From the Sidelines: Charlie Coles

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up. It was me. (It was I? I was it?)

I’m the guy who asked Miami coach Charlie Coles the question that made him an internet sensation.

Most of you already know this, in all likelihood, because the blogs and on-line reports I’ve read have included my name. But some of you didn’t, including my own brother, whose text indicated he SUSPECTED I was the one. My own brother-in-law sent me an e-mail, wondering about the identity of the idiot who’d asked such a dumb question.

The holidays should be interesting this year.

You should know this: I found Charlie Coles’ response FANTASTIC. I loved it. The answer was hilarious – and that, you see, is the story. The question – however poorly worded – was the catalyst.

As I said on “Sports Nightly” the following evening, in hindsight, I might have worded the question a bit differently. But then we all would have been deprived of that great comical moment of theater, live and in color, from the press room at Rupp Arena.

It also would have meant one less opportunity for a number of bloggers to feel superior, but another chance would have come along soon enough. It’s easy to sit back and take shots.

The question was one I’ve asked dozens of times throughout my (checkered) career. I don’t know that I’ll ever ask it again without framing it a little more carefully, but this is how, and why, it happened:

The game had just begun when my cell phone rang. It was an old acquaintance, Jim Militello of Associated Press Radio in Washington, D.C. I’ve known Jim for nearly 30 years.

He apologized for the short notice, and asked if I could help him find someone who could feed him some interviews after the game, which he would put out on their national feed. He said he needed one comment from the Miami side, and two from Kentucky.

The pre-game show was over, so my duties with the UK radio network were done for the night. I told Jim I could help him myself.

Little did I know…

Once that magnificent game had concluded, we all trundled back to the interview room, where I set up my recorder. Ordinarily, I don’t use much at all from the opposing coach, but I needed Charlie Coles’ remarks for the AP.

Writers and broadcasters use different kinds of quotes. Writers often ask questions quite specific to situations, plays, shots, etc. Ours are better when they’re more broad-based. You let the interview subject tell the story.

That in mind, I decided to ask a question I hoped would lead him into describing how his team’s 18-point lead had painfully melted away.

Yes, I know the game was played in Rupp Arena. In fact, I prefaced my question by saying, “I know this is a tough place to play…” but somehow that never made it into print or onto the internet. I also asked, “What did Kentucky do?” Again, nothing.

About 99 percent of America thinks I simply blurted out, “How did this game get away from you?” But, as Billy Clyde used to say, “That’s okay.”

Charlie let his head sag back. He studied the ceiling. Then he slowly turned and looked at me. The rest is audio/video history.

Know this – During his oration, I never once stopped smiling. I responded to his queries. I laughed, because I thought what he said was great. As I later told my buddies who work in broadcast journalism, “I hope you guys were ‘rolling’ (meaning, that they were recording the comment). You got your sound bite!”

You should know this as well: After his news conference, Charlie Coles stepped from the podium and walked over to the side of the room, where I had been standing. By then I had moved back to the rear of the room, behind the cameras. When I saw him searching for me, I hustled over and presented myself. I didn’t want to be accused of ducking him.

Instead, Coles reached out and shook my hand, saying, “You know I was just having some fun with you.” Then, he hugged me. I told him, “Coach, I thought it was great. I’m a big fan of yours. I hope you win every game this season.”

Precious few bloggers have reported this exchange, or bothered to ask about it.

This isn’t the first encounter I’ve had with a coach that didn’t go exactly the way I thought I would. Joe B. Hall once vowed never to speak to me again – and for the rest of the news conference, he ignored my questions. It would have stayed that way, but we worked things out.

Fran Curci was so steamed at me that he told my boss at the time, Ralph Hacker, if I ever came to his practice fields again, he’d have campus police arrest me and take me away. Again, we worked things out.

During a rare one-on-one interview, Bob Knight decided he didn’t like one of my questions and, predictably, went off. Work it out? Not so much…

Charlie Coles was a gentleman. Two days later he sent word to me that he wanted me to understand he was just having fun. I completely understood.

The only regret I have is that Coles’ response to my question became the story of the game – not how incredibly well his team played in taking the mighty, mighty Wildcats to the final seconds, in their own house.

On the upside, several million people now know his name. It’s “Charlie Coles,” and he’s one heck of a coach.

He’s a pretty good sound bite, too…

(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m.ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)

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