Reflecting on the day Bill Belichick said, 'I'm not an easy guy to play for'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It hasn't been the only time New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it over the last 18 years, but it's the one that stands out most.

Rewind to Nov. 27, 2011.

"I know we demand a lot, this isn't an easy place to play, and I'm not an easy guy to play for," Belichick said following the team's 38-20 road win over the Philadelphia Eagles. "But they have tried to respond and I give them a lot of credit for that."

With reports of contention between Belichick and tight end Rob Gronkowski surfacing, I have found myself thinking back to that day at Lincoln Financial Field. Belichick has always been tough on the players, as stories of what unfolds in his team meetings and film sessions over the years have highlighted.

For those players looking to have their egos stroked, New England hasn't been a good destination since Belichick's arrival in 2000, with Belichick essentially saying as much that day in Philadelphia.

Belichick was under the weather, and another reason that postgame news conference stood out to me was because his voice was scratchy, he looked exhausted, he elected to sit instead of stand, and the edge he often exhibits in those situations was gone.

The Patriots had beaten the Kansas City Chiefs at home on the prior Monday night, which meant they had one fewer day to prepare leading up to the road game against the Eagles. It was also Thanksgiving that week, which created another disruption to the regular routine.

Then the injury-ravaged Patriots fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter before roaring back to blow out the Eagles in a game where Julian Edelman played some cornerback.

All those factors combined led a more-reflective-than-the-norm Belichick to acknowledge his players and assistant coaches deserved credit for fighting through adversity. It's not a stretch to say that dynamic has been a big part of his coaching style over his 18 years: He creates adversity on a daily basis, making it a challenging environment to come to work, and players and coaches can often develop resolve by going through that mental and physical pressure-grinder.

One can understand how players who have been in the system the longest -- headlined by quarterback Tom Brady (19th year), kicker Stephen Gostkowski (13th year), special-teams captain Matthew Slater (10th year), Edelman (10th year), safeties Devin McCourty (9th year) and Patrick Chung (ninth year) and Gronkowski (ninth year) -- might sometimes be fatigued with the approach. But the winning results speak volumes.

Edelman, in particular, touched on this in an interview with Barstool Sports prior to Super Bowl LII.

"He's an a--h--- and I hate him a lot of the times, but I still love that man to death," he said. "I know that the day my production goes down or I'm not playing well, he's going to get rid of me. Doesn't mean I don't love him for what he has given me right now in my life ... if Bill ever says anything, my shoulders are back, my head is tilted straight. I'm still terrified of him."

As the coach said himself, most notably back in 2011, he isn't the easiest guy to play for.