Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Chow vs. Reardon

It rained throughout the University of Hawaii football team's first practice of spring training on Tuesday. The storm hit afterward.

In a thunderous outburst, head coach Norm Chow abruptly canceled post-practice interview sessions in response to Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Dave Reardon's presence.

Television reporters were interviewing quarterback Taylor Graham when Chow yelled that Reardon was not welcomed at the practice. Tuesday's morning's practice, unlike practices during the regular season, was open to the public.

Through UH media relations director Derek Inouchi, Reardon was told Chow would not participate in post-practice interviews in the columnist's presence. Post-practice interviews are conducted on the practice field.

Reardon said he was prepared to leave the grass practice field when Chow began yelling, "You're not welcome here, sir." Chow then ordered a halt to the media's interviews with players and assistant coaches. Graham, who was about to answer a question from television reporters, apologized and then joined teammates in sprinting off the field.

Later, Chow told the Star-Advertiser he was angry over a January column questioning Kevin Clune's hiring as defensive coordinator. Chow said the column was "disrespectful" to Clune and jeopardized his relationship with players.

Reardon, whose duties for the newspaper are to provide opinion pieces, had attended Clune's introductory news conference a week after the column was published without incident. Tuesday morning was the first face-to-face encounter between Chow and Reardon this year.

Out of respect for media cohorts, Reardon said he was willing to leave the field when the outburst occurred. Reardon said he did not want to be the reason other reporters could not do their stories.

This is the second time Chow has feuded with a media entity. In July 2012, Chow was angered when Hawaii News Now reported quarterback Sean Schroeder was transferring from Duke to UH.

Chow did not participate in one-on-one interviews with Hawaii News Now for most of the 2012 season, his first as UH head coach. Chow spoke at group interviews, and allowed his coaches and players to speak with the news station.

***

Tuesday afternoon, Chow apologized for causing a distraction.

"I'm extremely sorry that my actions this morning deflected attention away from a very good beginning to spring practice," Chow said in statement released through the school. "Going forward, the focus will continue to be on our football team and the hard work they are putting in to prepare for the 2014 season."

Chow and Reardon have agreed to meet Wednesday.

*** [Reardon responds]

See you at practice, Coach Chow.

You don’t have to talk to me, that’s your choice.

But you can’t bar me from watching your University of Hawaii football team practice and from writing about the Rainbow Warriors — the good things and the bad.

You can try, but then you’d have to kick all of us reporters out.

That kind of thing doesn’t work well for you, as evidenced by what happened Tuesday. You were so mad at me in April for something I wrote in January that you ended up costing your program a day of positive coverage on the first day of spring practice.

You sent a staffer over twice to tell me you “didn’t want me here.” My response each time was words to the effect that I’m not going anywhere and had a right to be at an open practice at a state facility. That is also what I tried to tell you when you were yelling at me. I also suggested to your staffer that you should focus on coaching your team that won one game last year instead of worrying about me.

I was willing to leave after practice without interviews so that other reporters could do their work. But you were so blind in your fury you sent all your players to the locker room and left many in the media with next to nothing to work with.

Is that really the message you’re trying to convey to your team? A spiteful attitude that results in a negative? Fortunately, I think your players are smart enough not to buy into that.

The first day of spring football practice is like signing day, Midnight Madness for basketball or the start of spring training for baseball.

The perception for this one day at least is that everybody’s great. So-and-so added 15 pounds of muscle. … That other guy over there, he’s way faster than he was at the end of last season. … The new additions are exciting future superstars, and the returnees are all a year wiser and better.

The team is undefeated, and will be for five months.

It’s a day for optimism, even for a team that won just one game last year.

Media coverage on the first day of spring is usually going to be mostly positive.

Even this critical columnist went into the day with the idea of writing about what I considered a bright spot: how Taylor Graham and Ikaika Woolsey will make each other better in a competition to be the starting quarterback in the fall, and how that will be the most intriguing battle in spring camp.

But because of your lack of professionalism and composure and sense of an appropriate time and place to vent your displeasure, that did not happen.

And other interviews with your players — most of whom are intelligent and articulate and great with the media — did not happen either.

You could’ve sold tickets but you helped us sell newspapers. After you tried to kick me out of practice Tuesday morning, I got a lot of emails from people saying, “I can’t wait to read the next column.”

So thank you for that.

“It’s like he went to his own birthday party, flipped over the cake and told everybody to get out,” said someone who saw it all unfold.

UH sent a statement out Tuesday afternoon with your name on it.

“I’m extremely sorry that my actions this morning deflected attention away from a very good beginning to spring practice. Going forward, the focus will continue to be on our football team and the hard work they are putting in to prepare for the 2014 season.”

Those are good words and a good start to getting this bizarre launch of spring practice behind us.

Unfortunately, your mistake on the first day gave the people who want you out of your job as soon as possible more ammunition to add to your 4-20 record.

The only advice I can give you if you want me to write fewer things that will make you unhappy is simple: Win more football games. 

***

After the incident at University of Hawaii football practice Tuesday morning, I was asked by UH sports media relations director Derek Inouchi if I'd be willing to meet with coach Norm Chow to "clear the air."

I agreed, and we met this morning for about 40-45 minutes in Inouchi's office. We shook hands, we talked story and we shook hands again and went on with our days.

It was an amicable meeting. Most of what we discussed will remain among the three of us, at least for now, but the most important thing is that we all agreed to communicate better and to move forward.

I will be welcome at open practices, and I will be allowed to interview coach Chow and players, as other media members will, of course.

I submit this at around 1:30 p.m. About an hour ago, I learned that Chow has agreed to be a radio guest on the Sports Animal Show this afternoon, a show which I happen to be guest co-hosting, with Chris Hart, on KKEA 1420-AM. Chow is scheduled to join us at 3:35 p.m.

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