Huskies Insider Blog

Willingham explains his distrust of the media

UW coach Tyrone Willingham is in Dallas this week, appearing this week at a football forum hosted by the National Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America.

There, he was on a panel covering several topics related to college football, when moderator Chris Rose asked this question: "I'm curious, I want to see hands from everybody on the panel, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most trustworthy, 1 being least trustworthy, how many of you guys on the panel trust the media more than 6, from 6 to 10? I'm talking about a decent amount of trust in the media."

Up went the hands of Kansas coach Mark Mangino, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and TCU coach Gary Patterson.

Willingham's hand stayed down.

Here is the transcript of what followed:

COACH WILLINGHAM: My level must be obviously a little lower (laughter). Chris, you'd probably like some type of explanation for that.

CHRIS ROSE: I'm just a man looking for answers.

COACH WILLINGHAM: Let me give you a couple. I think I'm blessed in my background that obviously most of the coaches will tell you they have wonderful wives, and I have a wonderful wife. My wife in her early career was a newscaster, and about the time that we had children she made a decision, one, because we had children to take care of them, but the other one was because the media at that time was changing. It was changing in the media what we thought, and we talked about it in our home, that it was changing from reporting news to making news, and to me that's a huge distinction between those two.

So therefore when you go about making news, and obviously with the internet and all the other things that are happening, the speed of information now and trying to produce a story and get the big one has kind of changed perspective. So therefore I don't have quite the trust in those that are making news as opposed to reporting news.

CHRIS ROSE: How do you decipher that?

COACH WILLINGHAM: It's just the nature of the environment that we're in. I don't blame those that have to do it because that's their business. So it is a change.

CHRIS ROSE: So you have a protective guard with everybody? Do you feel that guard come up when you speak to the media?

COACH WILLINGHAM: No. I understand their job very well, but for me it works better if I'm that way.

CHRIS ROSE: Coach Tressel, you're the biggest game going in the state of Ohio basically, we're talking even pro teams, as well. I mean, Ohio State football is king, I can tell you that. Do you watch, do you read, do you get on the internet?

COACH TRESSEL: You know, our world, the four people here, is really a race against time, and the biggest problem we have is time. I wouldn't even know how to get on the internet to look at a thing, a website or something like that.

Now, do we have people that keep us aware of this recruit is visiting Kansas this week and he's in Washington and all that? We're kept aware. But along with what Ty is talking a little bit about, I think my sense is not a distrust of the media; I feel bad for the media because there's a lot of guys that cover us every day that have wonderful things in mind and get pushed from somewhere else to talk about this or talk about that. You're getting ready to go on interviews sometimes and the guy puts the microphone down and says, I don't really want to ask you this, but upstairs they're making me, and all that business.

As Malcolm mentioned with our group that we had yesterday or two days ago at the Big Ten, it's become a thing of who can get something first versus who can get something right. And if coaching ever becomes all about who's in first rather than who's doing it right, I don't want to coach.

So I feel bad for the media. I don't distrust them, but I know, as Ty said, what they have to do. I feel bad about that.

The other thing I feel bad about is that our worlds are so busy that we have a lot less time available, and we have to make decisions where we're going to spend our time, because recruiting is way out there now, and you're looking at sophomores, you're getting phone calls and texts we can't call them; I've had three phone buzzes from recruits. I'm thinking, now who's more important? I look around this room (laughter), and for the moment I'm going to say this group is, but our time is so pulled Mark and I were talking, it's so easy to communicate with us that every person from the state of Ohio that's in Iraq I hear from, every person that's in every one of our University hospitals, I hear from them or their cousin or whatever.

So we have all of these things that are pulling at us, not to mention our 105 teenagers and the 30 that we're recruiting forward and the other good causes that we'd like to be a part of. I feel bad to when it comes down to you don't give the media as much access. Our time is limited and we give them less time.

I don't think that it's the trustworthiness of it. I enjoy the time I have with the media, I really do. I just don't have as much time. We had a guy in our panel the other day who was a blogger, and I've never even seen a blog. But he said, you ought to take time, coaches, to have lunch with a blogger (laughter), and I said, I don't even have lunch with my wife (laughter). I don't know when I would have time to have lunch with a blogger and get to know where they're coming from and all that.

So I feel bad for the media. I don't distrust them, and I don't think he distrusts them.

COACH WILLINGHAM: He does (laughter).

COACH TRESSEL: But I feel bad for them, and I feel bad that we don't have more hours in the day. When I start writing down my priority list, should I talk with my freshman who's struggling a little bit or should I stop over at the hospital to see this person or should I return an email to a young man or young woman who's serving in Iraq or should I maybe even watch some film which would be fun, wouldn't it, to have a minute to watch some film? calling another press conference or going to have lunch with a blogger or whoever, I feel bad that those times with the media don't rate up there.

CHRIS ROSE: Well, we are in a different time, and although I love your comments about bloggers, it's changed. The players you guys coach are blogging. Those are facts. They're out there, and bloggers, they're out there to just share their opinions.

COACH TRESSEL: The good news about our players, everyone keeps bringing that up, that they're the bloggers, when they get hit in the head with that silver helmet in practice, they're not thinking about that blog anymore. I don't care what that blogger said, that they should be playing or this or that; there is a good dose of reality when they walk into our building.

CHRIS ROSE: But I've got to guess that you guys do hear some things, even though you don't maybe check out the computer and watch TV as much as you would like, or maybe not like. But I remember a few years ago there was that website, at Florida. And I felt terrible for the guy. Whether you think he was a good coach or not a good coach, I'm sure, Coach Tressel, you probably think he's a better coach now than he was a few years ago, but the fact that those things are out there, does it bother you, Coach Patterson?

COACH PATTERSON: I think you have to use it to your advantage. I don't think coaches have time to look at it, but I think it's in our best interest that if somebody is giving out bad information that you have some way to give out the right information.

CHRIS ROSE: How do you fight back?

COACH PATTERSON: For me I'm not going to look at it. For me, for recruiting purposes, for program purposes, I tell my kids all the time not to look at it because I do believe they're influenced by it. They're freshmen, that's one of the hardest parts I have about playing a freshman; if it doesn't turn out well for him, he's mentally not stable enough sometimes to be able to handle it and it can break him. I think you have to be able to have somebody within your system that goes out and checks what is on line so that you know what people are saying so that you can actually give out good information, not necessarily fight it.

I've always felt like, I guess because of growing up in the metroplex, being here as my first job as a head coach, I took the stand that I was going to help the media do their job. But under the same breath, I also felt like also it's my job to protect my kids, my program and my university. And if I can do at some point in time if I can do both of those at the same time I have to give them a lot of credit.

I had a young man this year that was a preseason all American that had a lot of troubles off the field, and I think because of our relationship with the media here and always being as honest as I could be, I think that they helped protect the young man as much as we could as far as trying to get him back on track without the whole world thinking I do believe they have to be our friends. I think there's only one way we're going to get through it is if we're on the same page.

I feel bad, Coach Willingham, that there is not a trust, because I think in some way it's hard to do our job without it.

CHRIS ROSE: Coach Mangino, a few years ago we talked about it on Best Damn, the comments you made I think it was after the Texas game, was it not?


CHRIS ROSE: After that happened, did you think to yourself, boy, this is it, or did you say, boy, I said what I said, I'm living with it, that's okay?

COACH MANGINO: Well, the way I approached it, first of all, is I had a reason to do it. My reasons are such that we had lost some difficult ball games that year, and our kids after that game were just crushed. I had never been around a team that had been so disheartened about a loss.

So I just warned people, some administrators on my way to the pressroom, what I was going to do, and it was to save the team. I knew I was going to get criticism for it and take some bullets, but Kansas hadn't had a winning program for many years, we were trying to get it on its feet, we were getting close but just couldn't get it over the hump, so I took a bullet for it.

But I do understand that that's not the way to do it. I learned a lesson that there's other ways to get that done. But at the time I felt that was the best way to do it.

Was it good judgment? It wasn't. But my feeling is that we're talking about our dealings with the media here, and I want to get back to what we were saying here a minute ago.

I feel dealing with the media is like anybody else, any other profession in life. I call it the 90 percent rule. 90 percent of the members of the media are hard working people trying to take care of their families, trying to do a job. They have a boss to answer to, and I understand that. I don't care if you're talking about football coaches, if you're talking about businessmen, if you're talking about the media. 90 percent of them are going to do a great job.

There's 10 percent that are lazy sometimes or they take shortcuts, but every profession sees that. The way we deal with the media, and my thoughts are that the media is a general term. You're encompassing a lot of people when you say "the media." I base my respect or like or dislike on an individual basis with the members of the media that cover us, whether it's nationally, regionally or locally. That's how I do it. I judge everybody and they judge me, too. But it's on my relationship with them.

That doesn't mean they have to write nice things about us all the time. A lot of them don't. But I think they're doing an honest job. They're doing it to the best of their ability, and they're not trying to create news, they're covering what's taking place.

... (This is a very loooong transcripe, so I've weeded out a middle part about bloggers from major media and bloggers who blog from home, etc.)

I'll pick up again here as the coaches discuss what they withhold from the media.

COACH TRESSEL: My dad gave me advice long before the bloggers. He was a coach, and Mark was on my staff my first year as a head coach, and I tried to follow this advice, he said, "You'll have 1,000 opportunities in your life to keep your mouth shut; use every one of them" (laughter). You know what? I've had a lot more than 1,000 opportunities. He didn't know about all the bloggers that were going to come along.

As Mark said, we don't ever want to say something that would hurt one of our kids and say, well, this was the reason we lost the game, gosh, if he would have made that tackle or whatever. We're not going to do that.

So sometimes we get looked upon as not wanting more access or not telling more about what the story is. I think all of us enjoy our time with the credible media and so forth, but we're never going to do anything to hurt our kids. They're like our own children, and we're not going to do anything to hurt our university and hurt our game.

When you lump all of media as one thing and lump all of football as another thing, and Grant, and Tyrone is our president of the AFCA, football is more than just about the teams that go to the BCS. Football is about ... 700 college football teams. We don't lump it all together. Granted, he said what about the sponsors and all the money. We agree. We give them as much as we possibly can, but we're never going to hurt our kids, and we're never going to break federal laws. As Mr. President said, I'm not going to go out there and say this happened on campus and I'm going to kick him off. You guys are going to write that I'm a great disciplinarian. I'm not going to do that.

COACH WILLINGHAM: My perspective is we're not too far down the road, but the concern that I have is the speed, the speed of information. When you put a story out there and you don't tell the whole story, that individual that's in trouble, you know, you may list something that's really not what's taking place, and you have to be vague because you have to protect the athlete or the individual. So that would be my concern.

But I think the key to all of this will be both sides' ability to be honest and shoot straight with what's going on. You can be open and meet with the media every day, but there are certain times that you can tell them certain things based on the release of the information, and you just can't give them any more at that time. I don't think we're too far down the road, but I do think obviously there needs to be some adjustment on both sides.

Q. I see it kind of occurring now, but I'd just be interested from a coach's perspective, start with Coach Willingham, how concerned are you with all this talk about mainstream media and new media, that the new media seems to have more and more of an influence in recruiting, where you have less contact now with the athletes than you've ever had before and these non mainstream media now are influencing recruiting, much like just to make a parallel, the AU coaches did in basketball. How much of a concern is that for you guys?

COACH WILLINGHAM: Very concerning, because I've always said I have to win two recruiting wars. One is the publicity war, and one is the actual war in terms of getting the right kids. You have to win both of those, because the day you don't, then you don't build up the enthusiasm in the public about your program, so therefore you don't get the energy, you don't get the funding, you don't get the support. All those things seem to be minus. And if you don't get the right players, you're certainly not going to win on the field.

I'm certainly concerned about being able to match up both of those. But I do place a lot more value in our ability as coaches to look at players and make the decision on who we think is right based on the public opinion of who is right.

Q. Going back to the access issue, I don't think many of us have a problem as far as access to head coaches, but one of the problems we have is in many places you can't talk to assistant coaches or coordinators, you can't talk to freshmen. You have very limited time with players to talk with them, understanding there's schedule. But what I hear from coaches is mostly, how come you guys don't write more feature stories; how come it's always a news story or maybe negative? And one of the reasons is when you write a feature story you like to have as many voices from assistant coaches who knows the kid that's a position coach or grab the kid more than just coming off the practice field when he's tired and wants to go eat. That's the access problems we have, and that's what we're trying to bridge. How can y'all help us or we can come to a meeting in the middle here on access? We don't have an access problem with head coaches, but I know they want to limit information so you can't talk to assistants, you can't talk to freshmen, more and more keep you out of scrimmages. You can't talk to parents, and in some places when you're trying to do a story on a kid, a good story that y'all like to see but we can't do because we don't have access, so what ends up happening is the editor says what do you have for tomorrow, and you say, I was going to have a feature but I don't, so what you've got is you take what ends up being a little part of your notebook and you blow it into a news story that you know in your heart that this is garbage, you shouldn't even write this but he wants something. The coach might say, why is that even in the newspaper? That's the process that happens with us. So we're trying to get from y'all just a little access, not from y'all because y'all are great. You have press conferences, we can catch you at certain times. It's the people around you that we have trouble getting to. I just wanted to know where y'all stand with that.

... (Here's I've cut more general discussion from other coaches, and pick up again with Willingham:

COACH WILLINGHAM: I wanted to answer your question from my perspective. Obviously almost every coach in the country will be different in how they handle this, but I have never limited a player or assistant coach's access to the media, nor for the most part have I ever limited mine, even though I still respect what they do, but I have that distrust of what they make mistakes on.

But I do limit practice. I limit practice for this reason. In many cases, the error that is often reported by our reporters is not an error by the individual that they reported on. Some days my receivers drop a lot of passes, and yet it'll be written that our quarterback had a terrible day, okay, didn't have completions, didn't do this, and I'm the one that has to go back in there and build my quarterback back up when he's had that public embarrassment about what happened that day, and the accuracy of what is being reported is a problem with me. So therefore I limit that aspect of it, and then I can answer to what did or didn't happen at practice, et cetera.

If you want to read every word, here is a link to the full transcript.