Sunday, September 29, 2013

How Should Coaches Treat Sideline Reporters?

Gregg Popovich is one of the most respected coaches in the NBA -- in all of sports, really. He's also widely considered a genuinely nice guy. Pop's been described as a teddy bear, a sentimental friend, and the funniest coach in the league. However, he's also known to frequently act like a jerk. Popovich's wrath is most likely to be felt  by an oft-maligned group -- sideline reporters.

In a story entitled "Do Not Disturb: Gregg Popovich", ESPN dug up the following quotes about the Spurs coach:

"There is absolutely a level of anxiety each time I have to do an end-of-quarter interview with Pop. My one thought: Don't make him angry."
--Doris Burke

It is very nerve-wracking. I never think of Pop as trying to make you look bad -- you never take it personal because it's just Pop being Pop -- but you know he's going to be kind of snarky. So you're doing your job, but you're also thinking, 'I don't want to be embarrassed on live television.'"
--Lisa Salters

There is nothing -- nothing -- that I do or people that I interview that fill me with as much agita as getting ready to interview Pop at the end of the third quarter of a Spurs home game."
--David Aldridge

Popovich's split personalities are documented in a story by 2011 Sportwriter of the Year Joe Posnanski, who subtitled his Popovich feature "The Bully, The Buddy, The Winner."

All of this brings us to Brian Kelly. The Notre Dame coach saw his team turn the ball over three times yesterday in a frustrating 35-21 loss to Oklahoma. It was a game that tried the patience of fans, and obviously the coach was going to be upset. Viewers who stuck around for NBC's on-field postgame coverage saw Kelly embarrass NBC sideline reporter Alex Flanagan.


Flanagan's been covering the Irish for NBC since 2007, and she usually seems to know her stuff. In the above interview, she asks Kelly how much of a role speed played in the ND loss and he denies that it was a factor until the end of the game. Okay, so they're agreeing to disagree.

The next exchange is the lowlight (or highlight, depending on your viewpoint) of the interview. She asks about man coverage, which is not really related to Kelly's previous point about the importance of turnovers in his team's loss. The Irish did get beat several times when their defense used man coverage, but Flanagan's follow-up question probably should have addressed the turnovers rather than man coverage. Still, Kelly's answer is scathing. He gives her the "If you were watching the game..." treatment. The reporter obviously watched the game, and her questions are not extremely off-base. Kelly's answer seems intended to insult her.

For her part, Flanagan posted the following on Twitter:

Now, I don't know Brian Kelly. From all accounts I've read of him, he seems like a kind, well-respected guy. My buddy recently met him at a golf outing and said he couldn't have been nicer.

Still, it seems fair to ask whether we can separate actions like Kelly's quote on national TV from his perception as an all-around great person. Isn't your personality as a football coach a huge part of who you are?

People disagree about the value of sideline reporters during a telecast. Still, a negative opinion about these reporters doesn't give Kelly, Popovich, Phil Jackson, or any other coach the right to degrade them. It's especially unfair to imply that professionals like Alex Flanagan weren't even "watching the game."

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