College football Media Days are Media Daze

So many questions, so little enlightenment

Football, Sports, The Hlog by Mike Hlas,
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July 16, 2014 | 1:30 pm

The Big Ten’s football media days are in Chicago on July 28-29. Those attending need about 10 days of meditation and breathing exercises to prepare for the event.

The second day is fine for those of us on what used to be known as the print side. Players and coaches have their own tables in a ballroom, and you can sit next to them and have Q-and-A’s. It’s conducive to actual conversation.

The first day, however, is a test of the human spirit. All 14 coaches spend 15 minutes each at a ballroom podium. All 14 have opening remarks in which they inform us how excited they are about the coming season, and what a challenge it will be to compete in this great conference.

That’s 3 hours and 30 minutes, long enough to drive from Chicago to Iowa City. Which I’ll want to do the moment Rutgers’ coach tells us how excited he is about the coming season.

After their opening addresses, the coaches field questions for the remainder of their 15 minutes. Some of the queries are cringe-worthy. Here are samples from this week’s SEC football media days in Hoover, Ala.:

For Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin:

What is it like not coaching Johnny Manziel? Do you miss him?”

We can stop right there, right? But here’s one more, directed to Auburn’s Gus Malzahn:

With the start of the four‑team playoff this season, do you feel that the SEC champion will be in that playoff?

Malzahn said he felt confident the SEC champ will reach the final four. You can’t tell from simply reading the transcript whether he was smirking at the time.

OK, the questions weren’t all that insipid, and yes, I’ve asked three or four (million) dumb questions or so myself over the years.

But the better questions that hopefully lead to informative answers are usually saved for more-private interview settings. Of course, sometimes a coach or player simply doesn’t want to be candid or even civil. That used to annoy me. Now, I find it enjoyable. At least short-tempered or sarcastic is honest.

South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier has made life unpleasant for certain media people in his time in Columbia, and a winning coach always swings a big hammer in those silly skirmishes. But I give Spurrier this: He’s never dull.

Here is a link to Spurrier talking about Alabama Coach Nick Saban.

Few coaches publicly speak about schmoozing with their programs’ big donors. Spurrier is 69 years old and has his job for as long as he wants it. He gives zero hoots about how people react to what he says.

“I think one of the head coach’s responsibilities is to get to know some of those big boosters,” Spurrier said Tuesday at the SEC shindig. “I certainly have got to know all of ours. In fact, my wife, we have a dinner for all of them each year before the season. I think it’s going to be August 15th, two or three weeks before the season starts.

“But they’re very important. Joe Rice is one of our big donors. I was kidding around with him recently. He took me to the Bahamas on his jet airplane, on his yacht, pretty good trip. ...

“The big donors in college are similar to like an owner in the NFL because they put the money up. The best part of it, they don’t tell us what to do, though. They’re sort of the owners from a distance. They don’t tell you who to play, what plays to call, so forth.

“But the big donors are very important, extremely important to all athletic programs. There’s no question about that. You got to have the facilities to keep up.”

It’s kind of like a U.S. Senator keeping the fat cat donors happy to keep those campaign war chests full. Except a successful major-college football coach has a lot more power than a U.S. Senator.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@sourcemedia.net

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