A minor spat between a football coach and a newspaper somehow has turned into a national story.
I’ve had hundreds of spats with coaches, media relations officials, etc., — Tommy Lasorda once stood so close when he was hollering at me I actually swallowed some of his chicken spittle — that didn’t seem to me to be newsworthy. But I suppose because this has become national “news,” it’s time to comment on it.
The University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper, ran a sharp, fair, prophetic cartoon cover that portrayed the Jayhawks as Kansas State road kill. From there, just about everybody involved tripped all over themselves. Now it’s a national story.
Mistake No. 1: Charlie Weis, whose press conferences have been extremely candid and entertaining, showed a hole in his swing when he tweeted, “Team slammed by our own school newspaper. Amazing! No problem with opponents paper or local media. You deserve what you get! But, not home!”
For such a smart guy who does such a good job of interacting with the media at press conferences, this was a shockingly naive viewpoint. A school newspaper is a training ground for future journalists. Yell leaders cheer. Reporters report.
Mistake No. 2: Kansan reporter Blake Schuster tweeted a link to his well-written story about quarterbacks taking hits in practice that week, as opposed to the normal routine of wearing a red shirt that reminds defenders the QB can’t be tackled. With the link, Schuster wrote, “Here’s my story from today’s Kansan, I guess coach Weis wasn’t a fan”. The story had nothing to do with Weis’ beef. It was all about the cover art. Schuster knew that, but misrepresented to Twitter nation that his story set off Weis, making Weis’ tweet look even worse.
Mistake No. 3: Reviving a story that should have been swallowed in the wake of Kansas getting outscored in the second half, 35-2, by Kansas State.
Katy Lonergan, the sports information department’s football contact, is at the very least indirectly responsible for this one. Lonergan met with Schuster on Tuesday before Weis’ weekly press conference to let him know to be prepared for unpleasant responses if he asked questions of Weis and the players. Even if she thought she were helping the young reporter, she should have just let the football coach, a big boy, handle whatever questions Schuster sent his way.
Mistake No. 4: Schuster didn’t ask any questions at the press conference. He’s young and inexperienced, so he probably was a little shaken. He needed to ask a question and put what he perceived as an implied threat to a test.
Mistake No. 5: Kansan wrote a story about the Lonergan conversation, making itself a part of the story.
Mistake No. 6: Lonergan talked to 810 sports talk radio host Kevin Keitzman off the air, trying to explain why she talked with Schuster, thus giving more legs to the “story.” Keitzman added fuel to the controversy. National websites took it from there. Now the national perception is that Weis makes a habit of bullying college reporters. Until his tweet, nothing could have been more untrue. Until his ill-advised tweet, Weis consistently showed incredible patience with stupid questions from some reporters, more patience than any coach at any level I’ve covered in more than 30 years on the job.
Normally, I would be extremely careful about not criticizing a reporter from a student newspaper, but since the Kansan decided to make itself part of the story, it opened up its reporters to this revelation: Schuster twice asked Weis about using running back Tony Pierson as a wide receiver sometimes, apparently thinking that when a running back comes out of the backfield to make a catch, he switches positions. On both occasions, Weis explained Pierson is a running back and didn’t mock the reporter for not knowing the difference.
That’s why Weis over-reacting to the cartoon came as such a shock. If he had not tweeted his pre-historic thoughts on the role of a student newspaper, this molehill — Weis’ players being upset over a cartoon — never would have grown into a mountain.