When I drove to lunch on Wednesday, I tuned in to 97.5 The Fanatic. While I have a rather cynical view of sports talk radio after studying broadcast journalism for four years (and, full disclosure, I interned for a summer at 97.5), I do still have a curiosity that causes me to tune in. I was still feeling upbeat after the Philadelphia Flyers won Game 6 in their series against the New York Rangers in convincing fashion and wanted to feed off the energy on the radio a bit.
I turned on the radio at 12:30, at which time Jon Marks and Sean Brace began a phone interview with 97.5 and Philadelphia Magazine Eagles beat writer Tim McManus. I stayed with the station because I like McManus, and listened to an interview that went on for nearly 15 minutes. The hosts specifically keyed in on head coach Chip Kelly’s recent quotes at a team charity event in which he was asked about the release of wide receiver DeSean Jackson for the first time since it was announced.
At numerous points in the conversation, the word “arrogance” was thrown around. Brace specifically asked McManus if he was beginning to see the same “arrogance” in Chip Kelly’s handling of the media that fans used to complain about when former president Joe Banner and former head coach Andy Reid were in charge.
It should be no surprise that media members paint sports figures who don’t talk to the media in a negative light for it. It’s naked frustration with them for making their jobs more difficult. They’re forced to speculate (as if they don’t enjoy doing so already) instead of being able to point back to quotes. Even when they get quotes, they question them frequently.
What is odd to me is when fans join radio hosts or beat writers in expressing frustration with an untalkative coach or front office member. McManus said there was a “demand” for communication with the fanbase that was not being met, and that’s undoubtedly true if you listen regularly to sports talk radio. But my question is: why?
First of all, it makes complete sense that these sports figures would not want to talk to the media. Chip Kelly could use press conferences or media appearances to help him in recruiting at Oregon. In Philadelphia, there is nothing to be gained. He does not want to explain anything that will give away the thought process of the organization because it can only hurt them. While some fans might be appeased by understanding why players are valued or not, the actual play on the field can only be hurt if other organizations are tipped off to the plans.
Despite this rather obvious fact, Kelly is accused of arrogance for not talking to the media. Kelly has been accused of this before when he did talk to the media because he didn’t bother answering questions he didn’t feel like answering. When Kelly was asked about Jackson’s status with the team, he made jokes, much like Andy Reid would have dismissively stated “I’m not going to get into that.”
So what? Kelly can only hurt the organization’s leverage if he were to admit the team was ready to move on from Jackson. He owes the fans no lip service; he only owes them his best effort at putting out a quality football team.
Andy Reid wasn’t arrogant because he didn’t answer questions. He generically said he wouldn’t get into something or “We’ve got to do a better job” because he, like Kelly, wasn’t interested in making private matters public. Private matters are personnel decisions or locker room trouble or scheme changes or anything that could hurt the team on gameday if made public.
The only time Reid could have actually been considered arrogant was in his lack of evolution. He didn’t seem willing to make adjustments and seemed sure that his way would prevail, and at times that belief hurt him. It is here that I think he may differ from Kelly.
Kelly is confident in his playbook and his schemes, no doubt. But he seems more willing to change things up when they’re not working instead of trying to break down the wall with the same battering ram. He’ll change up the plays based on the personnel. He’ll continue to evolve his playbook and playcalling based on what defenses are throwing at him. He loves to learn and seems to try new things all the time.
So none of what Kelly has done has indicated anything more than confidence. Kelly isn’t condescending to fans by giving non-answers or not speaking at all; he simply isn’t willing to say more than he needs to, and that’s fine. He’s smart enough to know what things he shouldn’t say, and Eagles fans should respect that. Kelly has a funny, witty persona in press conferences and deals with questions he doesn’t want to answer more lightly than Reid ever did. It should be admired, not scorned.
The media are going to complain because they’ve been trained to do so. That doesn’t mean the fans need to follow suit.