Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dumb Comment?

The following is contributed by Tom Byrne.

Post-game interviews when a team loses are never fun, for the person asking questions or the person answering them. Take last Saturday’s Blue Hen loss at Northeastern where one comment from head coach K.C. Keeler set off a minor controversy.

I interview Coach Keeler first after every game, live on The River. At one point in Saturday’s interview, Keeler said “I told the kids, I said, we are probably the dumbest team in America… and I’m not taking a shot at them. I’m taking a shot at us also, as coaches. Where we just need to find a way, you know, to keep on trying to make things simpler for them. The number of times that we are out of position on things we’ve gone over, over and over is ridiculous.”

As the only person right there with the coach as he said it, my sense was he was simply frustrated, looking for the right thing to say. Understandably, he went right to what he had just said to the players in the locker room. There is a reason why most sideline reporters, faced with interviewing a coach losing at halftime or after a loss, go to that old chestnut “What did you tell the guys in the locker room?”

And this time it yielded dividends. As he said it, I thought “this is the sound bite I’ll be using in my story for WILM Newsradio”. From my perspective as a reporter, it was a fairly candid comment that summed everything up and provided a little insight into what happened in the locker room after the game.

Apparently, others who heard it, then related it to those who didn’t on the internet, saw it differently.

To my surprise, some “freelance internet commentators” saw the “dumbest team in America” comment as throwing the players under the bus, and some even suggested it was bad enough to justify firing the coach.

Talk about going overboard.

I will grant you that it probably wasn’t the smartest comment for K.C to make. Not because of what he said, but because, even though he IMMEDIATELY included the coaching staff in that characterization, some people will only hear “I told the kids they are the dumbest team in America”.

The fact that I did not see a similar quote in newspaper stories the next day tells me K.C. probably had already figured that out between the time he walked away from me and walked up to the rest of the reporters covering the game.

The fact that he made an unsolicited effort to clarify the comment at his weekly press conference Monday is even further proof that he realized how easily it could be misconstrued.

It’s a shame he felt such a clarification was necessary. What he said was clear enough the first time.

In an age where candor in interviews, in sports or elsewhere, is rare, I hate to see someone get put on the defensive for being candid. We may not get that kind of candor the next time. Instead, we’ll be treated to “taking them one at a time” and every other clich├ęd response Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham” tried to teach Tim Robbins’ rookie pitcher. Or worse yet, we’ll get Andy Reid’s list of injuries and non-answers once ‘the time is yours”.

Would that make anyone happier? I know it would make my job a little more difficult and what you hear and read a little less interesting.

Luckily, I don’t see K.C. Keeler’s style changing just because of this incident. But I might not be able to use “What did you say to the guys in the locker room?” for a little while. Damn, what do I ask this week?
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Tom Byrne is a Sports Anchor for WHYY-TV, Sports Director of WILM Newsradio, and Sideline Reporter on University of Delaware Football Broadcasts on The River 94.7

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