Cliches are the glue that hold sports together. By the end of their junior year, most college athletes have clichespeak down, so much so that many are assigned to instruct underclassmen in the fine art; those who can do so by the time they’re sophomores are given extra meal tickets and a 12-pack of beer. OK, maybe not.
Cliches are harmless, of course. They are usually used to rationalize a loss or not take full credit for a win. The winning coach, before recognizing the quality play of his own team, is quick to give the losing team all the credit it likely doesn’t deserve. Despite the losing team’s six unforced fumbles and 2-of-22 passing, well, they really displayed their best, and their coaches should be praised for their players’ work ethic. Conversely, the losing coach hands off his congratulations to the winners, but at the same time praises his team for hanging in there even when the going got tough. The fact that the tough didn’t get going is conveniently omitted.
Surprisingly, there are instances in which a coach elects to think before he speaks. When that happens, clichés are often omitted for what might pass as truth. As such, his team may have lost 72-3, but that’s because his team has neither the physical skills of the opposition nor the conscious inclination to play hard. Such commentary is immediately relayed to the NCAA, at which time the coach is summoned to its Shawnee Mission, Kansas office. By the time the intense, 48-hour Orwellian re-education session ends, a line of bleary-eyed coaches depart, each reciting by rote the fact that his quarterback had a swell game, despite having to endure intense study for his physics final while trying to help a local childrens’ charity build a tree house. OK, maybe not. But close.
In fact, those who aspire to be coaches – pro, college, high school, Little League – can get a head start in their cliché process; some Big 10 and SEC schools offer classes in which prospective coaches can both learn and appreciate the art of cliches. Think of it as getting a B.S. in B.S.
Army head football coach Jeff Monken’s career is 14 years long; it’s his second at Army. That puts him decades behind many of his peers, who have spent a lifetime preparing their teams for the arduous, blood-spilling, gut-busting death sentence that all players agree to, despite the fact that their entire starting defensive line contracted the flu while helping a local church stock its shelves with Thanksgiving groceries. OK, maybe not. But close.
Of course, Monken is just a tip of the iceberg, an ear of corn in Iowa, a misplaced cat in a dog pound. He’s good. But the competition is fierce. As such, here are some nationwide examples of the invocation of those harmless – but sometimes infuriating – phrases from the inner sanctum of hell. Of course, hell can be a nice place if you’ve spent your life living near the Arctic Circle, and besides the barbecues must be something. OK, maybe not. But close.
For instance, following the Black Knights’ season-opening loss to Fordham, Monken said: “I am embarrassed by our performance tonight. We were poorly coached. We didn’t block, tackle or take care of the ball, which is certainly not representative of what our team will be, and I am certainly disappointed in how we played tonight. Give credit to Fordham. They really played hard and they are a well-coached team. Their guys made a lot of plays and their running back is a really terrific player and he made a lot of plays and made a lot of our guys miss. They also had other guys make some plays. The credit goes to them. We are going to have to regroup and get ready for next week.”
Apparently, Army neither regrouped nor got ready enough for its game the following week. The Black Knights lost to Connecticut, 22-17
Monken has a lot of company this season, of course. These are all coaches who devote their blood, sweat and other bodily fluids to ensure their teams hit the road running and let the jets soar, all the while using their spare time to make certain both democracy and fresh water pervades in Third World countries. OK, maybe not. But close.
Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton, prior to his team’s game against Army:
“We’re learning every week. And, you know, learning how to win is part of being your best. On a Saturday afternoon, game day, just the ice in the veins, withstanding the punches, making the plays, all of those things become habits and become a mindset and we’re gonna have that, and we’re getting there. But, obviously, haven’t been able to do it two out of three times thus far.”
The Eagles’ learning process need continue, nor could they withstand the punches against Army, losing 58-36, and the ice in their veins must have once again melted the following week. They lost to LSU, 44-22.
Rice coach Dave Bailiff, prior to his team’s game against Army:
“Army, they’re a good football team. They only have won two games, but they’ve lost by six to Penn State and by three to Wake Forest. So they’re in all their games. It’s one where we are really going to have to prepare well and play well to win it. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. Army is bringing in Apache helicopters and some strikers. We’re bringing in Sergeant Silo Harris, who is the author of the book Steel Will. He’ll talk to the team Saturday morning. It’s a game that is critical to us. We’re 3-3 right now. It’s a game that we need to win to continue our season. We have six left and we need to play our best.”
Guess those Apache helicopters don’t pack the necessary firepower anymore. Rice won, 38-31.
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl after his team’s 24-13 season-opening loss to North Dakota:
“We’ve got to move forward. I learned a long time ago if you look in the rear-view mirror a long time, you’re going to have those same results.”
That rear-view mirror best be removed. A week later, Wyoming had the same results. The Cowboys lost to Eastern Michigan, 48-21.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, after his team’s 42-24 loss to USC:
“So, we have to regroup. We still have a 1-game lead in the Pac-12 South loss column. All is not lost. That was a good team we played in their stadium and I don’t know how they were 3-3 going in, but they’re really good. Can’t give them enough credit.”
How much credit would he like to give them?
Marshall coach Doc Holliday, prior to his team’s homecoming game against North Texas:
“The fans were tremendous. Our Thunder Walks this year have been unbelievable. When the players get off that bus and see the parking lot the way it is and see the band and the excitement, it’s great. I thought our fans showed up and showed off again and it was a great homecoming.”
Obviously. Marshall won, 30-13.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, during a summer interview.
”We haven’t lost it. We’ve got a dang good team.”
Not as dang good as he thought. Spurrier resigned after the Gamecocks’ 2-3 start.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, following his team’s 35-17 loss to North Carolina State:
“I really want to thank our fans and our students today. That was a great home section. It was filled and I apologize that we didn’t come out ready to play better early. That was a great crowd, it was great energy, and we did not live up to our end of the deal. It was a 12 o’clock kickoff today, and our football team showed up at 12:45.”
Presumably, Clawson will have his players more effectively set their watches.
Penn State coach James Franklin, addressing his team’s injury problems:
“Not only do I not report on injuries, I don’t have any information that I could tell you at this point. You get an injury and you don’t know the specifics or the details to the next morning. Tomorrow we will be able to really check these injuries out with tests. Not only do I not share this info, I have no new info to report on. The tests that we do between now and tomorrow morning will really be able to tell us more.”
So, he may get more info, but even if it’s informative he will not share that information.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, following his team’s 52-26 victory over Indiana:
“Big win for us. Very exciting football game, I thought. A little closer than the final score would indicate.”
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, after the same game:
“It was a decent game for a while. Our guys played really hard and had a few big plays. At the end we kind of just let it get away.”
Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood, after his team’s 55-52 victory over Indiana:
“Let me start by complimenting Indiana. I think they’ve got a really talented football team; they’re very difficult to handle at all three phases of the game. They play really hard, and it really took everything we had today to be 1-0. I’m proud of my team, I was proud of how we fought back in the first half to get to where we were at halftime. And I’m really proud of how they finished. By the end of the game, our young secondary was even younger, and they continued to play.”
Played hard? Check. Proud? Check. Young secondary got even younger? Uh, can you explain that?
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, after his team’s come-from-behind 31-24 victory over Tennessee:
“They had the mental toughness and discipline to keep playing hard and had the faith that things would work. Things would come, and they did. It was a little late, but they came. That is what you appreciate as a coach is your players’ mental attitude, toughness and character, especially when you are coming into the season where there has not been a lot glowing about us as of last year. For them to hang in there in that environment in that situation and to come through like they did, it was pretty special.”
Hope all that mental attitude, toughness and character is increasing the glowing.
Villanova head coach Andy Talley, after his team’s 50-6 victory over Fordham, a game delayed by rain and lightning for over an hour in the second quarter:
“We had talked about the potential for a weather break all week. And that we would have to do whatever it took. Go into the locker room, come back out, go into the locker room, come back out.”
Alabama football coach Nick Saban:
“When you invest your time, you make a goal and a decision of something that you want to accomplish. Whether it’s make good grades in school, be a good athlete, be a good person, go down and do some community service and help somebody who’s in need, whatever it is you choose to do, you’re investing your time in that.”
Go out on a limb and figure which of the above Saban would prefer.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino, following his team’s 59-9 loss to USC:
“Obviously, we got beat, but there were times when I thought our offense played pretty good.”
As for the defense….
California coach Sonny Dykes, after his team’s 40-24 loss to UCLA:
“I felt we had a great week of practice. We felt like we were as ready to play as we’ve been all year. I thought our guys were fresh and excited to play. Clearly, that wasn’t the case.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatlolo, following his team’s 45-21 victory over East Carolina:
“That’s a great win against a really good football team.”
Ever hear about a bad win against a bad team?
Ask an assistant coach to critique his team’s running game, and his response could be “it stinks,” or something similarly blunt. Make the same inquiry of the head coach. First reaction would be to furrow his brow, run his hands through his hair, or spit. The verbal explanation would likely include a reference to the team’s inexperienced offensive line, the number of delay-of-game penalties incurred by the quarterback, and, obviously, the team’s competitors, all of whom have focused on his team’s group of kids, all of whom are hard-working, blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone scholar-athletes, all of whom just play football for the love of the game.
OK, maybe not. But close.