To a greater or lesser degree, most but not all the guys on the sidelines, be they in charge or just assisting, develop a facility for coachspeak.
It allows them to meet and greet the media, appear as if they’re passing along info with some gravity, while not revealing much anything of value.
If abysmally hapless when it came to coaching, former Cardinal mentor Steve HisLastNameShallNotBeUttered was a true master when it came to prattling on in an imperious manner that sounded like football genius while saying absolutely nothing of consequence.
(For the record, while he can prevaricate, Cardinal head man Bobby Petrino, is less a coachspeaker than most in the profession. His responses are generally less cliché-filled.)
One way the lingo phenomenon manifests itself is through the use of vaguely descriptive code words. Take Tight Ends Coach Chris Klenakis for example. Hardly a Q & A can pass without him extolling how his charges are “grinding.” Which, one must assume, is to say they are working hard but still have a way to go to be where they need to be.
New Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder, with a resumé as vast and glossy as any coach ever to don a Cardinal crested Climalite polo -- SEC, Big 12, South Bend and my dad’s alma mater Wayne State -- has developed his ability accordingly.
”Ascending” is the word he kept invoking, when what it seems like he was really saying is his defense is still in the early stages of learning his system. Which is better to hear, one supposes, than the antonym, but not as heartening as, oh, “I’m really pleased, they’re really getting it.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise, if a bit bracing. This is the third different system in three years, and is surely more complicated than the ineffectual, flawed process the D toiled under last season.
He was suitably positive if not necessarily upbeat in describing where the defense is now.
”This is a good group. There’s good chemistry. They’re young, but eager to learn.
”For me, my guys are never where I want them to be, but this group is ascending.”
He explained, in responding to various questions, that figuring out how much of his full plan his charges will be able to absorb is an ongoing question “that will go on all season.”
”There’s a risk in putting in too much too soon. It’s important that what we install isn’t too much.”
But he isn’t shying away from the opening game task.
”Playing Alabama is a good thing. It demands your best.”
Which he followed with this caveat, “It will be interesting to see how we react.”
One questioner was bold enough to ask Van Gorder about his stint last year as Oklahoma State’s Defensive Analyst. Bold because, let’s be gentle, the Cowboys D last campaign is best described as porous.
Van Gorder, who’d previously been terminated mid-season under the Golden Dome, imperceptibly flinched before responding, “Last year it was healthy for me to step back.”
* * * * *
Speaking of uncomfortable questions, there’s one I intended to ask, but Bobby Petrino’s time in front of the mic ended before the opportunity presented itself.
I read recently that, during the FCP era, U of L leads the the nation in turnovers. One has to believe BP knows that’s something needing to be addressed. Exactly how will remain a mystery for now.
What always amazes me about competent+ head coaches is how they have a detailed awareness of everything going on with all facets of their squads. Petrino talked about foot work of specific linemen, cutting ability of certain receivers, technique of certain DBs, and the status of the squad’s punting competition.
At this juncture, a week into practice, he’s happier with the defense than offense. Of the latter, he said, “We’re not where we were at the end of spring practice. Our timing is off.”
Reminding coach of the glint in his eye a couple of years ago at Media Day, when he hinted at future success for his new frosh QB when nobody had heard of Lamar Jackson, I asked if there were any newcomers this year who have grabbed his attention in the same manner?
Well, future Heisman winners don’t matriculate often at a place like U of L, but he did mention two players when answering.
WR Chatarius Atwell. “He’s really made the transition from quarterback to reciever. He’s a student of the game. He’s made an impact every single day of practice.”
”He’s really fast.”
CB Chandler Jones. “He’s made some great interceptions.
”He’s really fast.”
In today’s game, speed is obviously a priority. Duh.
He’d previously mentioned frosh DL Dejmi Dumervil-Jean. “He’s really going to help us at some point. But now he’s at 360, and needs to get in shape.”
When asked how much freedom would be afforded neophyte signal caller Puma Pass, Petrino chuckled, and deadpanned.
”I always laugh at that question.
“My quarterback has to the freedom to do exactly what we tell him to do.”
* * * * *
Before the proceedings started, I was checking out the still work in progress north endzone construction. Standing behind me also observing the hardhats was AD Vince Tyra, who had the mien of an expectant father in a maternity ward waiting area.
As we shook hands, he simply uttered, “Total chaos.”
Seats aren’t installed yet. Half of one of the new video boards is still to be erected.
But . . . Reality. The new section closing in that end of Cardinal Stadium gives the place a Big Time look. My guess is the joint will be louder, now that stands fully surround the field. It’s a good thing.
* * * * *
Papa John logos still adorn some of the concession stands.
-- Seedy K