Sideline to Byline: Bring out the personal in sports media
Alright I’m going to let you in on a USC sports media secret: Men’s basketball head coach Andy Enfield is one intimidating dude.
Originally from Shippensburg, Penn. but starting his coaching career at Florida Gulf Coast University, Enfield has this southern sharpness to his answers. He isn’t afraid to let you know when a question isn’t fair, but he keeps some distance when it comes to personal details about his job and the team.
It’s curt, professional answers you expect going into these press conferences, and that is why I was so surprised when I heard his opening statement after the Kansas win Monday calling out CBS analysts.
“We were checking the scores and coach [Eric] Mobley pulled his phone out and on came the CBS studio,” Enfield said. “We’re not sure where it was, but the two guys picked Kansas because they said USC basketball and Andy Enfield-coached teams and USC teams [are] so undisciplined — they said very undisciplined — so Kansas is going to win.”
Pretty cold — especially after dedicating the win to his late father who passed away in September.
I’ve never seen Enfield this personal with the media, and maybe that’s because of the new territory he’s entering as a coach. As a current Elite Eight contender, Enfield has led men’s basketball from oblivion into the national college basketball discourse. He’s been at the helm of this program for almost eight years, and new attention means a new edge to defend his squad.
Keep it up Enfield. Your team demands this energy in the postseason, and the USC brand needs a little attitude right now.
What I’m getting at here is how Enfield went beyond the expected answers, and the media coaching he’s received as a D1 figure. I hear the same phrases over and over again at media events: “It was a team effort,” “We don’t celebrate,” “We look forward to the next game,” “Filled with pride,” etc. It’s always the gushy, proud PR statements athletes and coaches recite. Just take a look at what the USC Student-Athlete Handbook interview section tells them to say.
When doing interviews, representatives of USC Athletics are expected to “be positive,” “be humble,” “turn a negative question into a positive answer,” “don’t use slang” and most coercing of all, “smile and have fun.”
There is no mention of honesty in answers or incorporating personal messaging. Players and coaches are taught to say what people want to hear.
As a sports journalist, I’m not surprised, and quite honestly going into a press conference with predictable sound bites can make an article easier to write.
But maybe such routine interview behavior should be a cause for concern. If we set up these press conferences to get a team voice, don’t we want their words to be genuine and not rehearsed?
Interviewing, especially in the world of sports, is inherently personal. These young athletes put their literal blood, sweat and tears into these media entities’ game screen times, and it makes sense for there to be bitterness when such media discredits their effort.
Sports media demands courtesy and professionalism while piling on harsh criticism. Players and coaches can’t just fold to the handbook and turn every negative into a positive. Enfield told us not only how CBS anchors disrespected his team — he showed us what possibly lit the match for a 34-point beat down in the Sweet 16.
With USC on the brink of a deep postseason run, I hope Enfield and his squad keep the filter off with public comments. As tournament underdogs, it’s the sharp press conference soundbites that form a fan following large enough to make an impact.
Great teams and great coaches aren’t remembered for their media grooming. Enfield reminded us what it means to defend your team, and for that he has my utmost respect — even if it leaves me terrified in the press box.
Taylor Mills is a sophomore writing about sports media. She is also a Sports Editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Sideline to Byline,” runs every other Monday.