Jimmy Johnson and Pat Jones were headed to an OSU function 40 years ago. Johnson was the head football coach, Jones his defensive coordinator.
En route, Johnson pulled out a letter from a disgruntled fan. The guy had ripped Johnson with the dispatch. And Johnson didn’t let it go.
“He said something to the effect, ‘I’ve got this letter if I find this guy, I might just beat his ass,’” Jones related. “He was keeping a file.”
Jones talked his old pal off that ledge, but coaches forever have been telling us they don’t care about outside noise when they actually do care. They care a lot.
Just look at last Saturday.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Washington State coach Jake Dickert waged post-game war on octogenarians Lou Holtz and Lee Corso, who are more “Weekend at Bernie’s” than actual college football commentators these days. Oregon coach Dan Lanning went on a rampage against Deion Sanders’ marketing acumen before beating Colorado 42-6.
All were wildly entertaining and quite counter to the constant messaging from every coach that they don’t pay attention or expend any mental or emotional energy on things outside their building.
Day, Dickert and Lanning showed their stripes. They do care about the outside. They do care what people say or think. They do read the papers, to use an aged analogy, or follow social media, to be more hip.
Seems probable that Day, Dickert and Lanning are not alone.
“Probably most guys are going to pay attention,” said Jones, OSU’s head coach from 1984-94. “You shouldn’t, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.”
Jones said he never looked at his mail (the social media equivalent of the 1980s). Said he learned that from Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, whose secretary filtered all correspondence. Positive stuff passed on, negative stuff trashed.
Bob Stoops, whose OU career (1999-2016 crossed over into the social-media era) said that’s the way he operated, too.
“If it’s got nothing to do with winning/losing, why bother,” Stoops asked. “Truly, the only time I heard something is if accidentally it came to me, whether from a family member or friend.”
Stoops said he’d generally respond by saying, “Why’d you tell me that? I don’t want to spend one minute of my day thinking about something … why would I clutter my own mind to let it for five minutes aggravate me or bother me.”
Stoops famously had email for one day. His first OU secretary, Ann Deal, brought him a stack.
“Get rid of it,” Stoops told her.
Social media is all the rage now. Not just the masses reaching coaches directly, but what someone says can travel the globe quickly. Dickert said he heard Corso live on ESPN’s GameDay, but someone surely brought Day the essence of Holtz’s comments on the Pat McAfee Show.
“I wouldn’t spend any time with it, outside of promoting our program.” Stoops said of social media. “I think the smartest thing you can always do is just ignore that kind of stuff. Be bigger than that. That kind of speaks louder than anything.”
Ohio State beat Notre Dame 17-14 in the most thrilling manner possible — last-play touchdown — and yet Day was angry, not exuberant, in his on-field interview with NBC. Day was appalled that Holtz, the 86-year-old former Notre Dame coach, had dared say that Ohio State had not been physical enough to beat opponents like Michigan, Clemson and Georgia.
Washington State beat Oregon State 38-35 in a rousing game that stamped the Cougars as possible Pac-12 title contenders, but Dickert upbraided Corso, saying he heard the 88-year-old call Washington State-Oregon State the “No One Watches Bowl.” Turns out, Corso actually called the game the “No One Wants Us Bowl,” referring to the Cougars and Beavers being left behind in conference realignment.
And Lanning went madcap on Colorado. ABC aired his pre-game, locker-room speech to the Ducks, saying of Deion Sanders’ Buffaloes “they’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.”
Ironic, of course, considering Oregon rose to athletic prominence via the marketing of mega-donor Phil Knight, the Nike founder.
But Lanning’s speech exposed the two-faced messaging of coaches. They tell their players that outside noise doesn’t matter, and then they use outside noise to motivate the squad.
“Anytime you have bulletin-board material, you’re going to use it,” said Dave Rader, Tulsa’s head coach from 1987-99 and now an Oklahoma state senator. “Especially, you’re seeing it more with the teams that are favored. They’re looking for some type of disrespect. Then they build a chip on their shoulder from that. Otherwise, everything else is going their way.”
Brent Venables, as Stoops’ defensive coordinator 15 years ago, famously used a doctored newspaper article to fire up his troops against Missouri. Who knows how it was produced or who produced it? But coaches will use anything they can, be it fake news or the words of octogenarians.
“A former coach says something on the air, media wise, I don’t know you should even respond to it,” said Jones. “They’re older guys, liable to sound a little funny. But they’re harmless.”
The high road is the better path.
Lanning looked a little silly ripping Colorado clicks, when he coaches a team that wears psychedelic uniforms. Colorado-Oregon was Neon Deion vs. Neon Yellow.
Dickert looked foolish when he didn’t even quote Corso correctly.
And Ryan Day didn’t have a lot of high ground in touting Ohio State’s toughness.
Turns out Notre Dame had just 10 players on the field for Ohio State’s final two plays, both from the 1-yard line. The Buckeyes threw incomplete, then scored on a tailback plunge. They needed 36 inches and got 37, going straight into the hole created by a missing defensive tackle. Bully for the Buckeyes.
Before Day’s rant, most of us didn’t know that Lou Holtz had said anything about Ohio State. Most of us couldn’t even remember if Holtz still was alive. But now we know that Day’s Buckeyes are tough enough to make 37 inches against a 10-man defense.
Hey, coaches, live by what you preach. Don’t read your mail.