If the Big Ten football media days taking place this week in Chicago prove anything, it is that coaches and players are fluent in at least two languages besides English: coach-speak and company line.
When coaches are not coating their answers in cliches, they bathe their sentences in superlatives, making their quarterbacks sound like Heisman candidates and their opponents sound like Alabama.
Pamplona has nothing on this running of the bull.
Occasionally, a rare inflammatory comment will arc across the interview room like a comet, leaving a trail of debris that reporters think of as pixie dust. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer delivered one yesterday when he referred to a couple of his players as “knuckleheads.” Then again, he was talking about a couple of players who were disciplined for knuckleheaded behavior.
Even rarer are the salvos that burn with some staying power.
Thank you, Will Muschamp.
It was Muschamp, the coach at Florida, who took a verbal jab at Ohio State during the Southeastern Conference media days last week.
“We were turned in by Ohio,” Muschamp said, responding to a question about alleged secondary recruiting violations. “We didn’t do anything wrong … so we appreciated our friends from Ohio making sure we were compliant with NCAA rules.
“They certainly know a little bit about that subject.”
Muschamp’s fireworks are the exception, however, as most coaches are as transparent as cardboard. And though a football field is relatively flat, that does not stop coaches from saying their seniors must “step up” and underclassmen must “take it to another level.”
Players, meanwhile, have been trained to recite the “never look ahead” mantra.
Reporter: “Hey, wide receiver, do you like the diamond-encrusted helmets you get to wear this season?”
Wide receiver: “I don’t know, because we take it one game at a time.”
Behind closed doors, however, coaches and players utter a lot of juicy quotes. If we were a fly on the wall, we’d hear stuff that makes Muschamp sound like a politically correct politician.
In fact, a fly on the wall at the Chicago Hilton just told me he heard the following conversations yesterday during the first session of the Big Ten media extravaganza,
Q: Do you think Ohio State will run the table? Go 14-0 and win the national championship?
A: You’re joking, right? Yes, the Buckeyes’ schedule looks as flimsy as tissue paper, but you still need the bounces to go your way. So far, the only thing getting bounced at Ohio State are the players.
Q: Brady Hoke is a swell guy. Did you hear he gave the Columbus kid with the “Michigan” brain tumor four tickets to the OSU-UM game? Classy move. But can he coach?
A: Can he coach? Of course. The Wolverines, mostly because of Hoke, have put the Rich Rodriguez disaster in their rear-view mirror. The better question is can Hoke be outcoached? Yes again. Not only did he look cold during The Game last year — memo: leave the short sleeves to Woody — he also looked lost. Urban ate him for lunch. And that is some accomplishment, if you catch my drift.
Q: Will the veins in Bo Pelini’s neck rupture the first time one of his players gets ejected under the new rules that forbid the targeting of defenseless players?
A: Let’s just say I’m glad ESPN uses a seven-second delay.
Q: Will Braxton Miller win the Heisman?
A: He won’t lose it, at least not by playing poorly. But to win it would mean he needs to remain healthy. Kinda iffy.
Q: Can someone — maybe us? — finally stop the SEC title streak at seven?
A: Us? Of course not. We’re Wisconsin, not Ohio State.
You won’t be reading those behind-the-scenes questions anywhere else today. But people are asking them. The answers will arrive soon enough. Ohio State’s season opens Aug. 31.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.