Monday Stanford completed a historic football season with a convincing victory over Virgina Tech in the Orange Bowl. The win was the culmination of the greatest program turnaround in college football history. (At least outside of Evanston and Manhattan, Kansas.)
In five years, the Stanford team has done the unthinkable, going from 1-11 in 2006 - the year before current coach Jim Harbaugh arrived - to 12-1 this season with its only loss on the road to top-ranked Oregon.
No, this isn’t any ordinary, bowl-victorious college football team. The Cardinal’s season is undeniably cause for a certain measure of awe and reflection.
Sadly though, the primary disseminators of Stanford’s crowning achievement, Orange Bowl broadcaster ESPN, steeply discounted the historical significance of the moment by focusing on what is, in comparison, a rather transient subject.
During an interview before the game, ESPN reporter Michelle Tafoya pressed Stanford Coach Harbaugh about his future job prospects. An uncomfortable Harbaugh brushed off the question by correctly noting that the approaching game was his only focus. (What else is he supposed to say?!?)
The coach couldn’t have made more clear at that moment with Tafoya that he would not being entertaining queries that night about his future employ.
Tafoya’s indelicate pregame question of Harbaugh then led to the coach (somewhat predictably) blowing off the reporter on live, national television immediately after the game.
With such drastic, evasive action by Harbaugh, it’s unfathomable that during the Orange Bowl trophy ceremony that followed ESPN’s Rece Davis would again confront Harbaugh on the topic.
Here’s the entire exchange between Davis and Harbaugh:
“Jim, the trophy is all yours. As you think back to this program that you took over, 1-11 the year before you got here, now, four years later, Orange Bowl champions, 12-1. How do you describe the progress this program’s made?“
“(Turns to players) Well, I just want to say thanks to all the players and coaches, our students our fans, our administration, our athletic director Bob Bowlsby, our president, everybody involved with Stanford football. We could not have done it without you. All the credit goes to these players. (Turns back to Davis) These youngsters who respect the game of football, who respect the process. Who love each other. They play to win. With that I’m going to give you the MVP, Andrew Luck.“
Harbaugh then began to walk away from Davis. At that point, if you’re Davis, you know that:
a) Harbaugh doesn’t want to discuss anything but Stanford’s big moment
b) if asked, Harbaugh will refuse to talk about his employment status
c) if you don’t ask Harbaugh about his employment status, no one outside of a couple ESPN editorial staffers will care (if that)
d) asking Harbaugh a question about such a fleeting topic would soil Stanford’s greatest, modern football moment
So what did Davis do? This:
“I got one more question before you get there. Jim, what kind of timetable will you use to make your future decision?“
“(pauses) … I just asked you to respect the game and what these players did tonight. It’s all about them. (Turns to players) I love you guys, I’m proud of you. You’re champions, that’s what we said when we started this thing. Cardinal campaign to a championship. Way to go. (Turns to Davis) Thank you.“
Harbaugh then briskly walked over to his wife, who, like most television viewers at this point, was cringing.
This isn’t to say that ESPN wasn’t justified in inquiring about Harbaugh’s job status. But the method of questioning should have been determined with the coach off-air, and well before the broadcast. If during those meetings Harbaugh asked that he not be asked any questions about his employment on the telecast, then that would then be noted on the broadcast.
But to continue to press the coach about his job status while knowing full well that he wasn’t going to reveal any information about the subject - especially in light of the astonishing achievement of the Stanford team - wasn’t just unprofessional, it was juvenile.
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