We tried, and tried, and tried some more, but James Franklin wasn’t budging.
The setting was the Vanderbilt football coach’s weekly Monday press conference, and by “we,” I mean those of us in the media. We wanted answers about the state of the Commodores’ running back situation behind Zac Stacy, but as Franklin kept making clear, none would be coming.
Just four days before, Franklin had thrown us all a curve ball by listing Jerron Seymour as his No. 2 runner on the school-issued depth chart, followed by Brian Kimbrow and Warren Norman in some order. Yet when the Commodores had taken the field against South Carolina that Thursday, it was Wesley Tate getting the No. 2 reps.
Last we’d seen of Tate, he was a receiver. Seymour was Stacy’s backup a year ago, and Norman had been the team’s starter before getting hurt two years ago and missing all of last season. Neither of the latter two played so much as a snap on Thursday.
It seemed such a simple and innocuous question, but judging from Franklin’s reluctance to discuss the subject, you’d think we were asking him to reveal nuclear launch codes. Of course, this being the South, where football can almost be a matter of life and death, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
Welcome to college football in 2012.None of this is meant as a dig at Franklin. What New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick started in the NFL by clamming up when asked about anything more substantive than his favorite ice cream flavor is fast making its way to the college game, and so Franklin is far from alone.
For instance, consider VU’s Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival Georgia and its coach Mark Richt, who suspended several key players for various offenses before the season, but refuses to reveal the duration of those suspensions. Georgia’s press release from last week had several of those players on the depth chart for Saturday’s Buffalo came, but none of them played.
Will they play this week, or will they sit? Georgia still won’t say, even though the suspensions were handed down months ago.
During a brief meeting with reporters at the Athens Kremlin Georgia practice facility earlier this week, minister of information defensive coordinator Todd Grantham finally gave reporters a straight answer as to why we can’t get straight answers any more.
“Here’s what I think. I don’t know why you’d tell anybody because it’s not a league rule,” Grantham told UGASports.com after Tuesday’s practice. “Unless everybody is going to disclose all their information, why would you talk about your team in that regard, because to me, you don’t talk about things like that.”
“Where I come from in the NFL, it was a league rule so everybody talked about it and everybody did the same thing, so I was cool with that,” Grantham said later. “But if everybody is not going to talk about it and play on the same page, then I don’t think you need to say a thing.”
And the more coaches decide not to talk about it, the more the fans do. In the instant-news world of message boards, talk radio and Twitter, the less you say, the more people will speculate. Franklin was on a Nashville radio station Wednesday morning asking the Vanderbilt fans and Nashville media to trust his decision. Franklin is well within his rights to do so, but he should also be smart enough to know that an answer like that is only going to add further fuel to the fire if we don’t know the basis for the decision.
Just because people trust your judgment doesn’t mean they stop asking questions. In all seriousness, I can’t blame Franklin, Richt or Grantham. College football is so competitive right now, people seek any edge they can get. One piece of information helps another team prepare better on one play. One play can be the difference in winning and losing. One extra loss instead of one extra win could be the difference in playing in a bowl game or not, or even in a coach keeping or losing his job.
Sometimes, there are even more important reasons for secrecy: to protect players. If you think all football coaches have enough class and decency to, say, not purposely target a particular injured part of an opponent’s body, then I guess you slept through the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal this summer.
With all that, I sometimes wonder why coaches tell us anything.
We might as well get used to it. As more coaches adopt Franklin and Richt’s caution, secrecy is just going to become more common. And though it’s certainly an annoyance to coaches to get asked these same questions over and over, there’s a bright side: at least they know we still care enough to ask.