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 more savvy—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.
This week brings us the 2010 Ivy League football media day, where each Ancient Eight coach spent 10 minutes on Tuesday discussing the upcoming season. Here are some highlights from Harvard coach Tim Murphy’s session.
Ah, media day. Ripe with preseason polls, rule changes, and coaches’ insights, this 90-minute event was full of tantalizing sound bytes. Let’s start with one of the biggest question marks for Harvard this year—the competition at quarterback between a pair of seniors, incumbent starter Collier Winters and LSU transfer Andrew Hatch.
What Murphy said: “I think Collier did a great job last year. He’s a tough kid, very athletic, very committed to football. He’s a good decision maker, and he did a good job taking care of the football…
What we have to find out from Hatch is how is his decision making? Does he do a good job taking care of the football? We kind of hit the tip of the iceberg [with Hatch] in the spring, so we’re going to need to monitor that a lot more in preseason.”
What Murphy means: If nothing else, Winters did exactly what Murphy asked of him last season—take care of the ball. Winters’ touchdown/interception ratio (15:7) was tops in the league last season, and he finished second in total pass yardage (1,861) and third in completion percentage (57.4) en route to second-team All-Ivy honors.
On the other hand, Hatch stands as a much more prototypical quarterback for Murphy’s pro-style offense. At 6’4”, 225 lbs., Hatch has the body type and athleticism to be a standout in the Crimson’s system.
Clearly, the starting nod comes down to Murphy’s emphasis on mistake-free football. Hatch had a tepid showing in Harvard’s spring game in April, completing four passes for 81 yards, and unless the transfer blows coaches away in preseason, Murphy claims to favor Winters as a field general…
What Murphy said: “Right now our team leader and No. 1 QB is Collier Winters. Though there’s going to be competition, we think he’s going to be a little bit better player than he was a year ago, and he was a good player a year ago…But if [Hatch is] the best player, if he’s the guy that can best help us win a championship, then our players are going to support him.”
What Murphy means: To this point, the coach has played the situation perfectly in front of the media. With an incumbent like Winters, who proved himself as the emotional leader of the team last season with a memorable 14-point comeback in The Game, Murphy wants to do everything he can to instill confidence in his starter. Labeling Winters as the presumptive No. 1 should alleviate some of the jitters that hampered him early last season, when doubts abounded as to the signal caller’s ability to take over the starting role.
But by leaving the window open for “the best player who can help win a championship,” Murphy has covered his tracks in case Hatch does catch fire early on. Considering that Harvard had a championship within reach in 2009 before Penn’s defense squashed the Crimson’s hopes, much of the focus will be on which quarterback can deliver in a big-game situation. If Winters can recapture his Yale Bowl magic early in the season, it will bolster his case to keep the starting job, but Hatch’s experience on an SEC team that won the BCS National Championship (though he didn’t start) and his superior talent could prove invaluable during an Ivy title run.
Murphy is not a man accustomed to struggling, and he will not want to lay an egg again against the Quakers. The coach has done all the right things to support Winters, but at the first sign of trouble early on, look for Hatch to get his shot.
Finally, Murphy provided some insight about the offensive line, which must rebuild quickly after graduating four starters, including NFL-caliber left tackle James Williams ’10, who signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday.
What Murphy said: “I do think we have some ability, we have some chance to be a strong offensive line, but it’s always a concern because it’s a position [where] you need to get some work in. I think one of the surprises of the league will be our left tackle [junior Kevin Murphy]… we think he has a chance to be as good an O-lineman as we’ve had since Matt Birk [’98].”
What Murphy means: Given the Crimson’s track record with offensive linemen—most notably the 13-year NFL standout Birk—Murphy has earned respect as a solid talent evaluator, and Kevin Murphy could be the real deal. Still, the coach’s words of caution speak volumes about the progress that this group needs to make. With four new starters joining senior guard Brent Osborne, pass blocking in particular will take a long time to come together. Until this group really gels, don’t be surprised if opponents see a healthy dose of senior Gino Gordon and sophomore Treavor Scales on the ground.