Coachspeak: Why we shouldn't believe a word they say

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Having been to a few coaching press conferences, I can tell you they are far from glamorous. One of the more ridiculous things in movies (other than the always available parking spots, or the scrawny bad guy fighting to a draw with the yoked up hero) is the energy in press conferences. It’s as if each time someone gets behind the podium, thousands of flash bulbs pop, a sordid confession occurs, and a throng of media explodes with questions.

When you watch a Notre Dame coaching press conference, I don’t get that movie feeling. Maybe it’s because I’m usually watching them through a web-browser on UND.com, but there isn’t the urgency that usually occurs during those cinematic moments on the silver screen.

And that’s because of coachspeak.

This week, we had two great examples of coachspeak. The first game from the always sunny Jon Tenuta. Tenuta grumbles his way through his media obligation each week, and this week’s performance was actually better than the last few, which is a pretty good indicator that he thinks the defense is performing better.

Take a look at Tenuta coachspeak:

It’s like pulling teeth. When he’s talking about things we understand, he keeps it as bland as possible.

“He’s a very smart young man and he understands the game,” Tenuta said about Darius Fleming. (Or just about any other guy whose name you could throw in instead.) “He understands his job and he’s done a heckuva job for us.”

But Tenuta’s a pro at coachspeak, and knows the bland answer won’t get the writers off his back, so he throws in some coaching jargon and mixes in a “fire zone” and “zone dog” into the mix for good measure and then goes right back to the cliche machine to finish it off.

Classic coachspeak.

Tenuta then fended off questions about freshman Manti Te’o as best he could, acknowledging that Te’o will be seeing the field a bunch, but then distracting us with positional talk before any of the guys covering the scoop could get another question in.

This is one of the biggest angles of Saturday’s game, and Tenuta was able to distract the writers enough, to effectively dodge any question that could force him to give actual insight into a factor of the football game. 

All in all, a great job by Tenuta on coachspeak.

As for Randy Hart (or Ed Harris Sr. if you prefer), when put into a tough spot, he pulled a veteran move, just really dialed up the cliche-o-meter. When pressed with questions about facing the team he just spent two decades coaching, Hart got very Zen on us.

“You really don’t go there,” Hart said to a large gathering of media chasing one of the week’s more obvious stories. “You’re into where you are here, what you’re doing here, and make it go. You know, next year, next summer, you’ll think about it and say what it was, but I think right now the focus needs to be what you’re doing. It’s a business trip, a  business opportunity, so it’s time to go to work.”

In one speedy paragraph, Hart immediately tried to kill any type of homecoming/reunion story that could potential help his players get more fired up for a win. Believing him would be like believing that Brett Favre doesn’t view this Mondays game against the Packers as anything different than the other games on his schedule. When we see Hart head-butting his defensive lineman as they hit the field on Saturday, I think we’ll know if he was telling the truth.

Likewise, Hart’s non-admission to his personnel knowledge is some coachspeak at its very finest. Any advantage Sarkisian and his staff had in the element of surprise is effectively negated by Weis’ familiarity with Sark’s offense and Nick Holt’s defense, and Hart’s familiarity with the defensive front and UW’s personnel. But to hear Hart talk about it, the only advantage he’ll have is recognizing a parent or two.

“The game is played between Notre Dame and the University of Washington. The little bit that I would know scheme wise, well, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. Personnel wise, once they step across the white lines, you don’t know. I disregard it, I wouldn’t think it’s very big at all. I don’t think that me knowing the names of the players or knowing their families is going to be anything big to helping us on game day.”

You can bet that Coach Hart was intricately involved in the game plan, and probably not just with the defense. Weis probably leaned heavily on Hart’s knowledge of defensive personnel when putting together his game plan, and after watching Toby Gerhart run for 200+ yards, has all he needs to know about his opponents.

This post isn’t to rip into coaches Tenuta or Hart for being lousy interviews, it’s to point out some obvious facts. If these coaches do know something, why on Earth would they tell us? Saturday’s game is a matchup of surprising familiarity, considering the turnover in both programs.

Just don’t ask the coaches to tell you why.