New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was answering questions at one of his recent mid-week press conferences when a reporter asked why quarterback Tom Brady was almost always listed on the injury report as questionable.
Brady hadn’t missed a game since replacing Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season, yet he appeared on the report consistently since early last season.
But Belichick was — and is — infamous for revealing virtually nothing about injuries, so the reporter played out the sequence knowing he’d get no straight answer.
"Why?" answered Belichick. "Because he is slightly less than 100 percent."
The reporter, making a joke about the beating Brady had taken in the previous game against Denver, said, "If he keeps getting hit the way he did last week will his status on the injury report change?"
"I just report on his physical condition," a stone-faced Belichick said. "That’s all."
NFL coaches are always looking for ways to get an advantage on an opponent. They are just as concerned about opposing coaches trying to get an advantage on them.
So to varying degrees, coaches try to keep secrets. Secrets about injuries, playcalling and team chemistry. Secrets about a thought process.
It can be considered a smart way to run things. Or maybe paranoia.
"You have the internet, fantasy football, so much going on, it becomes crucial everyone be able to maintain a certain amount of confidential information, that it doesn’t leak out," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "You try and keep the playing field level."
Belichick has given a standing order to his players never to discuss injuries, whether it is their own or a teammate’s. More than half the teams either close practice or allow reporters only to watch early drills and stretching. The Cardinals fall into that category since Green’s arrival.
Eight coaches now prevent regular media access to assistant coaches. That has a lot to do with Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who follows that tact and who has directly or indirectly helped four other current coaches — Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Tom Coughlin and Nick Saban — to get head coaching jobs.
"There is a lot more information out there now than there used to be," Parcells said. "Hell, you can go on the Internet and read about anything you want every day. I think it used to be a lot more close to the vest than it is now."
Saban made an effort to shut off information as soon as he was hired by Miami in January. Among many decisions, Saban made assistant coaches virtually off-limits for interviews, decided in-season surgeries would no longer be announced and declined to announce transactions regarding the practice squad.
In an article for the Associated Press Sports Editors newsletter, Dolphins public relations spokesman Harvey Greene quotes Saban as saying, "Dolphin fans know we don’t want to put ourselves in any type of disadvantage in terms of information that we may give out."
"He wants to be in control all the time," said Cardinals tight end Eric Edwards, who played for Saban in college at LSU.
"Every coach that has success doing it the way he does things," Edwards added, "he’s going to keep doing them that way."
Green falls in the middle of the pack. He allows assistants to talk, in part because he uses what they say publicly as a measure of where the program is — and whether everyone is selling the same message. He has no problems with his players doing interviews — as long as they don’t say the wrong thing.
"If you just get on the same page as your players and tell them your desires, usually they will be cooperative and keep things in-house," said Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry, who played for the notoriously secretive Mike Shanahan in Denver. "It’s tough, you want to get any kind of edge you can in this league, and sometimes that’s a way of doing it.
"Coach Green has always been pretty tight-lipped about everything. That’s just his style. We try to honor that the best we can."
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Green cut receiver Charles Lee last week, explaining it as a need for a roster spot to replace gimpy return man Reggie Swinton. That was true, although the Cards could have cut a handful of other players who hadn’t been as valuable as Lee. It turns out that Lee got into an argument with Green, which led to the departure. Green attempted to keep that part of the story in-house.
"Trust me, after what just happened around here," one Cardinals player said following Lee’s release, "I’m not questioning anything he does."
Green also kept the starting quarterback for last week’s game hidden for the week, to get whatever edge he could on Tennessee. Heading into the Dallas game, he had no such trickery, making it plain Josh McCown was his starter.
But he also wouldn’t get into why he made that decision.
"Sometimes I’ll give you a window into what I’m thinking and sometimes I won’t," Green said. "This is not one of the times I will. Sometimes, it’s important for you to understand what I’m thinking. I don’t think this time is one of them."