Things I’d ask a coach

People ask a lot of dumb questions. They just do.

We’ll ask one another questions that we already know the answer to.

We’ll ask questions that we already know we don’t even want the answer to.

We’ll do both of those things when the person we’re asking already knows that we know those things.

Still following?

We’ll ask lazy questions that may or may not even have a legitimate answer.

And of course we’ll ask slanted questions with the goal of eliciting a specific answer, even if it’s not the truth.

As people in general, we do all of these things. So it shouldn’t exactly come as some great surprise that members of the sports media do it too.

Now this isn’t a referendum on them, or anyone in particular. It’s an observation that we could all at least strive to do a little better in our inquisitive endeavors, this guy included.

Will it ultimately happen? Probably not. Like I said, we’re people and people ask a lot of dumb questions.

But in a totally sterile, non-pressure environment in which I’ve got all the time in the world to come up with my own non-dumb questions for hypothetical future use, these are some of the sports-related ‘things’ that I’d love to have answered.

These are things I’d ask a coach.

Ground Rules

First things first, I’m going to ask that you abide by a simple, hopefully civil set of guidelines.

If we can both agree to that, I think the experience will be vastly more beneficial to both parties involved.

  1. If I ask a dumb question, you’re allowed to call me out on it. But…I’m allowed to respond/disagree and tell you why.
  2. If you give a lazy/stock/coach speak answer, I’m allowed to call you out on it. (Same rules as above apply to your retort, if any, thereafter)
  3. If nothing further productive/interesting comes out of either party exercising rules #1 or #2, than we both move on to the next topic and don’t act like assholes about it.

Those are the rules; nothing too complicated, but still, I think, quite prudent in their effectiveness if followed (at least in spirit).

The ‘Goliath’ of coaches…in terms of refusing to give actual human, thoughtful responses — he’s also a decent X’s and O’s guy…allegedly. (photo credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press)

Simple inquiries

Realizing that despite my best efforts to dissuade readers (if you’re out there) otherwise, the premise of this article could still easily come across as me thinking I’m so much more clever and discerning than other sports media folk — please know that in no way am I ‘above’ asking questions that have almost certainly been asked countless times before.

For instance, football coaches, what are you doing to combat the somewhat sporadic, yet altogether devastating epidemic that is players willfully relinquishing possession of the football before crossing into the six-point safe haven that is the end zone?

Like I said, the concept of this particular question isn’t exactly my magnum opus (and there’s plenty more that fit the bill as well).

But because I recognize some of my basic traits as a mostly simple primate living atop the big blue and green marble that is Earth, I’d really spice things up a bit by also having suggestions of my own to offer.

(Gasps)

“Coach, why not treat the field as though there’s 120 yards between end zones as opposed to 100?” Basically, why not make it a rule that barring getting tackled by a defender, the guy with the ball has to run/carry it through the back of the end zone? From there he can do whatever he wants with it, but willful failure to do so results in sprints at the next available practice — better yet, sprints for all of his teammates while he stands and watches.

I mean seriously, this ridiculous error keeps on happening. I’m not even suggesting that there’s a decent solution to such human idiocy, much less a perfect one. But I’ve got to believe that there are more effective methods of deterrent to be utilized, and a lot of coaches just aren’t exercising them.

A typical football weighs less than one pound. ONE POUND. And it is the single most prized item/possession on the field. So why in the hell are these guys so eager to get rid of the damn thing??

So help me help you. Or, if my suggestion truly is a total waste of your time/energy, at least help me help myself, so that I might refrain from having such stupid thoughts of my own in the future.

Thanks, and for God’s sake please hold onto the football.

An honest, philosophical debate

“Coach, is openly lying to your players and your fans really the only way to maximize the overall performance of your program/organization?”

OK, now hear me out.

We’re not talking about more sinister omissions of the truth here.

Why hello there Bobby!

What I want to get down to is whether or not it’s feasible for a coach to be honest with their team and with the media regarding things like the relative difficulty/importance of different opponents.

How often have we heard that ‘the next game on the schedule is the toughest/biggest game on the schedule?’

Not only is it an unbearably boring answer, it’s also usually a lie.

In all likelihood if Alabama shows up on your schedule THAT is your toughest, biggest game, full stop. It doesn’t matter if it’s in week one, week eight or week 14. To pretend otherwise is undeniably disingenuous, even if the very fiber of your coaching being says, “No wait, our tilt with Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the week prior, insist to people that’s the bigger match-up instead.”

Mississippi State and Missouri are both middling SEC programs right now. There is no distinguishable difference between playing those two for a school like say, Purdue.

Now replace Purdue with Ole Miss and you’d better bet your ass that all of the sudden that Mississippi State game has a hell of a lot more significance.

And many coaches will at least cop to the fact that rivalry games hold a greater sense of meaning (though they often direct it toward the fan bases), but almost none will say what we’re all collectively thinking elsewhere; that it’ll take an act of god for Incarnate Word just to keep the margin within 30 on Saturday, even if the home team elects to run the same play all game long.

I want to meet the coach who will either say this, or at least definitively answer why the profession as a whole has decided it cannot do so under any circumstance.

Look, it’s probably true that each and every practice, game, day, week, etc., your team is getting better, worse or remaining stagnant. So I can get behind that modified coaching cliché (they love to leave out the part about staying pretty much the same, as if that’s somehow impossible?).

But can one not emphasize said concept to their team whilst also acknowledging that this week’s opponent happens to be a laughably prohibitive underdog?

The next time Alabama squares off with Western Carolina or some of school of its ilk (no offense) in late November, would it kill Nick Saban to utter some semblance of the following:

“I’m just going to come out and say it. We’re about a million times better than the guys who’ll be standing across from us on Saturday. And the Auburn game is next week, so I’m not going to pander to all of you and pretend that these two things have equal emotional resonance with our players, coaches, program or fans. But if we sleepwalk through Western Carolina, and probably still win anyway, we’ve done nothing but hurt our chances of success against Auburn and for the rest of the season we’re hoping will end in a championship.”

Now of course he never will, and it leaves us instead with things like the following (not that I’m complaining — these are always great):

But I am genuinely curious if coaches have even entertained the idea of exercising my aforementioned sort of brutally honest, pragmatic approach in the way they communicate within and about the programs they lead.

These guys spend their entire careers blending legitimate teachings with blatant lies, ideally coalescing in a ‘process’ (thanks again, Saban) that maximizes the output of the program and its constituents.

And while there are certainly some coaches who are less ‘PC’ than others in the way that they speak, I wonder if in general the profession has forever succumbed to the idea that the decades-long status quo truly is the most consistently effective (if not only) way of doing their jobs well.

Every once in a while, a rare bird like the ‘Head Ball Coach’ comes around, who, in spite of their best efforts to follow established coaching decorum simply can’t help but be a fun, honest quote.

(Pushes up glasses) Now for some nerdy musings

If you’ve read this far, congratulations. And while the adventure as intended may not yet be over, I’ll be frank in saying this might be a good time to hop off of the ‘train’ before things get weirdly deep (in a sporting way, of course).

The third, and final, of these particular questions that I’m itching to offer up occupies the realm of college basketball.

So if you’ll indulge me, what is the problem with the following end-of-half clips?

Pay close attention.

Alright just one more time, if you would.

In each of these end-of-half sequences, one team (Duke, Murray State, and Louisville) had the opportunity — barring an early turnover — to guarantee itself the final ‘legitimate’ shot of the opening 20-minute stanza. And in all three of said sequences, that team failed to do so through a lack of basic clock management.

No, the error wasn’t that they shot the ball too early, leaving unnecessary time remaining for the opponent to get a good look of its own. Rather, in all three instances they simply inbounded and physically touched the basketball too soon.

Picture still a little blurry? Alright I’ll try to make it even clearer.

38.8, 42.2, and 37.4.

Those three numbers represent the respective amounts of time left in the half when the ball hit the floor following a made basket.

Now the shot clock in college basketball is 30 seconds in length, a mark officially adopted for the 2015–16 season, following its 45 (1985–86) and 35 (1993–94) second predecessors.

So with those aforementioned amounts of time remaining, how could the team with impending possession have guaranteed itself the last shot?

Like I said, by not being in such a hurry to inbound and touch the basketball.

Watch again how quick Duke’s Javin Delaurier is to gather the Kansas made bucket, hop out of bounds, and fire a pass to teammate Trevon Duval, who starts the possession with his touch of the ball at 36.1 seconds.

By the time the shot clock starts there’s roughly a five second difference between it and the game clock, therefore Duke cannot guarantee itself the final shot of the half.

Duval ultimately hits a runner with just a second remaining, but on the shot clock. The game clock meanwhile reads about 6.3 seconds left, and leaves Kansas plenty of time to inbound the ball and pass it ahead for what should have been a easy lay-up released with 1.7 seconds remaining, effectively nullifying Duke’s last bucket.

The Jayhawks’ Silvio De Sousa blows the two-point bunny in this instance, allowing the Blue Devils to skate by unaffected. But the larger point still stands.

The game clock does not stop during the first half of college basketball games after a made basket. As an inbounder you’ve got five seconds to make a pass once you’ve actually gathered the bouncing ball and established yourself on the baseline. And after all of that the shot clock still doesn’t start until somebody else on your team physically touches the ball.

There’s all sorts of time for a team to burn before initiating what could/should easily be the final possession of the half.

In the cases of Murray State (a half court heave) and Louisville (a buzzer beating dunk), after the initial clock mismanagement both teams just so happened to get the last shot anyway. However, in each instance it was by pure good fortune and completely beyond their reasonable control.

By and large you win in basketball (or any sport) by controlling and capitalizing upon everything within your tangible grasp. Luck is the final five percent that really only comes into play if you’ve done all of the other stuff well enough to keep yourself in contention.

All three of these teams had the opportunity to control their end-of-half situations, and all three erred in such a fashion that they were left to rely on luck.

One mistake within a few seconds of a game comprised of 2400 of them in total, but an avoidable mistake nonetheless.

And a hoops nerd like me is dying to ask one of these coaches if this particular sort of minute detail is one that they even spend time thinking about, much less addressing with their teams.

Or is the reality that I’d only be wasting their time similarly to the way I’ve wasted plenty of my own in even coming up with (and droning on about) this question in the first place?

Regardless, I’d love to find out!

Back to the premise

Obviously these are but a few of a lengthy list of items I’d be gung-ho to bother coaches across numerous sports about. And as I’ve hopefully emphasized, not all of them are bound to be good ones.

But the real goal would be to simply promote an environment in which a back-and-forth exchange of ideas is more interesting and engaging for both parties involved.

Of course not every question will be perfectly phrased/executed, just as every answer won’t be either. However, a lot of the present back-and-forth methodology of Q&A’s with coaches (not to mention athletes and other personnel) can feel as repetitive to listen to as an outsider as I’m sure it gets for the interviewers/interviewees to participate in.

Or maybe I’m totally off base with all of this. Maybe it’s nigh impossible to get these coaches to open themselves up to even remotely creative questions. Or maybe the machine that is these sports and their media coverage simply don’t allow for it, much less promote it.

All I know is that whenever I do hear one of these coaches give a truly insightful, engaging answer, it immediately jumps out to me. And I want more of that. In fact, I’m dying to know how we can get more of that.

It’s a healthier (I think?), admittedly stranger addiction than a lot of others out there, but it’s my own and I’ll own it forever.

Questions?

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