As Belichick’s tree extends, his former rivals disappear

Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke Sunday in the media room and spent the first several minutes of his press conference sending well-wishes to many of his former associates now scattered throughout the league.

Sustained excellence, like the Patriots have exhibited this decade, tends to garner attention, and New England has been hit hard in the past few years as other clubs have looked to pluck its assistant coaches and front-office members. Belichick made a point of lauding all of his past colleagues and showing his appreciation for their work in New England.

Later, Belichick spoke about how strange it is to be at the combine with several familiar coaching competitors being out of the league.

“It just doesn’t seem right, really, to not have people like Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Steve Mariucci, guys who I coached against, and in some cases not very well, not be head coaches in the National Football League,” Belichick said.

Belichick then flashed his dry wit while profusely praising Shanahan, one of his biggest coaching rivals.

“Mike Shanahan is certainly a Hall of Fame coach,” Belichick said. “I know I’ve got to be on the list of people that he’ll thank (at the induction ceremony) because of the games that have been scheduled against us. He’s done pretty well.”

Clearly shocked by the recent firings of Shanahan and Gruden, Belichick repeated his sentiments.

“I’m not disappointed that they’re not on the schedule, believe me,” he said. “But it’s just hard to believe that coaches like Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden aren’t coaching in the National Football League. But that’s not my decision.”

At this point, Belichick’s lengthy introductory statement concluded, and he took questions, to which he responded with his trademark general answers.

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