Once upon a time, before control-freak coaches took over college sports, it was routine for football and basketball players to be interviewed in the locker room after games. As a result, players became comfortable with the give-and-take of speaking to the media and postgame exchanges often became conversations rather than the canned quotes that come out of today’s interview rooms.
The ability to ask — and answer — follow-up questions was not only a part of the maturation process for players, it also frequently prevented them from saying things that were patently silly. In attempting to say nothing so that their coach — who is often sitting right there — won’t get upset, players, even smart ones, often say things that make absolutely no sense.
Consider the postgame comments made by two local quarterbacks in the wake of disappointing losses on Saturday.
Keenan Reynolds is clearly a very bright young man — he couldn’t survive academically at Navy if he wasn’t — but this is what he said after the Midshipmen came up short at Notre Dame on what could have been a game-winning drive:
“It’s the scenario you want on the road against Notre Dame, driving to win the game. (So far, so good.) It doesn’t get better than that. (Slipping a little bit here.) I mean, it’s a dream come true. (Completely off the rails.) Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays to finish the drive. (Exactly.)”
If Reynolds had the chance to think about what he said, he probably would have realized that the “dream come true,” would have been finishing the drive and winning the game. Or the defense getting a stop on the previous possession when Navy had retaken the lead. And if Reynolds had been asked a simple follow-up question such as, “One thing better than having a chance to win is actually winning, right, Keenan?” he probably would have smiled, shaken his head and said something like, “Yeah, competing is nice; winning is nicer.”
No one asks those kind of follow-up questions in interview rooms, usually because someone else has already jumped in to ask something like “How great was it to play in Notre Dame Stadium?” And then the flowery, meaningless rhetoric flows.
At least Reynolds isn’t in complete denial the way Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas is at the moment. Thomas has turned the ball over eight times in two weeks while the Hokies’ season has spiraled into the depths of mediocrity with losses to Duke and Boston College. Read those words: losses to Duke and Boston College. Then remember this is still football season, not basketball season.
And yet, after throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice in Saturday’s 34-27 loss to BC, Thomas said this: “For me, I thought I played well except for two or three plays.”
Memo to Thomas: The difference between a good quarterback and a not-so-good quarterback are those two or three plays. The difference between a good team and a mediocre one is a senior quarterback who makes plays when his team is struggling to find a way to win.
Of course the most laughable comment of the day came from Frank Beamer, who isn’t a 22-year-old college senior but a 67-year-old coach with 222 wins at Virginia Tech.
“I think our team is in a little bit of a funk,” he said.
No kidding, Coach.
Actually, the Washington area coach who had the best weekend by far was Maryland’s Randy Edsall. His team didn’t play, and he didn’t say anything foolish.
Coaches will also use the lack of locker room access to shield players who may or may not want to be shielded. Frequently after a player has had a bad game or made a critical mistake this line will appear in a game story: “[Player’s name] was not made available after the game.”
This has happened frequently with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel the past two seasons. A year ago Coach Kevin Sumlin hid him behind the “no interviews for freshman” rule that some coaches create. Of course Manziel was a redshirt freshman, meaning he was in his second year of college. But football coaches are the world’s last dictators, so Sumlin got away with it. Then, after Manziel’s 30-minute suspension in the season opener against Rice, he again wasn’t made available after the game. Apparently Sumlin has a rule that redshirt sophomores who have won the Heisman Trophy and spent the offseason getting into trouble can’t talk to the media after being suspended for half of the season opener.
When Manziel has made rare public appearances — even in the stilted interview room atmosphere — he has come across as both honest and funny. You can only wonder what would happen if he did a real interview with a real reporter.
You can bet that won’t happen while he’s still playing at Texas A&M. A year from now, when he’s in the NFL, where smart coaches treat their players like adults, he will no doubt become more than the stick-figure character he has come across as at A&M under Sumlin.
This coming week is, without question, the most important of the season to date with three of the five major unbeatens facing what should be their stiffest tests to date. On Thursday, Baylor will play Oklahoma and Oregon will meet Stanford. Then, on Saturday, Alabama will host LSU. You can bet that the other two major unbeatens, Florida State and Ohio State, will be pulling extremely hard for Alabama and Oregon — Baylor, too — to lose.
Of course their coaches and players will no doubt appear in interview rooms this week to declare that they are only concerned with the teams they are playing this coming Saturday. Florida State plays Wake Forest. Ohio State plays Illinois. Which means they could be watching Alabama, Oregon and Baylor play while playing this week’s opponents and still win.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear someone say that? Don’t bet on it.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.