Tomorrow's Column Tonight

The version I submitted for print. The parts in italics are segments that won’t appear in the paper, for space. Not sure what the headline will be, so I threw my own on this one.

A playbook for coaches in crisis

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it lately, but there’s some big-time coaching going on in college football.

Especially in programs where you see coaches in crisis, the play-calling in the past week has been phenomenal. Not necessarily on the field, mind you. But in press conferences, the strategy has been innovative and even entertaining. Take a look at some at these trick plays:

— The Patience Card. First-year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez dialed this one up just a couple of days ago.

“I’m sure a lot of people are saying that I’m a bad coach,” he said. “Everybody can have their opinion. But I’ve been here 10 months. . . . I know we can build this program to be one of the best in the country. It’s not showing that right now, but we can do that. It may take us longer than what I thought. … We’ll get it right. I mean, everybody wants to push the panic button. Ten months, geez.”

For the record, our judges also would have accepted, “jeepers or criminy.” The logic here, and who can argue with it, is that if you take over a program with 33 straight bowl trips like Michigan, the national attendance leader with one of the most storied traditions in the sport, you don’t just waltz out and start beating teams like Toledo right out of the box.

The beauty of it, of course, is that it lays responsibility on those 106,000 Maize and Blue fans in the stands rather than, of course, the guy behind the microphone.

The patience card was most beautifully played this year by Florida State coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher, who remarked when Tommy Bowden resigned under pressure after 10 years at Clemson, “all the patience in this world is gone.”

(Note: The basketball version of this play, patented by the University of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, I like to call “Rage against the machine.” The machine, of course, is the microwave, of “Microwave Society” fame.”

— The Takeover.
Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis executed this one the other day, announcing after his team was shut out at Boston College that he would take over play-calling duties. This nifty maneuver has multiple options.

Not only does it impugn the coordinator who was calling the plays before, it implies that the head coach had virtually nothing to do with the offensive disaster happening right under his nose. Further, it shows the chastened coach in action mode and casts him the “fixer” role, even if he’s the guy who broke it in the first place.

— Vagueration. The University of Louisville’s Steve Kragthorpe sent this play in during a Monday Big East teleconference.

“Obviously, we have not played good football the last two games,” he said. “And that’s what we talked about as a team yesterday. We have got to get back to playing good football. And when you play good football you give yourself an opportunity to win. And when you don’t play good football in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams — which I don’t feel like we’ve done the last three, two weeks, then you’re not going to win as many games, obviously, as you want to.”

Obviously. This play, when well-executed, disarms reporters. Who, I ask you, could be against playing good football? It is argue-proof. It also is a handful of edits away from a great Keenan Thompson “Fix It!” sketch on Saturday Night Live. Just replace the words “play good football” with “fix it!”

— Hail, Mary. Step aside everybody, and let a pro show you how it’s done. Thanks to LEO’s C.D. Kaplan for pointing out this gem from Florida Atlantic’s Howard Schnellenberger after Saturday’s win over North Texas improved his Owls to 4-5.

“We had some young guys who came alive,” Schnellenerger said. “God is leading us down an involuntary path that is exposing some of the talent that we have there that we haven’t been shrewd enough or courageous enough to bring into the games.”

Amen. And heaven help us.

POSTSCRIPT: I’d loved to have worked in some other parts of the playbook — Blame Your Predecessor; Install Your System; Audible on Expectations; Chide the Fans and Blitz the Media, but there’s only so much room.


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