A couple weeks ago I had occasion to interview the new head coaches of both the Indiana and Purdue football programs. I can’t claim any keen insight into either man. Both interviews were by phone and neither lasted more than fifteen minutes. My talk with Purdue’s Jeff Brohm took place while he was driving, and I spoke to Coach Allen of IU as I sat in my car during a driving rainstorm.
I think I’ve improved at interviewing people over the last twenty years, but I have very little experience at telephone interviews. I’m uncomfortable with it, and I’m pretty sure my discomfort registers with the subjects. Which makes them more uncomfortable. Which makes me even more uncomfortable.
Anyway, as often happens with athletes and other people who interact with media-types on a regular basis, what I mostly got from Allen and Brohm was coach speak. It’s stuff that reads OK in an article because somebody semi-famous said it. But if you have to listen to it live or type it, it’s…..uh…..boring.
But there were points in each discussion when the wall got a little chipped and a bit of light broke through.
Coach Allen’s son is a freshman on the team, signing with the Hoosiers after his Dad got the job. I don’t think it was nepotism. The kid had received offers from several Division I schools including Rutgers and South Florida. Neither of which are Ohio State or Alabama; but neither is IU. He was also ranked as one of the top 100 high school linebackers in the country by ESPN.
I asked Allen about coaching his son, and he sounded like he got a little emotional. He talked about how hard it is to be both Dad and coach to a kid.
“It can be hard to separate,” he said. “I mean, he’s still your son, and you find your eyes going to him all the time. So that’s something you just have to focus on.”
I came away from our talk liking Coach Allen. He sounded like a man determined to make Indiana’s program better, but I don’t get the impression he’s the kind of guy who’d endanger kids’ health to win (as his predecessor allegedly did).
I remember watching Jeff Brohm play for the University of Louisville. He was the ultimate Louisville guy. He grew up there and his Dad played for the Cardinals, as did two of his brothers. Brohm sounded to me like a very focused, ambitious man.
He gave me a lot of “We want to field a team that’s competitive and fights to win every game”.
“Purdue is a place with great academics, and West Lafayette is a great college town.” (Wait, what was that last part?)
“People are starving for success, and they want to see the football program step up and do well. We need to deliver.”
All of which are perfectly acceptable, standard-type quotes for somebody coming into a job where the prior coach won like two games per year. Then I asked him whether it was hard to recruit at Purdue, considering their recent futility.
“We have a lot to offer at Purdue,” he says. “The academic reputation, the Big Ten conference and the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country. And, to be honest, playing time. We don’t have the depth we’d like, so a guy can come in and be a difference-maker.”
I thought the last part was a pretty candid statement. He’s all but admitting that it’s lean times in the Purdue football cupboard, and that he can get good athletes because last year’s starters may not be as good as incoming freshman or transfers.
After we wrapped up the interview, I told him that I was a Louisville alum and enjoyed watching him play. He sounded like he was happy to hear that. (Which is kind of a Louisville thing. If you meet somebody out of town and find you’re both from Indianapolis, it’s like, “so what?” But if you’re both from Louisville, you immediately talk about 1) what neighborhood did you grow up in, 2) what Catholic parish did you attend, and 3) do you have access to Derby tickets.)
Then he said “Oh, yeah? When did you graduate?”
“1980. So, like, a long time ago.”
“Oh…….okay….”. After a bit of awkward silence, we ended the call.
I guess I sound younger than I am.