Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Off the record

One of the funniest TV shows years ago was when Art Linkletter asked little children questions. Their answers were usually hilarious. Well, in my 20-plus years as a sportswriter, some of the coaches I interviewed had some hilarious answers, too. Their names will remain unknown to protect the innocent.

I remember my very first interview at my very first job with the basketball coach and I went to see him for a preseason story.. He said, “Aw, John, put whatever you want, I trust you.” Now, remember, this is my first job in the newspaper business and this is my very first interview with a coach I barely knew. Talk about trust … later on something like that would come in very handy. But that was just one of many “quotes” which stand out in my memory.

Another was when the college hired a new basketball coach and one of the team’s best players decided to transfer. When I questioned him about the transfer and his (the player and the coach) reason, the coach replied, “I’ll tell you off the record, but this is what I want you to put in the paper.” I said, “No, tell me one or the other, I only want one answer.” To this day, I don’t know which one he told me.

One coach after a particularly difficult baseball loss, said “Except for one bad inning, we played them even.” One coach, and I’ll tell you his name, could never remember first names. It was Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and he could never remember Phil Pozderek’s name. I don’t exactly remember (see, I can’t remember, either) what he called Phil, but it was some off-the-wall name. Whatever, it seemed funny that an NFL coach couldn’t remember the name of his player. Oh, to Landry’s credit, the player never made it big in the pros.

Once, when a coach was describing one of his players (a really good running back who was the heart and soul of the team I covered) to an assistant, saying, “I don’t know what we’re going to do about Rodney’s hair (long and in corn rows). It’s a mess. We need him to look like the rest of the players.” The assistant said, “What it he refuses to cut it?” The head coach replied, “Well, I guess we’ll all have to wear our hair to look like Rodney’s.”

Going back to the original one who told me to put whatever I wanted. He was a different one, but the coach I needed to talk to wasn’t around on this day, and I really needed his comments for a follow-up story on the game from the previous week. Unable to get in touch with him, I felt I knew him well enough to know what he would say, or, at least, what I wanted him to say. Long story short, I just simply made up his quotes. That’s a real no-no in the newspaper business, but I couldn’t do the story without quotes. The next time I talked to him he laughed, “I can’t wait until the paper comes out again to see what I had to say.” Oh, well. Another time, a superintendent, when I asked who were the candidates to replace the head coach, said, “I don’t want to battle against a drum of ink, so I might as well tell you.”

One time in the early 1980s, I did a survey of every coach’s salary in East Texas, many did not want to tell me what they were paid, but one coach did not hesitate because he figured it would, if nothing else, help him get a raise once folks saw that he was not getting paid as well as many of the others.

Then, there was a coach I never seemed to get along with for some reason, which I had to interview after a loss, but he didn’t want to talk to me. I said, “I really need a comment from you and I don’t want to put that you had ‘no comment.’”

He said, “I have nothing to say, put whatever you want.” So, not wanting to cause anymore problems between us, I just put “No comment” and left it at that. Thankfully, I never see that one coach any longer.

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