Want to be an NFL decision-maker? Learn how to lie through your teeth
Andy Reid was less than truthful when discussing Donovan McNabb this offseason
NFL decision-makers often can't tell the truth for competitive reasons
Teams limit assistants' media ops because they aren't accustomed to lying
Andy Reid lied to me. That was one of my first thoughts Easter Sunday when news broke of the surprising intra-division trade that sent Donovan McNabb from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Washington Redskins. I couldn't help but recall what Reid had said to me at the Scouting Combine in February, when I asked him about the rumors that McNabb might be available.
Reid essentially said McNabb was not on the trading block, that he was still the Eagles starting quarterback, and that they felt very fortunate to have had him in that role for the past 11 years. The Birds had been touting that company line all offseason, and Reid had to repeat the lie for various reasons. First, to maintain leverage if any team were interested in prying McNabb away. If the Eagles had let on that they were through with McNabb, teams would have tried to low-ball Philly with an offer. Second, to keep the media frenzy from starting. And third, in an effort to keep McNabb and his agent from getting ticked off, which could have muddied the waters if a trade didn't materialize. Remember how ugly the Jay Cutler situation got last year when he found out the Broncos and new head coach Josh McDaniels had floated his name in trade discussions.
But this is not just about Reid. Not in the slightest. I have interviewed him four or five times and really respect him. He has been nothing but gracious and accommodating. For example, the interview I'm talking about wasn't even scheduled. I just spotted him walking down the hallway at Lucas Oil Stadium, asked him if he had five minutes, and he happily obliged. And if Reid were confronted today about essentially having lied to me and everyone else who asked him that question since the end of the 2009 season, I'm sure he could say he changed his mind. I highly doubt that was the case in this instance. But that's not the point.
The point is head coaches or executive team personnel being less than honest is so accepted at this point that nobody even calls them on it anymore. Unless it is blatant, like then-Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban saying he "won't be the coach at Alabama" and then becoming just that a week later, nobody seems to even flinch at the deception these days. It's just par for the course, especially in April, when a reporter's best bet might be to take any quotes from a team executive about draft prospects and extrapolate the opposite to be true.
That's why I'm not sure I could be a head coach or general manager. I don't know if lying to individuals and large groups on a regular basis would come easily for me. I'm not naive. I understand the business and am far from a saint, but that doesn't mean I could get the hang of being untruthful on a regular basis to try to get a desired end game. Seems to me it could potentially create a bad precedent elsewhere in life, and I wonder how and where these football men draw the line.
Part of me thinks the media deserves some of the blame for the deception. We desire as much access to the decision-makers as possible so that we can ask them all of the tough questions -- questions they really can't answer truthfully at times without hurting some of their objectives. Like winning.
Can you imagine all team personnel being forthright and honest at all times? Picture asking Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli about his plans for the No. 5 overall pick in the upcoming draft and him replying, "We're going to take Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga if he's still on the board."
That would never happen, obviously, because a team picking below the Chiefs, one that also covets Bulaga, could use that information to move up and take him.
It makes you wonder if there is another way. A way in which NFL decision-makers could field questions and answer them without having to be deceitful or untruthful. But even a decision not to comment or a non-answer can be telling at times. In Reid's case, if he had said anything to me other than what he did, it could have been national news that would have started a firestorm in Philadelphia.
I imagine that's why most teams do whatever they can to limit the amount of access reporters have to assistant coaches. Assistant coaches, as a general rule, have less experience talking with the media and may not necessarily be privy to the company line when it comes to certain players. Put another way, they might not be as smooth a liar as the head coach or GM.
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