Coaches, the face of the team, the voice of the angry

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A head coach’s main responsibility is to maximize all the talent on his or her team. He or she also scouts the opposing team, organizes a staff that makes sure each player knows his or her responsibility and sometimes even calls the plays.

The head coach is also the face of the team and is the voice of reason if something goes wrong or the sound bite if something goes well.

After all, the media is the bridge that connects the team to the fans. Fans do not have the access that members of the media do, so it’s the media’s job to accurately portray what goes on at practices, games and other news and notes surrounding the specific squad.

I have been covering various athletic programs at the University of Miami for over two and half years with WVUM radio and with The Miami Hurricane. I have learned that some coaches love the spotlight and others despise it.

Fifth-year women’s basketball coach Katie Meier and 17th-year head baseball coach Jim Morris are extremely media savvy and are not afraid to speak their minds and speak the truth. Meier is a quote machine and gives long and elaborate answers to even the simplest questions. In fact, she sometimes even uses too much detail in her answer when she speaks in basketball terminology.

For example, when I asked her after the WNIT quarterfinals game why the team’s perimeter defense was so good against Providence, she responded with a detailed answer instead of just saying ‘we executed well.’

“We defended the umbrella well,” said Meier in reference to the umbrella as the perimeter and arc that makes up the three-point line.

This is music to a reporter’s ears. Meier is also one to never make excuses. Morris is the same way. Morris is humbled and appreciative of reporters electing to cover his team. I once asked him who the Friday night starter would be and he went on to tell me who all three weekend starters are. He is not afraid to discuss injuries and the practices are open to the public. He’s not afraid to say his team was not mentally prepared if the team loses a midweek game. Sure, Morris has been around the longest and maybe that’s why he is so comfortable around the press. Or maybe he just gets it.

Then, there is the antithesis which is fourth-year football head coach Randy Shannon.

Shannon clearly finds dealing with the media a nuisance and gives cliché answers. He refuses to discuss injuries or depth charts. He will not even comment on specific plays after a game until he sees film the next day. Practices are closed to the public and media members are only allowed to attend the first 15 minutes to watch the team stretch and capture b-roll. Shannon leaves reporters’ notebooks as dry as a bone. They have nothing to work with.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Shannon press conference at Greentree Practice Field along with various other South Florida media members. I wanted to get a pulse on how the football team was doing this spring.

I asked a question that aggravated Shannon and caused a public verbal disagreement between him and me.

The question centered on the status of a backup player. Shannon was unhappy with the way I phrased the question. After the media question-and-answer session was over he told me, “I’m sorry, but I hope you understand what I’m saying.” I told him I didn’t and he had no reason to get mad. I didn’t ask about an injury, a scholarship or his contract situation. It was a simple question about a player trying to work his way into the starting rotation.

After speaking to me in private after the conference, his attempted apology turned into a journalism lesson because he told me the way I should have asked the question.

As you can see, coaches have different philosophies of handling the press. Some are more conversational than others while others would rather be secluded and keep their thoughts to themselves.

Media members are not supposed to be friends with the people they cover. Their job is strictly to report the facts.

But if anyone wants the benefit of the doubt, then treating the media with respect and kindness is the way to go.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at jantweil@themiamihurricane.com.

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