Texas State has struggled under Everett Withers, there are no two ways around it.
During the course of Year Zero, we could easily wave it away, because Withers’ insistence on doing a hard reset of the roster meant a Super Duper Year Zero where the goal was simply to evaluate talent.
In Year One, you could still excuse a team that was struggling, because they were still extremely young and essentially none of the older transfer talent that was supposed to supplement the roster panned out.
Now, in Year Two, a football program that continues to show zero signs of progress are running out of excuses.
But this week I specifically want to talk about a football coach who has morphed from “churlish but grizzled veteran” to “openly combative asshole.”
I hate to use that kind of language, but there’s no other way to describe it.
We’ll come back to this in greater detail later on, but first, let’s talk about Gregg Popovich
Zen and the Art of Screwing With the Media
Coach Pop, as he is known to many, has been the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 22 years now For comparison, 17 of the other 31 teams in the NBA have changed their head coach just in the last two years.
In that time, Popovich has developed a reputation for being someone whose willingness to participate and be polite in media availability is inversely related to the event in question.
His in-game interviews are notoriously drab, and he’s only occasionally less so in post-game pressers.
For Popovich, this “Pop Snark” as we’ll call it is something that he has earned the right to do for several reasons. One, he has as many NBA championships as every other NBA coach combined who is not named Steve Kerr. Two, Popovich is frequently very gregarious, open and giving, so he doesn’t behave that way all the time. Three, even when hes blunt and curt, he’s rarely aggressive, rude, or anything of that sort.
The man has had his job for over two decades, and I’m sure that you and I would be in a similar position if our job involved doing interviews, we’d had the exact same job for two decades, and the interviews became more frequent over that time.
The problem with Everett Withers is that he sees this as a style of communication to be imitated, not a rapport and relationship that is unique to Popovich thanks to two decades of cultivated rapport and which goes well beyond the snarky moments the public sees.
That’s Not How Any of This Works
I am aware of the fact that Everett Withers being rather curt and close-to-the-vest dates back to the beginning of his head coaching career, but I would imagine it’s a lot easier to tolerate when the coach is a one-year stopgap (UNC) or a consistent winner (JMU).
But this press conference is a whole other level.
It starts simply enough, with a visibly irritated Withers giving very abrupt non-answers.
We then move to him being asked about a quarterback draw on fourth down, and he immediately interrupts the questioner to say that it wasn’t a quarterback draw. When asked what type of play it was, Withers counters with:
“I’m not going to tell you what the play was, because we might use it again,” complete with a look on his face that reeks of ‘why would you even ask me that?’
Right, because clearly the media has been selling your secrets, and if you were to tell him exactly what play you ran there – even though that’s not what he asked, and it’s extremely unlikely that your opponents won’t figure that out in film study – it would ruin the rest of your season.
Give me a break.
Then comes the awkwardness, an interaction between Keff Ciardello of the Austin American Statesman and Withers.
Keff: I can see you’re very frustrated
Withers: [sarcastically] can you?
Keff: Yes, yes I can
Withers: And you’re the guy telling everyone our guy is starting
Keff: Yeah, Tyler Vitt?
Withers: How’d you find out?
Keff: I have my ways, sir. I have my ways
Withers: Hope it wasn’t an administrator or a player
Keff: It wasn’t
What is Withers hoping to accomplish here? First of all, Tyler Vitt starting at quarterback isn’t some revelation or state secret that Louisiana couldn’t possibly find out about or prepare for unless Ciardello reported it.
Secondly, “hope it wasn’t an administrator or player”? Why Everett, are you going to kick them out of the program if you find out it was? Are you that desperate for increased control of your program?
Here’s the thing; being an abrasive coach is still considered one of the ways to effectively lead a football team, but this is just one of many examples of the fact that treating players, media and anyone else in this fashion doesn’t work unless you are winning.
That means that people will tolerate an asshole if he wins, not that being an asshole leads to winning.
In Withers’ case, he might not actually be that great a coach. He got one-year post-Butch and pre-Fedora at North Carolina and was so-so, pissing off a bunch of people at his alma mater (Appalachian State) by calling it a dream job.
Then he eventually went to James Madison. Did he win there? Yes, the Dukes were 18-7 in his two seasons, but it’s not like this was a moribund program. His predecessor only had a losing record twice in 15 seasons, and they were only a decade removed from a national championship.
Additionally, the Dukes are currently 32-4 since he left – so it’s certainly debatable just how much of their success can really be claimed as his.
But what does it all mean, man?
In order to bring this all around to a close, let’s get some input from some people who are more Texas- and Withers-savvy than myself:
First, from Jared Kalmus, assistant manager and UTSA beat writer for Underdog Dynasty:
“I think it really shows that frustration is starting to kick in for him. He knows he’s behind the rebuild schedule, and he’s not used to being around losing programs like this.
That being said, Withers specifically, and Texas State in general, hasn’t earned the right to treat the media or any fans this poorly. the program is bleeding money and gets little to no coverage across the state. Withers is going to dig himself even deeper if he keeps this up.”
My former App State writer Thomas Sherrill agrees:
“He looks like a coach that is floundering. When you’re losing and getting testy with the media, imagine what he’s like behind closed doors. Young people notice if you’re being consistent and his presser behavior shows that he might not be.”
Lastly, just a very few short words from our own Texas State alum/masochist Will Butler:
“I get that Coach Withers is probably experiencing a large amount of pressure to get this turned around, so a certain amount of frustration is understandable. His team has shown minimal improvement in the win column, and he can’t blame Dennis Franchione anymore for his own failings.
Also, he’s dealing with an embattled AD in Larry Teis who is facing a sustained campaign to fire him that’s gotten intense enough to force him to make a public show of actually doing his job.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Teis tried to use a potential firing of Withers as bait to deflect attention away from his own inadequacies. That’s enough to make anyone cranky.
However, this is far from the first time Withers’s postgame press conferences have been a waste of time for the local media. Many of his answers have been unnecessarily short and standoffish despite reporters asking specific questions.
Quite frankly, until recently the questions local reporters would ask were, objectively, not even close to adversarial. The SID plays games with threatening loss of access to anyone who asks anything remotely critical–student media gets the worst of it, but a San Marcos Daily Record reporter got frozen out in 2013 for reporting on a player injury.
So the reporters have to tread lightly just to get in the room. Withers doesn’t care. But last night does represent an escalation in that he went after Keff Ciardello for reporting a fairly harmless bit of information (Vitt as likely starter) that fans were likely to receive positively.
Withers getting mad about media publicizing something that Louisiana knew was the most likely possibility blows my mind, seeing as he’s been at places with robust media apparatus like Ohio State and North Carolina.
Bobcat fans have recently gotten word that Teis has turned down plush opportunities for friendly interviews with Austin media outlets, so between that and Withers’ behavior, it’s a minor miracle anyone covers them anymore.
Teis’ vision has always seemed to focus on having all content come out of the athletic department and cut out the media middleman, but after 15 years in office, he still doesn’t have anything close to the infrastructure needed to pull that off. So I think with all that in mind, you’re about to see things come to a head.”
Note from Will: Just to clarify, the reporter (Tyler Mayforth) wasn’t frozen out for reporting on an injury. Specifically, he caught a lot of heat for publicly lambasting Franchione for playing an injured quarterback (Tyler Jones) against Western Kentucky with the season on the line. He also received quite a bit of blow-back for reporting that Jones would make his first start against Wyoming earlier that season. Mayforth reached out to me and wished to say that he understands why he was “frozen out” until he sat down with Franchione in the offseason to clear the air, and that he feels he was wrong for criticizing Franchione as harshly as he did. I sincerely apologize for the error.
It has been true for quite some time that, largely due to their lack of success across all facets of their football program despite their location in such a resource-rich state, Texas State has been interesting for a lot of the wrong reasons.
Now we have another brand new reason to talk about things that aren’t the on-field play, and one that might lead to a changing of the guard sooner or later in some fashion.
I personally wouldn’t be shocked that a lack of dramatic turnaround in the Bobcats’ season would see Withers not only leave Texas State after this season, but never be a head coach again.
It’s unfortunate that the Texas State Bobcats, who live in the relative shadow of the Longhorns up in Austin, had their lone big recent on-field success the same year that UT baseball and UT football both won championships and basketball went to the Elite Eight.
But that speaks to the overall plan, which appears to be that of a poorly-run minor league baseball team; “let’s just hope we start winning enough for people to care.”
But as Cedric Golden pointed out recently, if you can’t sell winning and you can’t sell hope, what have you got?
You’ve got a program with no winning tradition making no effort to promote itself to its current students, no understanding of how to sell itself to prospective students, and whose most visible leader has now moved beyond short-spoken and gruff to outwardly combative.
Something’s gotta give.