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The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Exploring the relationship between coaches and beat writers

(Recently, I reviewed "Three And Out," a book about Rich Rodriguez's tumultuous time at Michigan.)
John U. Bacon spent three years embedded with former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff after what was originally intended to be some three months to produce a piece on the evolution of the spread offense. It’s apparent through the 400-some pages of “Three and Out,” Bacon and Rodriguez were like a beat writer and the coach they were assigned to cover -- with much better access to the behind-the-scenes life of a coach. (However, as noted in my book review, Bacon seemed to be very empathetic about Rich Rod’s plight.)
The working relationship between the two entities on the beat can be interesting. It’s a bit different than the way city council or cops and courts reporters bond with their sources. There are long, late hours; roadtrips; and real life pushing against each.
Bacon summarizes this relationship on page 232.
“The tension between coaches and sportswriters has long been noted but little understood. Working on this project confirmed what I’d long suspected: The problem isn’t that sportswriters are so insightful and ask the tough questions, as we’d like to think. No, most coaches don’t hate sportswriters. They simply dismiss us as unathletic, pompous fools who have no idea what it’s like to play a competitive sport, let alone coach one.”  
It’s safe to say most, if not all, sportswriters are actually sports fans. I don’t know how many other beat writers in the newsroom can claim the same. I don’t imagine many court reporters go home to a bookshelf full of legal hardcover literature, but maybe that’s just my naivete. There’s a certain amount of sports IQ that goes into the various beats, chief among them being knowledge of the sport. And it seems there are far fewer people who have this acumen.
And despite how many writers have spent countless in front of the TV, computer, tablet or smartphone, precious few have competed at the level they are covering (with the exception of preps writers).
So while I lament the limited vocabularies of certain sportscasters, their playing career is something that can’t be replaced by a degree from any of the nation’s journalism schools. Their celebrity and insight is too much to compete with.
Regardless of background, no one is immune from asking a stupid question once in while. Likewise, coaches (but more likely their players, especially in high school) sometimes say stupid things. It happens and it’s part of life. But Rodriguez's successor, Brady Hoke, admitted at a recent Michigan Associated Press Sports Editors conference that one thing that could draw his ire would be a reporter's ignorance and attacking one of his players.
Trust is another big part of the working relationship between coaches and beat writers. Writing with a clear malicious intent is never going to get a beat writer anywhere. I’ve always figured that’s why they leave the opinion pieces to the columnists.
It’s an interesting relationship between coaches and writers, and surely few are as tension-filled as those between Rodriguez and the Michigan media members.  


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