Two words. That's all a football coach like Urban Meyer has to say. Seeing how most football coaches aren't half as smart as they think they are, let me dumb this down, put it into words they can understand. Let me quote from the movie Bull Durham, the part where Crash Davis counsels Nuke LaLoosh on dealing with the media.
Two words for you, coaches. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down:
Is that so hard? Play the "no comment" card when you're being asked about a job you don't yet have. Play it like a guy at a blackjack table plays an ace on top of a 10. Slap it down like you can't lose, because you can't. No comment? Unbeatable.
Instead, these egomaniacs try to find a way to win -- even if nobody has ever had one job and been pursued for another job and managed to talk about it without losing. Why? Because you can't win. If you're coaching, say, the Miami Dolphins but there's a chance you're going to coach, say, the Alabama Crimson Tide, you cannot talk about the other job and win. It's impossible. Show even a glimmer of interest in the Alabama job, and you're offending Dolphins fans, the Dolphins owner and probably even the Dolphins themselves. Show absolutely zero interest in Alabama, and you're offending Alabama fans and possibly the big-money folks who run that program.
So don't say anything, other than these two words. Study them, know them. They're your friends. Write this down:
Even when a coach is technically telling the truth, he looks like a liar. That's the position Urban Meyer found himself last week when it was obvious to the world, thanks to various leaks in the media, that Ohio State had zeroed in on Meyer, and that Meyer had zeroed in on Ohio State.
Meyer wouldn't confirm it, but he wouldn't stop answering questions about it. Ohio State already had a coach, and while interim Luke Fickell had to know he was serving as a place-warmer for someone better -- someone like Urban Meyer -- it still would be bad form for Meyer to link himself to Fickell's job. So with reports mounting that he would be the Buckeyes' next coach, Meyer continued to conduct interviews where he said things like "there is no deal" and "I have not been offered any job."
And maybe that was true. At best, in my opinion, Meyer was hiding behind semantics. "No offer" isn't the same as "they want me and I want them." Big-time schools identify their top candidate and gauge quickly whether he'd take the job, and they move on quickly if he's unlikely to come.
Ohio State never moved on from Meyer. Why do you think that is?
Anyway, this isn't about Urban Meyer -- honest, it's not. He's going to win huge at Ohio State, and more power to him. This is about all coaches, and the lying season we have already entered. Jobs are open, big-time jobs like Penn State and Texas A&M and North Carolina, and they will attract big-name candidates. Meyer and the other biggest names not in coaching in 2011, Mike Leach (Washington State) and Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), have been hired. That means the next major moves will involve coaches leaving one school for another.
Which means it's lying season, because these guys can't control their mouth or their ego. They've made it as far as they have by being the smartest guy in the room, and you can't turn that gene off. So former Dolphins coach Nick Saban, forever the smartest guy in rooms that reek of jockstrap, assumed he was the smartest guy in every room everywhere when he tried to distance himself from the Alabama job in December 2006. They were empty words that didn't fool anybody, so Saban finally went nuclear and declared, "I guess I have to say it: I'm not going to be the Alabama coach."
Those words will be on the Alabama coach's career epitaph. They'll fall below the national title he won at LSU, and the title (or titles) he won at Alabama, but they'll be there. A memory like that tends to linger.
This is a lesson taught to me years ago by the Detroit Tigers' Dave Dombrowski, when he was general manager of the Marlins. I had just started covering the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and I went to Dombrowski with a trade rumor. I can damn near recall that conversation verbatim because of the impression it made. It started when I asked Dombrowski -- for the first time, ever -- about a rumored trade:
Dombrowski: I'm not going to comment on that.
Me: I'm going to assume I'm onto something here -- because if it wasn't true, you'd just tell me it's not true.
Dombrowski: Gregg, you're new, so I'm going to break one of my rules and tell you the answer -- but only this once: That trade is not going to happen. But you're going to come to me with more rumors, and if I only shot down the ones that were wrong, you'd know which ones were right. So I say 'no comment' whether it's true or not.
Dave Dombrowski is a smart man, and not just in rooms that reek of jockstrap. He's a smart man, period, smart enough to know he's not going to outsmart everyone all the time with the perfectly chosen sentence.
The typical college football coach can't carry Dombrowski's calculator, so let me dumb it down for them one last time:
Two words, coaches, and only two. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: