Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tunnel vision: Fox vs. Marinelli

There are certain plusses to covering the Carolina Panthers of the John Fox era. The team is always competitive. Steve Smith is always worth watching.

But on Mondays, when NFL coaches around the league have their "day-after" conferences with the news media, that's not a good time to cover the Panthers. Some very good coaches -- like Mike Holmgren or Jon Gruden, Super Bowl winners both -- conduct long, intelligent, blunt discussions with the media.

Other coaches, like Fox and New England's Bill Belichick, have mastered the art of saying nothing usable in as short a time as possible. That's why Fox's Monday press conference after the 17-6 win over Oakland Sunday was possibly his shortest yet. I timed it, and it was 9 minutes long. Dom Capers' opening statement on Mondays used to take longer than that. In those 9 minutes, about all Fox said was that he was "totally happy" with RB Jonathan Stewart, to which thousands of fantasy-football owners probably replied: "But we aren't!"

Of course, saying nothing is sometimes the best way to go. Check out this odd quote from Detroit coach Rod Marinelli's Monday press conference -- he brings his 0-9 Lions to Charlotte Sunday to play Carolina.

Said Marinelli: “You’re in this dark tunnel and you’ve got no way out. You’re waiting for light, and you see that light, what do you do? What do you do? You start digging and getting out. … I’ve always believed you stay in the tunnel and you keep digging when you expect no light.
"You have the same faith when you expect no light. You have the same belief in what you’re doing when you expect no light. … It’s dark and I’m going to dig through. My shovel is sharp and my pick is sharp and my will is outstanding.”

This led to all sorts of jokes in Detroit about where exactly Marinelli’s will was standing, and whether you could text-message anyone from such a tunnel and so on. My friend Michael Rosenberg, the excellent Detroit Free Press columnist, was responsible for some of the best lines here.

It's not an NFL coach's responsibility to entertain the media, of course. It's his responsibility to win games, and the rest is gravy. If Fox's team keeps winning like this, he's going to have a whole lot more opportunities this season to say nothing, and definitely not to talk about any impending tunnels and the sharpness of his shovel.

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