Although he’s the Timberwolves’ interim coach, Sam Mitchell is the area’s only Black head coach. Interim or not, it appears that his honeymoon ended last week judging from Britt Robson’s article in MinnPost.
We’ve known Robson for a long time — he and I are among the few who have covered the Wolves over their entire existence. He tends to be fair but a bit analytical in his questioning.
His December 7 “Sam Mitchell was right to call me out in his postgame press conference, but he’s wrong to be dismissive of the media” posted article began with his mea culpa for asking the Wolves coach “an ill-informed question” after a recent home loss.
“Before you ask me a question, make sure you are asking me the right question,” responded Mitchell to Robson’s inquiry.
Then the writer’s criticism continued: “Mitchell has belittled or embarrassed members of the media this season,” noted Robson. “Mitchell has been suspicious and impatient…this season, especially in response to questions that attempt to glean any details about his thought process and strategy.”
I have been in press conferences this season, as Robson points out, where Mitchell’s impatience resembled a well-worn sweater as he dealt with local know-it-alls whose arrogance shows. They grow especially affronted if the coach doesn’t answer their questions — no matter how insidious they might be — to their satisfaction.
Despite a mandatory cooling-off period, emotions are still raw after a game, especially after a loss. If Mitchell is salty as a result, so be it. But according to Robson, this saltiness is being dismissive.
I know dismissive. Bob Knight once dressed down a former local columnist after a question — his dismissiveness toward media is legendary. San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich and New England’s Bill Belichick both are regularly dismissive, and I don’t see these White coaches becoming more accommodating to reporters any time soon.
Mitchell “has been less successful” in communicating how he does things “so that the media and the fans…have a better understanding of his process,” surmised Robson, who threw down the written gauntlet that the Wolves coach’s current way of doing things “feels counterproductive for all concerned.”
But is the real concern of local White reporters like Robson that they can’t get Mitchell to meet their unrealistic expectations? Especially when it comes to Black coaches of local teams, such expectations smack more of master-slave rather than media-coach relationships.
Dennis Green, Clem Haskins, Tubby Smith, Dwane Casey, Leslie Frazier and now Mitchell all have had to prove themselves to a mostly White media, who often acted as if they knew more than the experienced coach every single day.
I’ve been around enough post-game conferences watching reporters young and old act like Mike Wallace wannabees, drilling the coach like he or she’s an elected official. And God forbid that coach is Black — then the post-game conference virtually becomes a pseudo job interview.
I remember Smith’s last season as Gopher coach dealing with constant strategy questions from a beat writer who wasn’t even born when Smith first began coaching. The coach is the expert in these media encounters, not the other way around.
Robson is a good reporter who should be able to write a sound game account whether or not Mitchell is forthright, so to speak. But it seems too many of today’s sports reporters can’t do their job without including their two cents’ worth of analysis as well. I prefer reading game stories unadulterated.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.