In the modern era of sports, being a college coach carries with it the burden of constant media attention. Facing dozens of reporters at press conferences, head coaches have gotten savvier—they say what they need to and leave the rest up for speculation. Here at The Back Page, we’re happy to decode some of these media sessions, showing the average fan what we think coaches’ answers “really” mean.
With two big weeks looming ahead of it, Harvard had every reason to look past Columbia last Saturday on the gridiron. But the Crimson showed up to play at Harvard Stadium, handing the Lions a 23-7 loss and frustrating Columbia coach Norries Wilson. Particularly irritating to the Lions’ head coach was the number of miscues in what could have otherwise been a close game. Wilson vents some of his disappointment in this week’s edition of Sound Off.
What Wilson said: “You’re going to tell the kid not to compete? It’s fourth and 10. He picked the ball off. I’m sure there’s some coach somewhere saying, ‘Hey, know the situation, and bat the ball down.’ So next time he gets a chance to pick a ball off, and he doesn’t know the situation, and he bats the ball down, and they score a touchdown if he does it on third down.”
What Wilson means: In perhaps the biggest turning point of the game, Harvard went for it on fourth and 10 in Columbia territory, and junior quarterback Collier Winters threw an interception to Lions defensive back Craig Hamilton. But senior receiver Mike Cook quickly stripped Hamilton, leading to a first-down fumble recovery for the Crimson. Here, Wilson is trying to be a supportive coach and support his playmaker in the secondary, but at the end of the day Hamilton’s mistake is inexcusable.
Last Saturday’s play marked the second week in a row that a defensive player picked off a pass on fourth down, with Harvard junior linebacker Bobby Schneider making the same error against Dartmouth a week before. On that play, Schneider didn’t even make it back to the original line of scrimmage, basically “losing yardage” on the pick. Coaches can preach competitiveness all they want, but at the end of the day, this is the Ivy League, and these most academic of defenders can probably do a decent job of distinguishing third and fourth down. Wilson may have been right to protect his athlete’s confidence, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if an assistant sidled up to Hamilton in the locker room and told him to bat down the next one.
What Wilson said: “The officials have a very hard job, and my job is to coach the football team. It’s their job to officiate the football game.”
What Wilson means: Ah, the classic response of a frustrated coach. In another crucial turnover for Columbia, receiver Kurt Williams hauled in a deep reception, only to have junior safety Jonathan Mason jar the ball loose with a colossal hit. Mason fell on the fumble to give Harvard possession, but some argued that Williams was down by contact.
But Wilson, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the Lions, is too smart to say anything inflammatory about the referees. This stock response didn’t even address the question, a perfect stonewalling that told the rest of the media, “I’m not saying another word about the play.”
Of course, Wilson probably had good reason to keep his opinions on the referees to himself—in this instance the receiver clearly fumbled the ball, and the reporter was just trying to get a spicy quote from an otherwise dull Lions performance.