the National Football League. At first blush, he seems to be a man that lives by the axiom that it is better to be feared than loved.
La Russa spoke very highly of the New England Patriots boss, laughing at how different perception is from reality when it comes to his good friend.
"I get a big kick out of the perception publicly — all the media, and mostly the fans, because they don't see [and] he doesn't give you much. He's not there to draw attention to himself. But if you get in a social situation around Bill, he's got so much personality. He's interesting. He's funny. He's a great friend. I can't respect our relationship more than I do. He's about as good a friend as you can expect to have. … If you go to dinner, you're going to talk about a lot of subjects. It's real apparent that Bill has no ego. He's not there to impress you on his championships. He's just sharing and asking. He shares with guys he knows are interested. It's like going to graduate school times 100."
The feelings Patriots players exhibit in their interviews and actions around him corroborates the notion that such a side exists to Belichick. His players are fiercely loyal to him and respect him immensely. Perhaps he isn't really Darth Vader personified after all. Though, even Vader proved to have a soft spot in the end.
La Russa spoke to Belichick's ability to maintain a team-first approach as well.
"I know nobody has done it better than Bill, year in and year out — the team concept they have when they compete so fiercely, and to compete together. I'm here [at ESPN] and talking to Tedy Bruschi, and we're telling Bill stories. He's got it. I'm sure people in the Boston area, as closely as they watch, they know how fortunate they are. Just don't get fooled by him just coaching and not giving a lot of information in press conferences. He gives a lot of information to his team."
When asked if after his own retirement La Russa could see any hint of his friend following suit, he emphatically announced that we in the Boston area would be lucky for years to come.
"Never. That's one of the great things about Bill. He's into the moment. I spent that day with him, and I spent a little time in spring training with him, and it's all about the offseason, the roster, preparing the drills for the camp; he's all in to the 2012-13 season. There isn't anything that even begins to hint that he's thinking beyond just, 'Hey, we gotta play as good as we can,' and hopefully he's a winner. The guys that come to play for the Patriots expect to play for the championship as they get into the post-season. And that's what he's about."
The Patriot faithful are lucky to have Belichick. La Russa's words suggest we may be lucky enough to have him for years to come and maybe, just maybe, flashes of that other side to him start to become more frequent in the future.
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