Advice for Coaches
It's not Tuberville's delivery -- a flat, somewhat nasally south Arkansas twang -- that is impressive. It's the content.
Tuberville indeed faced a minefield of questions regarding the ongoing academic fraud issues on the Auburn campus that have touched his highly regarded football team. And he deftly negotiated the treacherous verbal territory, even calmly responding to a probing question from a reporter for the New York Times, the newspaper that broke the Auburn academics story.
Tuberville's earliest comments on the issue today included the phrasing "I'm under strict orders from the president not to say much." But he cleverly dropped in enough information to let the media know key things it can distribute to the public: he feels the in-house inquiry into the case will be resolved before the start of the season; if officials determine that the athletic department is doing something wrong, please inform them so they can make changes.
Okay, it's pure public relations pap, but in this case it works. It addresses a prickly issue without him being prickly himself. To sternly dismiss the questions would have risked alienating segments of the media, and not satisfying a public demand -- even presumably from Auburn supporters -- for his thoughts on the matter.
What Tuberville said certainly didn't amount to full disclosure, but it served its purpose, supplying transcriptable material and sound bytes to disseminate.
Maybe this adaptability to media demands is one of the secrets to long-term success in the upper reaches of college football coaching.
Look at the SEC guys with long tenures in recent years.
Steve Spurrier is the can't-miss speaker at every Media Days gathering. He's candid and witty, and his frank responses -- like his "We (at South Carolina) don't have to worry about the (college football) playoffs anymore -- are vital and refreshing. He also happens to be one of the seminal offensive gurus of the last few decades, so his combination of football I.Q. and personal magnetism makes him the perfect storm of media darlings.
Phillip Fulmer is nowhere near as polished as Spurrier and has nothing near the off-the-cuff repertoire shown by Spurrier or Tuberville, but the Tennessee coach doesn't bristle on the difficult questions. He faced a solid barrage of questions about Tennessee's miserable 5-6 record in 2005 and did an admirable job of absorbing the heat and not letting it spill over into his responses.
It's hard to ruffle Mark Richt, the Georgia coach who many see as one of the most upstanding coaches in the business. He appears headed for a long and prosperous tenure in Athens.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt has been under considerable heat the last couple of years, but his public image and his gift for conversation -- winning friends and influencing people -- has been a great benefit in his eight years in Fayetteville.
Alabama coach Mike Shula might end up having a prosperous and successful tenure at his alma mater. It could be aided by a more comfortable presence in front of the mass media and a lessening of his tendency to bristle at difficult questions.
Note to all SEC coaches: do not go through a 10- to 15-minute litany of your depth chart in your opening comments as Ole Miss' Ed Orgeron did Thursday and LSU's Les Miles just did moments ago. It's laborious, dull, not entertaining and it takes valuable minutes away from the question-and-answer portion of your appearance.
Ed. Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama football beat reporter for the Mobile Press-Register. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.
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