La Russa, Crean appear as Belichick's guests at Patriots camp

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La Russa, Crean appear as Belichick's guests at Patriots camp

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia – About 5 minutes prior to his media availability at the Greenbriar in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Bill Belichick emerged from the gleaming white sports complex with his right-hand man Berj Najarian in tow.

Nothing unusual there. But what happened next was. The appearance of legendary manager Tony La Russa and former Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean.

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They followed Belichick to his press conference and quickly became the topic of conversation when I asked the Patriots head coach if he was picking their brains prior to the practice. Belichick lit up.

“Yeah, we brought in a couple of big righties from the bullpen that can really throw hard and close it,” he said with a smile and laugh.

Belichick would expand on his relationship with both men. He met La Russa through author/writer Buzz Bissinger, who just so happened to go to high school with Belichick. Thus began a beautiful friendship.

“I’ll never forget the time he let me get in the dugout with him for an exhibition game,” Belichick recalled. “Baseball -- it seems like just throw it and hit it but there's a lot more to it than that. I saw just how much there is on every single pitch and the focus, concentration, all of that. . .  Different sports but Tony is very progressive. He had a great career as a manager, won a couple thousand games. I can't imagine what that's like but it must be pretty good. We've talked a lot about coaching teams, coaching players, dealing with different situations. He's been in a lot of big games, a lot of championships, World Series, things like that, different organizations. He's helped me a lot and given me a lot of insight."

La Russa doesn’t see it that way, noting there was a big difference in the way the two interacted.

"All I know is that when we're together, I'm asking the questions, he's talking and I'm taking notes,” said the former Cardinals skipper. “He's not taking my notes.”

La Russa, who’s now an advisor with the Arizona Diamondbacks, marvels at Belichick’s consistency in building his team year in and year out.

“I believe his ability and his staff's ability, and his team's ability to start at zero every year -- refuse to think about last year -- is an important part of why they are so consistent,” he admired. “It's true in our sport, too, like what Bobby Cox did in Atlanta. It's easy to celebrate the next year. The ability to turn the clock to zero is really impressive and very hard."

As for Crean, letting him attend practice is a great show of trust by Belichick. Crean is, after all, married to a Harbaugh. Yes, as in John and Jim. In fact, Crean was due in Baltimore’s training camp in the coming days.

"I've had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with Tom, watched him at Indiana,” said Belichick. “Again, different sport but I learned a lot from his organization. We speak pretty frequently. Different motivations, teachings, [but] coaching is coaching, even though the sport is different. Players are players, and there are different things you can do to help them. He is a very progressive guy."

Crean’s personality is contagious. He could sell you the car you already own, and had a few reporters ready to ditch our current careers and go back to whatever college he ends up at next. He’s clearly thought a lot about what makes Belichick special, and wasn’t afraid to share his thoughts on the subject.

"Everything matters every day,” said Crean. “As simple as that sounds, it's very complex and hard because there are so many things that can distract that, can interrupt that, can get in the way of it. When I think of fundamentals, and preaching the fundamentals and details on a day-to-day basis -- and then watching it come out in his team -- that's one place you're going to look. He leaves nothing to chance. It would be hard to imagine something missing his radar or the people that are around him. . . He's been very, very good to me, very helpful. I think that's one of the reasons he's such a great leader, great developer of teams, programs, players. He's always inquisitive -- he's helpful. You can get an idea of how great he is with his team because of the way he helps his friends."

When asked if he ever taught Belichick anything - as the Pats coach said - Crean laughed and quickly dismissed the notion. Regardless, it’s clear that Belichick has never been shy about expanding his horizons - sports, business leaders, ex-players, current ones - all in the name of improving as a coach and - as important - improving his team. There’s no disputing it’s worked. Look at all those rings.

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Goodell statement calls Trump's comments 'divisive'

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Goodell statement calls Trump's comments 'divisive'

In separate statements Saturday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith each criticized President Donald Trump's verbal attack on NFL players. 

Goodell's statement: 

The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month.  Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.

 

And Smith's statement: 

Whether or not Roger or the owners will speak for themselves about their views on player rights and their commitment to player safety remains to be seen. This union, however, will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks. 

 

NFLPA president Eric Winston, a tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, also tweeted a statement critical of the President:

At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he encouraged NFL fans to walk out of games in protest. 

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump told the rally. 

He also lamented that football has become less violent.

“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.

McCourty tweets criticism of Trump's shot at NFL players

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McCourty tweets criticism of Trump's shot at NFL players

Patriots safety Devin McCourty tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump's harsh words toward NFL players who have been kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

McCourty shares a Twitter account with his twin brother Jason of the Cleveland Browns but put his DMac signature on this tweet. Devin McCourty was one of several Pats who didn't go to the White House this past spring to celebrate the team's Super Bowl championship with Trump. 

At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, Trump said NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he encouraged NFL fans to walk out of games in protest. 

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump told the rally to loud applause.

McCourty and then-teammate Martellus Bennett raised clenched fists in protest after the anthem at the Patriots opening game last season and McCourty said he received plenty of criticism for it. 

“I got a lot of [backlash],” McCourty told CSN Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran last year in the days following that protest. "You gotta remember, a lot of these people, they don’t know me. They like the way I play football and they like some of the things I do in the community but they don’t know me. I talked to my brother [then with the Tennessee Titans] because we have the same Twitter and the Titans got a bunch of calls from people saying they don’t respect [the Titans who made symbolic gestures] and they need to be gone. He said their community relations people said, ‘If you just knew them, your opinion would change.’ ”

Several NFL players and other athletes, most prominently former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of African-Americans by police.