Media can't protect coaches from themselves


POSTED: Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shelby Metcalf was hot under the collar, believing his Texas A&M basketball team was a victim of highway robbery.

He was pacing around his small courtside office at G. Rollie White Coliseum, muttering under his breath, halfheartedly throwing a pencil, gently crumpling a piece of paper as the half-dozen reporters in the room waited for the '70s version of the cooling-off period.

“;Hey Coach, what did you think about that last call?”; the cub reporter from the Daily Planet asked. Metcalf didn't miss a beat.

“;We were screwed,”; he said matter-of-factly. “;If we'd been screwed any more, I'd be a prostitute.”;

The big-city reporters laughed quietly among themselves. Metcalf always had a wry sense of humor, but they weren't going to quote him. They knew better. Unfortunately for the cub reporter, he was unaware of such postgame protocol. That was a helluva quote.

The next day in the student newspaper, the quote ran, drawing a chuckle from Bob Rogers, the head of the journalism department and the city editor at the Austin American-Statesman the day Charles Whitman climbed the tower at the University of Texas.

“;Did he know he was on the record?”; Rogers asked.

“;He saw me write it down,”; the cub reporter replied. “;And he didn't say it was off the record.”;

Of course that part was understood. At least Metcalf thought so and said as much to the cub reporter on the telephone later that day.

“;You've got to protect me from myself,”; Metcalf said. “;Now, I've got to go home, sit down and have supper with my wife and kids tonight and beg for their forgiveness.”;

“;DID THEY?”; I asked Metcalf 15 years after quoting him in The Battalion story, much to the chagrin of the Bryan Eagle beat writer, who told me at the time, “;You'll be lucky if Shelby ever talks to you again.”;

Shelby and I were at a restaurant in Las Vegas, enjoying that memory of my rookie season as a sportswriter. He was on his farewell tour after 27 years as the head coach of the Aggies. I was covering the best basketball team in the land known in those days as the Runnin' Rebels.

“;Eventually,”; Metcalf said, then smiled. “;But a lot of stuff has changed over the years. The players are different. The fans are more demanding, but the biggest thing is the media. They are not your friends.”;

NO, THEY AREN'T. And in a perfect world, they aren't supposed to be, as Hawaii head coach Greg McMackin discovered Thursday in Salt Lake City. An off-the-cuff remark by McMackin, meant to be the warm-up act of his presentation at the WAC Football Preview, turned into the worst one-liner of his career.

Talking like a defensive coordinator to a beat writer after a bad practice, McMackin's remarks left reporters asking, “;Did he really say that about Notre Dame?”; Even McMackin realized his gaffe, asking reporters not to quote him. But this wasn't some remark made at the back bar of Binion's. This was behind a podium with video and tape recorders turning, leaving McMackin asking for forgiveness.

Will they?

I'd ask Shelby if he were still alive today. But my guess is—much like Metcalf's family did for him all those years ago—eventually.