Tackling media criticism

The Baltimore Sun

Every year he has been a head coach, North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien has hired a media coach to spend one day of preseason camp instructing his players on how to speak with reporters. When he left Boston College before this season after 10 years there, O'Brien brought with him the same media coach he used in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

O'Brien yesterday voiced support for Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, whose highly publicized postgame tirade against Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson raised the issue of criticizing college athletes.

"I kind of agree with Coach Gundy," O'Brien said. "College kids, that's what they are - they're kids. They're playing a game. It's one thing to criticize professional athletes that get paid, and it's their living. Most kids are trying and doing the best job they can on the football field. If you want to criticize somebody, criticize the coaches. Lay off the players."

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe - who said he had not read Carlson's column - said that in his 13 years of head coaching jobs, he has never seen a reporter intentionally try to embarrass a player.

"I think most people are pretty reasonable about what they say about kids in the paper," he said. "My only problem would be if somebody tried to embarrass the kid intentionally."

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was asked yesterday if he thought his players were mature enough to handle the criticism.

"I don't think so," he said. "Hey, I'm 77. I can't even hardly handle it.

"It is difficult," he said. "That's one of the toughest things about being in sports, really, and the higher up you go, the tougher it is. I know coaches that have gotten out of coaching 'cause they couldn't handle the criticism."

Stumbling Jackets

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey didn't flinch yesterday when asked if his team's win over Notre Dame in the season opener might not look as impressive now that the Fighting Irish have flopped.

"That wasn't as big a win as people thought," Gailey said. "I'm afraid we didn't handle prosperity very well."

After beating up on Notre Dame and Division I-AA Samford, the Yellow Jackets got a dose of reality with back-to-back league losses heading into this weekend's 3:30 p.m. home game against undefeated No. 13 Clemson.

While the Tigers are led by quarterback Cullen Harper, who has not thrown an interception in 108 attempts this season and has 12 touchdown passes, Georgia Tech is hoping for a healthy Tashard Choice, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury. Choice played sparingly in the Yellow Jackets' loss last weekend to Virginia and is questionable again.

"This week we're saying go practice Wednesday and Thursday, and if it still feels good, then we'll look at letting him play," Gailey said. "If it doesn't feel good after two days of practice, then we know we're not where we need to be."

Parity party

It's just four weeks into the season, and Virginia Tech hasn't played its first Atlantic Coast Conference game yet, but a few coaches are already predicting another season of parity in the league.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden took it one step further yesterday, saying that for the ACC to get the national recognition its coaches crave, it needs a national contender to emerge.

"I think it's good for the conference, bad for the coaches because it makes every week difficult," he said of the muddled standings. "But I do think occasionally you need to have one team rise to the front, maybe to bring you a little more national prominence, kind of like Southern Cal has done in the Pac-10. I think that will happen in this conference."

It's a Catch-22, though, according to Bobby Bowden, who said the equality in the league is what makes it difficult to escape undefeated.

"All you have to do is look at Miami and look at Florida State right now," the Florida State coach said. "We dominated during the '80s and '90s. Now we're down to the middle of the pack, both of us trying to get back to the top. I think we eventually will. ... The parity in the conference is making it more difficult to win a championship, plus we now have a playoff that if you win your division, you still have to play another game."


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