Wearing a sloppy-looking Patriots pullover with a yellow pencil resting on his right ear, Bill Belichick strode to the podium Wednesday at Gillette Stadium looking every bit like the same football coach who has been addressing the media here before the opening of training camp for the past 13 seasons.
But then Belichick unrolled a piece of paper he was carrying, opened his mouth and revealed more of his soul than many longtime reporters here have ever seen him do. Calling it a "sad day on so many levels," he spoke to the media for 22 minutes Wednesday about Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots' Pro Bowl tight end who was charged with murder after the death of semipro football player Odin Lloyd last month.
"A young man lost his life and his family suffered a tragic loss and there's no way to understate that," Belichick said in his first public comments since Hernandez was arrested six weeks ago.
Saying he had been "shocked and disappointed" by the incident, Belichick extended his prayers to the family of the victim. He admitted that some misjudgments had been made in bringing the troubled player in from the University of Florida. Belichick then indicated that the team could change its process for evaluating players in the future.
"Most of the decisions work out, some don't," Belichick said of the Patriots' evaluation process. "I'm personally disappointed and hurt in a situation like this."
While Belichick was talking with reporters at Gillette Stadium, Hernandez was sitting 11 miles south in an Attleboro District courtroom for what was scheduled to be a probable cause hearing for allegedly executing Lloyd last month in the middle of the night behind an industrial park. The hearing, however, was delayed until late August because a grand jury in Boston is now considering indicting him on two additional murders from a drive-by shooting in the summer of 2012.
A regular Super Bowl contender under Belichick, the Patriots appear to have taken some chances with Hernandez, who they took in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Before becoming a rising young star in New England, Hernandez had failed several drug tests, causing other NFL teams to shy away from him.
Also, a recent Wall Street Journal article recently revealed that Hernandez received the lowest possible score, a 1 out of 10, in the category of "social maturity" on an NFL pre-draft personality test.
Belichick said he was out of the country when he learned that Hernandez was being investigated in connection with the murder. He declined to comment on whether he had talked to Hernandez since the incident became public. The Patriots released Hernandez just hours before his June 26 arrest, a move Belichick characterized as having been made "swiftly and decisively" in consultation with owner Bob Kraft.
The normally robotic Belichick appeared deeply shaken by the way it had all turned out. After reading from a prepared statement, Belichick deferred most of the direct questions about Hernandez, saying he had been advised to do so because of an ongoing legal process. He did, however, defend the character of his team and organization, saying it wasn't fair to judge the organization by the behavior of one person.
"We'll continue to try to look at ourselves in the mirror and see where we can do a better job and where we can improve the process," he said. "We'll learn from this terrible experience and become a better team from the lessons we've learned."