Monday, April 14, 2008

You Haff My Gwatitude

I somehow missed this when it first came out, but From The Bleachers was named an AJC Staff Pick for "Best Auburn Sites" by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a month ago. Very nice, and I thank whomever thanks are due to for the recognition.

In addition, some of you may have noticed that FTB was picked up a while back as one of ten sites recommended by on their Auburn team page. FTB and are the only blogs so honored, and also the only sites out of the ten not run by large organizations.

So, to the ladies and gents at, like the man said in "The Kentucky Fried Movie," you haff my gwatitude.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Randy Kennedy: Nick Sucker

Last weekend, Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register posted a short article about a recent Alabama scrimmage to the Register's "Bama Beat" blog. As you might guess from the title, Estes is the Register's Alabama beat writer, and in the post he discussed the frustration of being assigned to write about a scrimmage that he hadn't actually been allowed to watch, and about players and coaches he isn't able to interview:
For the second time in eight days, Alabama simulated game action at Bryant-Denny Stadium without the media (and general public) there to witness it. For the second time, Alabama issued statistics (Yeah, I've got 'em listed below) as to what supposedly transpired. For the second time, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was the only one made available to offer his take (Tide players do not address reporters after scrimmages and Saban's assistant coaches, of course, never do).

It can be frustrating. Those of us who cover this team would love to offer the kind of detailed assessments available at basically every other major program. Is that currently an option at Alabama?


It's not that I'm complaining. This operation is Saban's baby. He has had success with his approach in the past. He can (and does) do as he pleases. I'm OK with that, and knew it when I signed on last August.

But in the interest of fairness ... I would like to point out a few things before fans delve too far into statistics and stories about any of Alabama's spring or preseason scrimmages. ...

Without the media present, there is no objective vantage point to the coverage. First off, the information you're receiving is only what Alabama wants you to know. This is not an ideal situation for a journalist who values a balanced account, and it's worth disclosure and a warning to readers: Take it for what it's worth.

Also know that in-house scrimmages are often molded into whatever the coaches want them to be. As I predicted last week on Scott Griffin's radio show, Alabama's offense would fare much better the second time. Lo and behold, they did.

How did I know that? Because I've seen coaches tweak the format to help a struggling unit. The first-team offense is doing poorly? Put them against the third-string defense for a while and see how those numbers turn out. Did that happen here? I don't know. Since I didn't watch the scrimmage, I can't tell you the circumstances behind John Parker Wilson's apparent 200-yard performance or Roy Upchurch's supposed rushing resurgence.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: Scrimmages are glorified practices. Fans should digest them that way. They do not tell you much about an upcoming season. They are a hint, but far from the entire picture.

That's not a bad piece, as such things go. As somebody who writes about college football, I think that's pretty interesting stuff, but obviously others may not agree.

Well, scratch that. "Others," allegedly including the highest-paid employee of the state of Alabama, emphatically did not agree. You may have noticed that I didn't link to Estes's post. I didn't because I can't (or rather I couldn't; keep reading). The post inexplicably vanished from the site the Register shares with several other newspapers, and only reappeared yesterday when Register columnist and all-around gadfly Paul Finebaum posted it to his own website.

Finebaum interviewed Register sports editor Randy Kennedy on Wednesday, and among other things asked why the rather mild criticism of Alabama Coach Nick "I am not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban had vanished from Estes's blog. Per a quote at the Capstone Report blog, Kennedy replied,
"We just decided it was more trouble than it was worth…this was not necessarily the battle he wanted to pick with the people who were supposed to be our customers."

Now, that's lame.

Take it from me, you've got to have thick skin if you're going to write about either Alabama or Auburn, and the Estes post didn't even register on the invective scale in that state. If anything, it was a pretty toned-down look at the growing undercurrent of dislike among state sportswriters who have to deal with Saban's trademark petulance.

Pulling such a milquetoast post over alleged public reaction would be bad enough, but according to Montgomery sports radio personality Doug Amos, as quoted from Finebaum's radio show today, the demand to spike Estes's post came from none other than "Flipper" himself. According to Amos, who is also an associate athletic director at Faulkner University (and if my memory serves, a big Alabama fan), a source has told him that the article was yanked after Saban personally called Estes to complain (for the record, Estes is a Georgia graduate who, in his student days, wrote of being "Born and raised a die-hard Crimson Tide fan in Birmingham").

If accurate, that goes beyond lame. If that's true, Kennedy hung a young employee of his out to dry to mollify the hurt feelings of a spoiled-brat football coach who makes more in a month than he and Estes combined make in a year (heck, it's probably more than the entire Register sports staff makes in a year).

Even if it isn't--but given Saban's history of trying to intimidate the media, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is--Kennedy should still be ashamed of himself. What kind of self-respecting journalist spikes an accurate article because his "customers" are complaining? That's the action of a corporate flack, not a reporter. If Kennedy disagreed with Estes, he should have said so, either in a column or a blog post of his own, but going out and trying (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to flush the column down the memory hole was an act of abject cowardice, and one that goes a long way towards discrediting the Register sports section as being anything resembling responsible journalism.

So, Randy Kennedy, this is your big day. You are now the latest recipient of the FTB Nick Sucker Award.

Wear it in shame.

UPDATE: Estes re-posted the original piece Thursday evening, with the following note:
Two days later, after feeling compelled to respond to numerous comments from readers, the blog was threatening to become a time-consuming distraction to my work as Alabama beat writer for the Press-Register. This was a battle I began to feel would do no good for my newspaper or myself. I wish to be known for objectivity and reporting skills rather than a mere blog that made myself the story. This was heading in an opposite direction from those goals. So I deleted the post. Never at any time did anyone from the University of Alabama request or suggest that I remove the blog entry.
As noted earlier, that's pretty lame stuff. Either you--and if you work for a newspaper, your employer--stand behind what you write or you don't. Since when does any self-respecting reporter or paper care about criticism over an accurate story?

I should note that Estes does not say that nobody at UAT contacted him to complain about the blog entry. Continuing:
After hearing some of what has been said in public forums the past few days and insinuations that have no merit or truth, I now regret the decision to remove the blog post, but not my decision to write it in the first place. So hopefully to clear the air completely, I am now posting the original blog in its entirety.
Better late than never, I suppose.