Friday, August 14, 2009

Access to College Practices; Follow-Up Note on PGA Championship, Tiger

The biggest story in sports today is, of course, Michael Vick signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. I certainly get why it is a big story but, to be honest, I’m sort of one with it. I really don’t care how much they use him or whether they put in the ‘wildcat,’ to get him some snaps behind Donovan McNabb.

Like a lot of people I’ve said what I have to say about him. If he gets back on the field and is productive and stays out of trouble, good for him. He’s a relatively low-risk signing for the Eagles because they have an established quarterback who isn’t going to be worried about losing his job to Vick. If he doesn’t behave or doesn’t perform, they can just cut him and say, ‘oh well we tried.’

I’m actually more interested today in a report someone sent me from that lists the access policies college football teams have to their practices. I know that this is something fans really don’t care about and, to be honest, I don’t care that much either. It’s not as if being unable to watch Nick Saban’s practices has any affect on my life.

In fact, as I wrote recently about an incident years ago with the Redskins, I’m just as happy most times to not watch practice. Years ago, shortly after I had made the decision to give up covering politics to cover sports again, I was up at Holy Cross writing a story about a coach named Rick Carter.

To be fair, the story was my idea. I was going up to cover the Hall of Fame tip-off game in Springfield between North Carolina State and Houston and I suggested to my boss that I stop en route to see Carter. He was, at the time, a hot young coach who people thought might someday coach the Redskins since he was a friend/protégé of then Redskins GM Bobby Beathard.

Carter seemed like a very good guy and, after we had talked awhile, invited me to watch practice and then finish our interview afterwards. That sounds good to me. Holy Cross’s practice field is right at the top of the campus, essentially on top of a mountain. It was mid-November and the sun set about 30 minutes in to the practice. It then started to snow. I honestly can’t remember ever being colder but I couldn’t leave - I’d been INVITED by the guy I was writing about to watch.

All I could think standing there was: “I could be in a bar in Annapolis right now having a drink with a politician. Instead I’m standing here freeing to death. WHAT was I thinking?”

I made it through practice and finished the interview. Of course I couldn’t know that behind his friendly smile, Carter was a very troubled man. Not long after I wrote the story he had a chance to get the North Carolina State job but, as I recall, Holy Cross wouldn’t let him interview. The program slipped a little bit and a couple years later, Carter committed suicide.

If you are a beat writer—which I haven’t been for a long time now—you need access to practice. That’s because you have editors breathing down your neck wanting to know how a quarterback looked or if someone hobbled off the field and went straight to the training room.

What’s more striking about it all is the continuing—and escalating—paranoia—of coaches. If someone is putting in a trick play for a specific game and doesn’t want it on tape or reported in a newspaper or online, I get that. But generally speaking there are no secrets in football—or any sport really—anymore. Do you think Ohio State is going to be surprised on September 5th when Navy comes out and runs the triple option?

It’s interesting to note that Pete Carroll at Southern California, who has been as successful as anyone in the game for the past 10 years, runs what are essentially open practices. One might think—MIGHT think—that other coaches would look at that and say, ‘well, somehow the Trojans have overcome the presence of the media at their workouts.’ Having really good players tends to be more important than closing practices.

I couldn’t help but get a laugh when I noticed that Duke—my alma mater—allows TV crews to tape ‘B role,’—I think that means they can’t show live plays, just show players stretching and talking and warming up—for the first 20 minutes of practice.

Duke won four games last year and people acted as if David Cutcliffe was Bear Bryant reincarnated. Certainly the four wins were a major improvement over the four wins in four years prior to 2008 but let’s not get carried away here. Right now, Duke should be sending a stretch limo to the home of anyone who wants to publicize the program in any way. It basically takes a court order these days to get into one of Mike Krzyzewski’s practices—unless you’ve known him for 100 years as some of us have—but he’s won THREE national championships. Let’s see four WINS vs. three NATIONAL TITLES. Yeah, I’d say their access standards should be about the same.

One other note before we all go off to watch Tiger Woods win The PGA this weekend: I wrote the other day that the reason Tiger reacted badly to being put on the clock is that last Sunday in Akron is that he doesn’t like anyone telling him what to do. Someone put up an angry post demanding to know how I knew Tiger didn’t like being told what to do. The answer’s simple: I’ve watched him in action for 13 years now. He’s a control freak—and I say that as a complete control freak myself—and it’s part of what makes him great. Why do you think he’s fired caddies, agents and plenty of others in the past? Why don’t you think his current caddy plays the role of attack dog for him? Since his dad was brought up, the fact is Tiger, who loved his dad without any doubt, asked his dad to back off and give him some space to make his own decisions after he turned pro.

I don’t dislike Tiger and my respect for him as an athlete knows no bounds, but unlike a lot of people who cover him I’m not going to roll over and write and say that he’s always right so he’ll call me ‘Johnny,’ in press conferences (he tends to add a ‘y’ to the names of people he likes).

He was wrong last Sunday. The pace of play he and Padraig Harrington were moving at all day was ridiculous. Athletes ask officials to be one thing in sports: consistent. That’s what John Paramour was doing—being consistent. Tiger didn’t like that. Doesn’t make him a bad guy, just means he was wrong.

He’s also the greatest player in the history of golf.


James said...

Is there a more paranoid bunch of professionals than coaches? There is art in teaching and executing, not necessarily in the plays - and plays seem to be the reason they don't want media, or anyoe else, at practice.

Weis has sort of proved them all wrong - thought he could out scheme everyone, but that hasn't worked. Now he's figured out he has to teach.

Vince Spence said...

John, you wrote, "Tiger doesn’t like ANYONE telling him anything at anytime". NOT, "...Tiger didn’t like being told what to do".

What do you mean, "You watched him"? Watched him what, play golf behind the ropes or watched him on TV? What about his other twenty years on the planet? You said NEVER. And what does control freak have to do with anything?

You wrote a sentence that is intentionally and blatantly misleading and is virtually unprovable. You did not learn that journalistic voodoo from Katharine Graham.

I'm liking Bobby Knight a lot more this morning...

John, the clock is on YOU..!!