Belichick makes a stop in Miami

NFL hopefuls gather at the University of Miami on Thursday for pro day. Courtey of Mike Rodak

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- There was a time when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick would crisscross Florida in early March -- prime season for college football pro days and baseball spring training -- and visit his friends in the coaching world. It is half-vacation, half-work for Belichick.

But these days, his best pals in the business -- Urban Meyer at Florida, Tony La Russa with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Terry Francona with the Boston Red Sox -- have all moved on.

So what's Belichick, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, to do?

On Thursday, Belichick joined Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland as the only top NFL decision-makers present at the University of Miami's pro day, a second chance for NFL draft hopefuls to impress NFL scouts following last month's scouting combine.

Yet the visit was likely as much about building relationships as it was about seeing the NFL prospects for Belichick, who was spotted in a Miami Hurricanes visor, USC Trojans pullover, shorts, and flip-flops.

The Hurricanes have been down in recent seasons, not having won a bowl game since the 2006 season. The crop of players working out on Thursday was considered relatively weak, with just two players -- running back Mike James and cornerback Brandon McGee -- invited to the recent combine.

So why did Belichick, the only Patriots representative spotted, choose to stop by Miami, with nearly a dozen other major programs holding pro days on Thursday?

Under third-year coach Al Golden, the Hurricanes remain in the national spotlight, and it was not long ago when Belichick invested two first-round picks in four drafts in former Hurricanes (Vince Wilfork in 2004 and Brandon Meriweather in 2007). Ultimately, the NFL draft goes beyond measurements and 40-yard dash times, and comes down to trust and relationships with college coaches like Golden.

The Hurricanes may not have a deep class of draft-eligible players this season, but Belichick's eye could be toward the future. At one point, Belichick and Miami offensive coordinator James Coley, who arrived in Coral Gables this offseason from Florida State, had a lengthy chat as they took in the workouts.

Local reporters say Belichick is a frequent visitor to Miami's facility this time of year, and as he walked off the practice fields, they joked that he was likely off to fish with former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson on the Florida Keys.

True or not, that would be Belichick's typical spring break: a little work, and a little play.