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Originally published Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Grumpy Bill Belichick? Just an act

Bill Belichick's voice comes over the speakerphone, heavy and gruff like someone who gargles with gravel. It's just the kind of voice you'd...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bill Belichick's voice comes over the speakerphone, heavy and gruff like someone who gargles with gravel.

It's just the kind of voice you'd expect from a man who's personality has been compared to a porcupine: all bristles.

The sun's been up in the West Coast for about half an hour, and the telephone interview with New England's coach promises to be about as pleasant as poison ivy.

"You guys are up early," he said.

Well, that was more cordial than could have been expected. Downright good-natured, in fact. Belichick is supposed to grunt and glare his way through an interview. At least that's the national reputation for the coach so often cast as the villain on the sidelines.

He videotaped opposing coaches' hand signals last season, costing his team a first-round draft pick, and once yelled for a Steelers trainer to stay away from an injured Patriot. He was accused of running up the score last season and seemed determined to show absolutely no joy while doing so.

Belichick has become an easy punchline with just one problem: That punchline isn't always accurate.

"When the cameras are on, he puts on a show for y'all," said Seahawks receiver Deion Branch, who played for Belichick four seasons in New England. "And you all bite every time. As soon as the cameras go off, he laughs about it."

On Wednesday, Belichick was engaged and considerate during his weekly telephone interview with reporters from the opposing city. He talked for two minutes uninterrupted on the scouting process that led the Patriots to drafting quarterback Matt Cassel in the seventh round in 2005, even though he never started a game at USC.

Belichick even showed some comic timing when asked about his personality off the field.

"Pretty loose," he said.

Yeah, nothing says wild and crazy like a coach whose sense of sideline fashion is to sport a headband to keep his ears warm, tuck a challenge flag into a sock, and wear a sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off.

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So how does a football coach whose sense of adventure doesn't extend much beyond calling a safety blitz kick up his heels?

"Bon Jovi trips and Nantucket summers," he said. "NCAA basketball tournament with Billy Donovan. I think I could find plenty of other things to do, but football season is football."

And football is the subject he's not real vociferous about. Not even after Week 1 of this season, when the Patriots lost Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury.

"Well, we were getting ready for the Jets," Belichick said. "That's the second game of the year. We turned our attention to the Jets, just like we would after every game, and move on."

No special speech. No teary-eyed appeal about sticking together when times get tough. The Patriots had just lost the quarterback many consider to be the best player in the NFL, and Belichick showed all the emotional range of a flat line.

He is proof you don't have to be Mr. Personality to be a successful head coach, and a reminder that Tyrone Willingham's biggest problem at Washington wasn't the lack of charisma, so much as the abundance of losses.

Results are what matter most, and there is no active NFL coach with more postseason success than Belichick. He has won three of the past seven Super Bowl titles, and his team reached the playoffs six times in those seven seasons.

Belichick doesn't have to win personality contests, just games.

"He'll say his jokes every now and then," Cassel said. "But when you're here and we're trying to win ball games, it's a businesslike atmosphere."

So does Belichick's reputation as the league's biggest grumposaurus ever bug him?

"My main job is to try to prepare the team and coach the team to win," Belichick said, sidestepping the question.

He's not much interested in how he's characterized, and on Wednesday morning he showed he's not nearly as dour as advertised.

Notes

• Center Chris Spencer became the sixth Seahawk to go on injured reserve during the regular season when Seattle added him to that list Wednesday, ending his season because of a back injury. Steve Vallos will start in Spencer's place Sunday.

• G Mike Wahle, who has missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury, could be the next Seahawk to go on IR.

• LB Leroy Hill has a nerve problem in his shoulder and neck area and is doubtful for Sunday. Hill was injured in the Dallas game and missed practice Wednesday, as did LT Walter Jones and WR Koren Robinson for rest.

• Coach Mike Holmgren said Maurice Morris will start Sunday at running back, then he'll "sprinkle in" Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett.

• S C.J. Wallace and DT Red Bryant returned to practice, their first action in several weeks because of injury.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com; Times staff reporter José Miguel Romero contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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