By Chris Mahr
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was extremely excited following the Aggies’ comeback win at Mississippi on Saturday. The maniacal, childlike way he tore around the locker room celebrating and dishing out high fives is exactly what fans want to see. It encapsulates the passion of college football.
Alas, Sumlin didn’t feel the same way and decided to ban cameras from the A&M locker room. Never mind that the video was posted on Texas A&M’s YouTube channel.
“There won’t be any more cameras in the locker room,” Sumlin explained. “That’s not going to happen again.”
But … why?
I understand that Sumlin was probably just embarrassed. But his decision to not allow cameras inside the Aggies’ locker room moving forward illustrates a larger problem that’s festering among college football coaches: A dictator-like penchant for being overly petty whenever the media or cameras are around.
Harsh words? No doubt about it. Hyperbolic? Probably. And as a member of the aforementioned media, it would only make sense that I’d be lamenting the stranglehold that today’s coaches are trying to put on the access the media has to their teams.
But that doesn’t make me wrong. The Woody Hayes personality archetype for college football coaches just does not fly in a sports world saturated with media. Better to say something that demonstrates you’re not a robot than to stick with stock quotes and clichés.
And yet plenty of coaches continue to fire from the hip with their gruffness guns. When Kansas’ student paper, The University Daily Kansan, dared to predict that they would lose and lose big to intrastate rival Kansas State, Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis ripped the paper on Twitter. How dare they for not allowing a subpar football team to be above criticism!
At UCLA in September, coach Jim Mora kicked all the media and the UCLA sports information staff out of a Bruins practice after camera crews were caught wandering into restricted areas.
“I’m not going to jeopardize what we’re doing as a football team because of the incompetence of some people,” Mora later rationalized. He realizes that he’s running a football team and not in charge of national security, right?
And don’t even think about asking a coach for injury status updates. Otherwise you’ll get a 28-second press conference like the one Lane Kiffin delivered one week before Mora’s blowup across town. Then again, you could get lucky and have the coach merely threaten to walk out on a press conference like Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen did in August.
And we haven’t even gotten started on the Sultan of Surliness, Alabama’s Nick Saban. There could be a whole blog or Tumblr devoted to his curmudgeonly moments. (If there is one that exists already, please send it my way for my perusal.)
This season alone, Saban attacked the media for giving too much praise to Alabama and displayed a grandpa-like surliness when ESPN’s Heather Cox had the gall to call the Crimson Tide backfield “running back by committee.”
I’ll acknowledge that all the aforementioned coaches with the exception of Weis have enjoyed successful seasons up to this point (each of their teams has been in the AP Top 25 at one point or another). But in my humble opinion, it’s in spite of their patronizing treatment of the media, not because of it.
We’re firmly entrenched in the sound bite age of sports. And if you’re getting paid as much as some of these coaches are, you have an obligation to evolve with it. Why? Because several coaches have proven that it’s possible to be friendly with the media and successful simultaneously.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly is so lauded for his sarcasm that it’s manifested itself into a Twitter account, @Chipisms. Wazzu’s Mike Leach’s digressions toward topics other than football have made him a reporter’s best friend going back to his Texas Tech days. And Paul Rhoads is building up a once-moribund Iowa State program largely on the strength of his quick wit and telegenic personality.
So for all you coaches who fashion themselves on the old-fashioned, bare-knuckled archetype fashioned by coaches with John Wayne-like personalities, it’s your move. Your chance to get with the times and drop the robotic, controlling act.
Childlike and maniacal is just so much more fun.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.