In 2013, I got yelled at by Charlie Weis.
I was 22 years old and covering Texas Tech football for RedRaiderSports.com, and I despite having interviewed dozens of athletes and coaches before, I didn’t have a great deal of experience in post-game interviewing.
I had even less experience interviewing Power-5 football coaches after a loss.
In postgame press conferences (or “pressers”), there’s a certain cadence to the media questioning. The head coach usually gives a general statement about the game before the sports information director (SID) opens up the floor for questioning.
Then the esteemed beat writers usually get first dibs on asking questions, followed by local TV reporters and then student newspaper reporters or writers and interns for online publications – generally whoever is most assertive. Any five-second window of silence and the SID will assume questioning is done and end the questioning.
At about two seconds of silence, I asked the question I had been holding onto, one I thought was adequate enough but quickly realized was insanely stupid.
For context, Texas Tech just throttled Kansas 54-16. The Jayhawks blew a 10-0 first-quarter lead en route to an embarrassing conference loss.
“Coach, do you blame the defense more or the offense for that collapse after y’all had the early two-score lead?”
Coach Weis fired back at me, explaining how coaches don’t “blame” offenses or defenses and that it was basically a stupid, ignorant question. He was right.
I learned a lot that day, primarily not to ask coaches to turn on their players – which was essentially what I was doing without knowing it. What good would it do a coach to talk trash about half of his team after the game and say it’s their fault they lost?
Of course, during the moment, I was just trying to find out what he thought went wrong after the lead and that’s a totally fair question to ask. But phrasing is so important in interviews, especially with coaches who are emotional after a tough loss.
A better way to phrase the question would’ve been something like:
- “Coach, you guys dominated that first quarter but struggled to carry that momentum into the second…what did you see that kind of shifted how the game was going?”
Here’s why this kind of phrasing accomplishes the same goal of my original question without sounding offensive to the coach:
- It opens with a compliment. It’s tough to be positive when a team gets blown out, but you can still find ways to not sound like a jerk from start to finish in your questioning. Even though he knows his team wasn’t actually dominant in the end, you’re at least giving him credit for having a successful game plan for part of the contest.
- There’s a bit of sugarcoating. Instead of saying, “y’all were completely ineffective in the last three quarters and got the breaks beaten out of you, what happened?”, you’re using gentler words like “struggled,” which is a nicer way of saying you got your ass kicked. Again, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not Stewart Mandel or Andy Staples, so you’re not in a position to be making enemies with coaches in the name of journalism. You want coaches to be open to answering questions from you in the future, too, and maybe even grant you a 1-on-1 interview.
- It uses one of my go-to phrases. “What did you see…?” This is a question that has worked wonders for me for many years. Why? It establishes the interviewee as the expert. It’s open-ended, so they can’t respond with “yes” or “no.” It’s simple and easy to understand, not trying to get too smart or too cute in your questioning. It’s a blank canvas for the coach to talk about what he literally saw, and forces him to elaborate and be descriptive
- It sounds vague, but it’s actually specific. “…shifted how the game was going” is another nice way of saying “you guys became immediately trash at football.” There’s no need for me to point out the obvious. He knows what happened. He doesn’t need me to be specific. Talking about a “shift in momentum” implies the obvious without being a d**k.
I hope the anecdote of my lazy, insensitive questioning conveys the tenuous nature of postgame interviews. Aspiring sports journalists should master the art of the interview if they want to be successful, and this guide will help you know what to say and how to ask questions with confidence in the dynamic aftermath of a contest.
How to conduct postgame interviews in three easy steps
1. Be prepared
It may be daunting to start forming questions for a postgame interview while you’re simultaneously trying to write the story and keep stats, but that’s the life of a journalist in 2022. You have to be able to multi-task and work quickly to meet deadlines.
If you’re too focused on getting your work done and not formulating questions for the postgame interview, you might freeze when it’s time to start talking to the coach or players. Some people are great at thinking of questions on the spot. I’m not one of them, so I always make sure to think of at least three questions I can ask before heading down to the field/court. With those three questions to fall back on, you can focus on what the interviewee is saying and ask any follow-ups that might add to the story, which brings us to No. 2.
2. Listen intently
It’s important to listen when the coaches and players are talking because they may say something you weren’t expecting that’s compelling and worthy of a follow-up.
Even though I’ve prepared at least three questions before heading to the postgame interviews, some of my best questions yielding the most intriguing responses have stemmed from simply following up on something the coach said.
3. Research the teams before the game
This sounds obvious, but if you’re not a beat reporter and you cover 40-50 teams in one season, it can be easy to just show up at the game, write about what happens, ask a few generic questions and leave. This doesn’t produce overly compelling answers in postgame interviews.
I’m going to share an actual postgame interview I conducted in week one of this high school football season to convey the connection between familiarity with a team and the quality of the responses:
Here are some takeaways from what I did right in this interview:
- Started with a compliment. Congratulating a coach on the win is not biases, it’s common courtesy and starts the interview off on a positive note.
- The first question in the immediate aftermath of the game was about the coach’s general thoughts of the game. There’s no need to start with specifics. Let him talk about what he wants to talk about, that usually produces good content.
- The second question showed the coach that I did my research on the team, and it tied that research into the game that just finished. This increases the coach’s respect for you and helps shape your game recap. I already knew I was going to write about the team’s slow start, so it was good to have an answer that directly addressed it.
- The third question highlighted a specific player. Not only does this provide a good quote for the story, it also gives the coach a chance to recognize the hard work and talent of one of his players, which every coach loves doing.
- The fourth question again conveyed my prior knowledge of the team and aided in developing the angle I was going for. This was the first game of the season and the first look at the team’s new quarterback. It was almost compulsory to ask about the QB play and I also used my favorite phrase, “what did you see?”
- The fifth question wasn’t prepared, but came from listening to his previous answers. I noticed while he acknowledged the team’s slow start with the first couple of questions, he never really mentioned what changed and how the team improved throughout the game. I wanted to get that answer, so instead of ending the interview, I asked one final question.
- The interview was roughly two minutes. In high school sports, coaches don’t have all day to sit around answering questions – they need to get back to talk with their teams in the locker room – and if you’re writing on a deadline, you need to get back up to the press box and finish your story. That’s why your postgame interview shouldn’t last more than two minutes, if you can help it.
- You can’t hear it, but I shook his hand and thanked him for his time. This isn’t professional sports, so coaches don’t get fined for skipping interviews. They owe you nothing. Make sure you express gratitude for doing the interview before you leave. My go-to is, “Thank you so much for your time, best of luck this season.”
It wasn’t a perfect interview by any stretch, but it was good enough to adequately supplement my story and not make any enemies. Don’t pressure yourself to be perfect. Sometimes you’ll fumble your words, you may even get nervous. It’s OK. Do your best, smile, and express gratitude and it’ll turn out just fine.
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