Times have changed in college football. Coaches and the press once had a decent relationship, in general. Now, not so much. Too much media. Too much scrutiny. Too much pressure. Too much of most everything.
Gone are the days when Howard Schnellenberger would call a writer and ask him why he WASN’T at an OU practice. Gone are the days of writers riding around an OSU practice with Pat Jones in a golf cart.
When Jones and Barry Switzer coached in our state, trust was fairly high. Switzer would get mad at a guy every now and then, but he had a short memory. Didn’t hold a grudge long. And Jones was the same way, except he got angry even less than did Switzer. Or else he never let you know it.
It wasn’t so much that coaches and writers became friends, though I assume that happened from time to time. It was more of a respect relationship. Coaches understood that writers had jobs to do, even understood that they weren’t always going to like everything they read. But they realized the parameters of the relationship and strived to make it work, even to their benefit. The press got a lot more good insight than they get now.
Conversely, we knew what coaches went through, what they faced, and in a way, we know what they meant when they said something that could be construed wrong. The truth is, coaches were cut a lot more slack than they are now.
In Oklahoma, I would say that Bob Stoops’ and Mike Gundy’s relationship with the media is fine. Not great, but fine.
Gundy doesn’t always tell the truth, but if you know that going in, you can adjust. And the rant is now six years old; that’s become a healed wound. Gundy still will open up to a small group, and it’s much appreciated.
Stoops is more defensive and combative than he used to be, and he doesn’t open up the way he once did. But he’s mostly honest; if there’s something he doesn’t want to talk about, he just won’t talk about it. He’s not really prone to misleading the media; he just won’t give in on certain obvious points, like the major differences in the offenses when Blake Bell quarterbacks as opposed to Trevor Knight.
But here’s the irony. To whatever degree Gundy or Stoops or any contemporary college coach sees the media as the enemy, they don’t fully grasp who their actual enemies could be. And Bo Pelini’s precarious status at Nebraska is a prime example.
Pelini is in hot water after a brutal three-day stretch — the Cornhuskers blew an 18-point lead and lost 38-21 at home to UCLA, then Pelini got into a war of words with Husker quarterback legend Tommie Frazier, and finally deadspin.com released a tape of Pelini blasting Nebraska fans with a profanity-laced tirade two years ago, after a victory over Ohio State.
Here was the setting. In a small room, awaiting a post-game electronic interview, Pelini was with a Nebraska PR staffer and a Nebraska radio man. The conversation obviously was being recorded but had not begun. So someone copied the off-the-cuff conversation, held onto it apparently for two years and released it when Pelini was quite vulnerable.
And it wasn’t anyone from the Omaha World-Herald or Lincoln Journal-Star that did it. It wasn’t anyone from ESPN or Rivals or any internet entity. It wasn’t a television or radio station. It was someone within the Nebraska football circle. Universities control their own broadcasts. Radio companies buy the rights and mostly hire all the production people, but schools call the shots. Some tech guy in a sound room probably is the one who hung Pelini out to dry, but that tech guy wasn’t a plant from us awful newspaper people. Wasn’t some internet spy. He was a guy that Nebraska football and its broadcast partner let into the hen house.
Here’s what happens. Coaches build walls. They build walls to separate, and I’m not talking about keeping eyeballs off practice. I’m talking about people and environments they trust. They build walls because they believe The Oklahoman or the Tulsa World or the Norman Transcript or Rivals, while maybe not out to get them, would certainly get them if the opportunity arose. But no matter your opinion of us, this you’ve got to admit. We don’t do spy. We deal with coaches on a face-to-face level. We ask them straight forward questions. Run our cockamamied theories past the coaches. Most of the time, coaches aren’t blindsided by us. They know it’s coming.
But coaches who build that wall for security purposes have created a false sense of security. The feeling that within those walls, they are safe. They are secure. They can trust the people within their walls. The Bo Pelini story proves the fallacy of that.
“It’s kind of like I tell our players: Unless you’re in a closet, you better assume somebody’s recording you, filming you or both,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “I guess the moral of the story is you better wait ’til you get home, and hope your wife’s on your side — and that’s probably a 50-50.”
Coaches have turned more paranoid in recent decades. Time to get even more paranoid. Enemies come from within as much as they come from without. Good luck with a good night’s sleep, coaches. You have effectively distanced yourself from the press. You have not effectively distanced yourself from people who can pop you just as bad.
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