As we’re wrapping up for the day in a increasingly empty banquet room, I look over at WPSD’s sports anchor Andy Waterman, who I rode to the event with, and in front of him on the table are 5 cans of Red Bull.
“They said I can take as many as I want,” he said to me. I hadn’t even noticed there was Red Bull, but I got up, and went over to this huge tub full of ice full of cans of Red Bull.
I think to myself, “I could have used these 2 hours ago.”
As I grab two for the road, I realize that the Red Bull is really a perfect symbol of OVC Media Day. Over 2 hours, I spoke with 10 of the OVC’s 11 coaches, listened to a short speech from the OVC Commissioner, all while trying to update Twitter and my site and eat an ever increasingly cold plate of food provided by the conference. It was over in a flash, yet so much happened it was near impossible to keep up. Maybe if I had a Red Bull before hand, I would have gotten around to all 11 coaches. A goal for next year perhaps.
I described the event before as organized chaos, and looking back, I totally stand behind that statement. But between the various members of the media, school representatives, and the invaluable help of Kyle Schwartz of the OVC, I never once felt out of place. I’m just a simple blogger, a fact I’m aware of, but never once did I ever feel like that today.
I went from coach to coach in the “one-on-one” interview section of the room, waiting in line as some media members spent up to 10 minutes talking to the coaches. By the time I made it to most of the coaches, I knew they had to be tired of answering the same questions. All of us there knew it, so often 2 or 3 of us would sit down with the coaches together so that the coaches could move to their next interview, and to their lunches as well. And it’s then I realized Media Day isn’t really about the teams. It’s about the men and women who coach those teams.
We talked about players that were returning, players who were lost, team philosophies, new rules, but when I look back upon my first OVC media day experience, I don’t think that’s what I’ll remember.
Instead, I’ll remember sitting down with new Racers head coach Steve Prohm, as he gave great detailed answers to the honestly simple questions I was asking him. But in the back of his head, I could almost see the gears working. He was at media day, but you could tell he was thinking about what he was going to do later that day at practice. Much the same from Steve Payne. They probably gave the most detailed answers but you get the feeling that’s because they were still focused on the details of the team.
And then there was the old hand in the room, Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos, telling me jokingly when I asked about the team’s schedule that I should ask the AD (Loos is also the AD at Austin Peay) and talking about the old days. It was a completely different feeling.
As the day went on, I found myself focusing less on what the coaches were saying, but more on how they said it. The look on their face as they talked about the season ahead, and their players.
This day is really about them.
And I love media day for that.
So often, the coaches are the ones in the background, who take the blame when their teams are losing, but are rarely praised when they win. They’re the one’s we focus on when they’re storming on the court to let a referee know they don’t quite agree with a call, but not when they’re in the huddle during a timeout drawing up plays. This was a great chance for me to meet them, and experience their personalities, even if just for a few minutes.
I should probably tell you about the rest of the coaches.
The first coach I spoke to was Jeff Neubauer of Eastern Kentucky. You could feel his passion for the game, and his players immediately. Listening to talk about the talent on his team, you could see him light up as he said he had the best group of shooters he had in years, something he looks for when he recruits. When asked about last season’s struggles, he was brutally honest in his view, saying he didn’t feel his seniors played as strong down the stretch.
In my earlier thoughts, I said SEMO coach Dickie Nutt had a chip on his shoulder. His team was picked 6th, and you could just tell that he thought his team was better with that. He tells me how his team’s better than many people think they are, and you can see a fire in his eyes. He’s ready to win, and win now.
I went over next and talked to one of the most popular coaches in the room, Donnie Tyndall of Morehead State. He knows he faces a challenge, and had no problem admitting it. No one was avoiding the elephant in the room, and it’s pretty clear he was ready to answer the question: how do you replace Kenneth Faried. A very professional interview from beginning to end.
Jason James of UT Martin was cautious. He chose his words carefully, not wanting to set any false expectations, or provide any hype for his young team. He was confident, but far from arrogant.
Then there was Mike Miller of Eastern Illinois. Picked 8th in the conference, Miller was James’ opposite, talking up his team’s chances this year, telling me how he thought this team was deeper, and more talented than last year. Much like Loos, you could tell this wasn’t his first rodeo. He had been here before, and was comfortable answering any question you threw at him.
Lennox Forrester was much like Prohm and Payne, but with a team with much lower expectations. He seemed borderline uncomfortable at times, not even giving a name when asked who was shining in early practices. I ended the interview after just 3 questions.
Finally was one of my favorite interviews of the day, Tennessee State head coach John Cooper. I could have talked with Cooper about his team for hours, and I got the feeling that would have been perfectly okay with him. It wasn’t his first media day, but it was his first with a up and coming team, and he was enjoying it. I bet he spent 5 minutes on my first question alone, a generic prompt asking his expectations for the season. He talked about his players, his team’s past, last season’s struggles, how on his first media day no one wanted to talk to him, and I was hooked. I only asked 3, maybe 4 questions, but it was the longest interview of the day.
I did miss one coach, and I feel bad that Jacksonville State is left out of this post. His absence wasn’t intentional, simply me mismanaging the short allowance of time made for interviews.
And then it was time to leave. It felt like I had just unpacked my laptop, as I was placing it back in my backpack.
Just like that, my first media day came and went. I learned a lot, and had a great time, something you can hardly ever say about a media event. When you see ESPN cover the major conference media days you see these coaches just standing at the podium and you can imagine the members of the media sitting in rows of chairs in front of them. The OVC instead takes an informal approach, as the media and coaches mingle around tables and all around you interviews are being conducted as you scarf down your second piece of triple chocolate cake. It’s laid back, it’s enjoyable while at the same time giving me access to some coaches I won’t talk to again until media day 2012.
I didn’t know what to expect when I left my house this morning. But I don’t think I ever could have expected what I got to be a part of.
I’m sure no one else in the media takes such a romantic view of another media day.
But it’s my first.
And it’s likely something I’ll be telling another sports anchor about one day as we’re driving 2 hours down the road together.
Thanks again to the OVC.