PHOENIX -- Bill Belichick skipped out on the league meetings Monday and missed the annual AFC coaches breakfast, but he still somehow ended up being one of the topics of conversation at the Biltmore Hotel on Tuesday morning.
While the Patriots coach was scouting college prospects at the University of Florida, some of his competitors in the conference took a moment or two to laud the energy and enthusiasm that Belichick has shown for his job after more than four decades in the NFL.
"I don't think he's slowing down," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "I mean, the guy is winning rings. He's stumbling over all the rings he's winning, and it's for a reason. He's not slowing down any time soon."
At the Ohio State pro day last week Harbaugh got a first-hand look at how Belichick approaches this point in the year, when coaches around the league don their scouting caps leading up to the draft.
"I just appreciated the conversation," Harbaugh said. "He knows the players. He's the best, and it's not surprising to see him work as hard as he does. You gotta work at it and he works at it."
Of late there's been some speculation as to when the soon-to-be 65-year-old will eventually hang up his whistle. During the Super Bowl, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he had an idea of when Belichick would retire but that he wouldn't discuss it with anyone but Belichick. Earlier this week, on the Biltmore grounds, Kraft said he hopes Belichick coaches into his 80s.
For new Bills head coach Sean McDermott, that wasn't the most welcome news, especially when it was accompanied by Kraft's acknowledgement that Tom Brady hopes to play six or seven more years.
"This is supposed to be fun coming out here, man," McDermott lamented. "Brady, and then I heard Coach Belichick is going to coach [until he's 80s]. So yeah . . . Doesn't get any easier does it?"
In his short run as a head coach, during which he's had an opportunity to understand the energy the job requires, McDermott has been given perhaps a slightly new appreciation for Belichick and the way in which works as he heads into his 18th season in New England.
Doing things like traveling the country year after year to assess a new crop of potential draftees ain't exactly a cakewalk.
"You respect that about him and that whole organization in terms of their drive to be the best year after year," McDermott said. "It's one thing to have success, it's another thing to sustain it. To me that starts from leadership, and they set the tone, really. I'm sure they do a great job in that regard. It's obvious, it's out there. They've been able to sustain the success and we're all scrambling to be able to try to catch up to them."
McDermott added: "That's why I wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning. They do a great job with building their football team whether it's through the draft, late free agency signings, they find pieces that fit what they're trying to do and they're very strategic. Nick Caserio I know well does a great job on the personnel side, and then their coaching staff does a great job. Obviously, it's led by one of the greats of all time."
Belichick may not have been present at Tuesday's breakfast, but he didn't need to be to be on the minds of his competitors in the conference.