That Ol' Kentucky Logic
Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, on why he usually instructs his punter to kick the ball out of bounds: "[The punt returner] is usually the best athlete on the other team. In this league, that means his future is NFL. The guy I'm sending to tackle him, his future is CPA. That's not a good matchup."
Caught in a Web of Information
Southern Cal coach John Robinson understands his school and its place on the crowded Los Angeles scene in ways that his predecessor, Larry Smith, never grasped. One of the first decisions Robinson made when he returned to USC in 1993 was to open his practices. He wanted Trojans fans to reconnect to the team. He wanted the neighborhood kids to wander to the sidelines of Howard Jones Field, as they had in his first tenure at USC (1976-82).
This season Robinson closed practice. "I may never open it again," he says. Too many fans crowding the sidelines? Kids swiping Gatorade? Nope. The Internet. Details of the formations and plays that USC worked on in practice in August appeared on some independent Web pages devoted to the Trojans.
Coaches are a conservative lot. The exponential increase in information on the Web—be it through established journalistic organizations or electronic fan clubs with names such as Salute to Troy and Trojan Football Online—has left coaches groping for a way to regain control of what is learned about their teams.
Last year, before the Boston College-Virginia Tech game, a correspondent for Eagle Action, an independently produced sports newspaper for BC fans, posted a practice report on the Net that was so detailed that then Boston College coach Dan Henning said it included "things about our practice I didn't know." The report noted that the long snapper had had trouble in punt practice and that "the wide receivers are having their way with starting corner/back, No. 26, Shalom Tolefree." A Virginia Tech assistant said the report included information that "might be useful" but "we're not changing anything." The Hokies won 45-7.
Most coaches have someone check the Internet daily to see what's being said about their team and their opponents. Utah assistant Sean McNabb, the designated Web surfer for the Utes, looks for injury information and so-I called bulletin board material. He zeroes in on the sites of the hometown and student newspapers of Utah's opponents. "Some people think if they aren't talking to someone in our part of the world, it won't reach us," he says. "If you say anything in your hometown, we're going to know about it."
Before the Utes went to play Louisville on Sept. 6, they learned through the Net that Cardinals defensive end Kendrick Gholston had been nursing an injured shoulder. "It's something we wouldn't have ordinarily known," McNabb says. "If he had been healthy, he would have influenced the game more than he did. We weren't after him to hurt him. If he was in there, he wasn't 100 percent." The Utes rushed for 191 yards and passed for 205 in a 27-21 victory.
One thing is certain. No coach can erect a wall high enough to keep information from seeping onto the Internet. The smart ones are already figuring out how to use it.
The Placekicker Gets Six