If you're a football fan, and you haven't been hiding under a rock over the last week or so, you've probably seen the video of the interview between sports anchor Dennis O'Donnell of San Francisco TV station KPIX and 49ers coach Mike Singletary. If you haven't seen it, here's a quick review:
Hardly the most offensive series of questions a football coach has ever been asked; considering the obvious time and strategy mistakes the 49ers coaching staff committed in the team's 31-6 opening day loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one might say that O'Donnell went easy on Singletary, and it's the coach who isn't handling things too well.
The "dad-gum Yahoo commercial" Singletary refers to in the video was written by Yahoo! NFL writer Jason Cole on Sept. 14. Cole revealed that according to several sources close to the team, Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye have had problems with play communication and time management since last season. Perhaps this is why the coach responded as he did -- because the news hit too close to the mark?
Singletary's overreaction has found its way to the 49ers' media department, which has reportedly arranged for O'Donnell's removal from the assignment that had him talking to Singletary on the station's weekly "Coach's Corner" segment. Kim Coyle will take over those duties, and she'll do so from the team facility instead of from the station's headquarters.
As part of the station's relationship with the team, the 49ers have editorial control of what KPIX does on the show. Team spokesman Bob Lange told Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News that the decision was made in the spirit of a "joint agreement (with KPIX) to give the interviews a better dynamic going forward."
That may be the case, but the timing of the switch makes the reason given look like a big load of hooey. And it makes the team and the station look terrible. First of all, the idea of a team having editorial control of what often ends up in newscasts is troublesome to an extreme degree. This is often how things are done, however, because stations and other media outlets must make compromises to get any access - that's part of the game. There's big money to be made from an advertising perspective when it comes to getting a team logo and key members of a team braintrust associated with your brand. And as someone who frequently works under team media access rules, I understand the protocol. When you're under their roof, you play by their rules. Same as any other line of work.
But this is not a case of engineering the removal of a journalist who asked inappropriate questions, or engaged in a breach of locker room etiquette, or revealed a prized bit of strategy from a practice. O'Donnell simply asked the kinds of questions everyone was asking Singletary after the opening game fiasco; the kinds of questions that came up from what Singletary and quarterback Alex Smith said after the game, and the kinds of questions that resulted from what everyone on the Qwest Field press box on the day (including me) saw on our quote sheets. Not only did O'Donnell not do anything wrong; it could be argued that Singletary exacerbated the uncomfortable nature of the interview by acting like a two-year-old when he got questions he didn't like.
"I say things that I feel and I do have to do a better job at not letting the media bait me the way they did last week in one particular incident," Singletary said in a prepared statement this week. "I do have to do a better job at that and I have to be smarter in that situation."
Again, this is absolutely ridiculous. O'Donnell didn't "bait" Singletary, he simply asked questions the coach a.) Didn't like, and b.) Couldn't control. What Singletary needs to "do better" is to understand that the media will ask him hard questions when he and his staff engage in boneheaded on-field decisions. And what the 49ers need to understand is that it isn't necessary to go to the mattresses every time a reporter points out something that doesn't reflect favorably on the team.
Every team in every sport, at both amateur and professional levels, wants to spin the take and control the message. But when that isn't possible, there are better ways to handle things - the O'Donnell move makes the team look paranoid and insecure. And given the way Singletary handled his timeouts late in the follow-up loss to the New Orleans Saints, there will be more reporters asking more unpleasant questions.
That they could be doing so at the risk of having their professional circumstances altered negatively is a terrible thing.