So you want to go to Media Day? Or, in the case of most conferences now, Media Days. Well I've gone to plenty. I won't be heading up to Big East Media Days this year (WDRB's Rick Bozich and Pat Doney will, however, be providing two-deep coverage from Newport, R.I.), but that doesn't mean I can't drop a little media day knowledge on those of you who may never get to make such a journey.
This is stuff usually confined the journalist club, but what the heck. Everybody has their own blog now, anyway. Should you ever find yourself headed for a media day, I suppose the No. 1 piece of advice I can give you is to bring multiple tape (or digital) recorders. Every conference does things a bit differently, but in general, you're going to want to park one recorder in front of the coach of the team you cover, and one in front of any other coach who might say anything even remotely interesting.
And, I suppose, the second thing you should know is that nobody is going to say anything remotely interesting.
Seriously. ESPN fell all over itself replaying John L. Smith quips until you'd think he was Tim Tebow or somebody at SEC Media Days a couple of weeks ago. I've got a news flash for those guys -- John L. Smith at this year's SEC Media Days was matinee John L., not even prime time John L. He brought his "B" material. I've gotten phone messages from John L. that were more entertaining. "Do I look stupid?" he asked one reporter, who had asked something about him coming back to Arkansas next season. Please. He says that at least four times a day.
But this is what passes for colorful at Media Days.
Your best bet, then, is to get something decent outside the group setting.
The SEC Media Days are three days long and scheduled down to the second. You can't get a taxi within 30 minutes in any SEC town, but you better believe the SEC Media Days run on time.
The Big East Media Days, by contrast, take about three hours. That's what's allotted to talk to all eight league coaches. It's not much, but as it turns out, is probably an hour-and-a-half more than you need. There is no podium. Just eight coaches sitting behind tables, all talking at once, answering the same questions over and over as reporters move from table to table like they're at some kind of job fair, which, lets face it, many might be before long.
The highlight, however, isn't the media session itself. It's the clam bake the night before. And herein lies another secret of Media Days. The value is less in the stories that the trip produces than the time spent with coaches and administrators.
Louisville fans look back at the Conference USA era with less-than-fond memories. For me, those were the good old media days. Football media day in New Orleans? Forget about it. The French Quarter in the slow season. Tom Jurich in his element. Then-Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone being stopped by a co-ed, who asked him if he was a football player. Who do you think he is, someone asked her. "Chris Weinke?" she guesses. "Yes, I am," Ragone replies.
From New Orleans, the media days moved to Memphis, where Bobby Petrino held his first, and I had maybe my first and last decent one-on-one conversation with him, in which he told me something I haven't forgotten about coaching, "It's not just about calling the right play. It's about having coached the guys to run the play, the quarterback to throw the right pass the right way, the receiver to run the right route and catch the ball. If you call the play and it was there but the players don't execute it, it's still on you. Who's teaching them to execute?"
Later, at the event, he got ticked off that we'd written about one of his incoming freshmen getting arrested, and that was pretty much that.
At the Big East media clam bake, I once saw former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt get up to leave and take a whole pan of lobsters back to the hotel with him. Jurich and the Louisville contingent, with no tables left, plopped down to eat on the steps of the Eisenhower House, the summer White House during Eisenhower's two terms. Jurich took to calling it "the skybox."
My last trip there, Charlie Strong's first, I watched Strong correct his players on how to get all the meat out of a lobster. Thank goodness, that year I think they'd spotted some sharks not far off the beach in Newport. If not for those sharks, I'd have had no good lead for my story looking at possible realignment. Certainly, nobody at media day said anything candid.
Don't take my word for it, just watch. If there's any significant news that comes Tweeting out of Newport this week, it'll be out of the Monday golf outing or the Monday night clam bake.
That's one thing the Big East gets right. Everybody is pretty much mingled together for a day.
In the SEC, you couldn't do it. In the SEC, you've got people asking Nick Saban to sign undergarments.
Two media days I've never gotten to cover -- the Super Bowl and SEC football. I'd love the spectacle. I could do without the speeches.
The first big conference media day I ever covered was the Big Ten back in the mid 1990s in Chicago. I saw Joe Paterno, and thought, "Well, I'm in the Big Time now."
Hoops media days, too, were different. Bob Huggins sitting with reporters late into the night in the hotel bar. Rick Pitino being swamped by New York media at the Big East event. Vivian Stringer and Geno Auriemma actually being candid and thoughtful when asked questions at the Big East women's event.
So how do you come away from media day with anything worth writing? You have a plan. You have stories you want to write going in, so that if nothing else, at least those get reported. You seize on the slightest, smallest interesting thing you hear and hold onto it like grim death. You polish it. Hone in on it. Distill it, then parade it in front of your readers like an Olympic medal.
It's an event for news people in which the last thing anyone wants to do is make news.
I still say, the best thing I ever got from a media day were these little bacon-wrapped scallop hors d'oeuvres at the Big East clam bake. If you go, don't miss them.