On Monday, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian stepped to the podium to discuss what went wrong on Saturday when his team lost to Kansas and how he planned to end the five-game losing streak they were on. He likely expected to be inundated with probing questions about his decision-making and the morale of his players.
However, he was greeted by one question that stood out from the rest, not just in content but in sheer length. The question, which was more of a rambling story full of praise for the coach and his staff, came courtesy of Horns Illustrated’s Terry Middleton.
— Chris Sadeghi (@chrissadeghi) November 15, 2021
“Coach, couple years ago, one of my good friends and I were faced with a massive problem we couldn’t solve,” started Middleton. “In his wisdom, he said, you know, at this point we need to stop and ask ourselves, what would an extraordinary person do in this situation? This resonated with me the whole weekend. I realized that, of all the coaches who could be standing at that podium right now in those shoes, you are that extraordinary person. And you have a team of what I call coaching juggernauts. This is not only my opinion, this is a fact. I don’t think anyone could dispute this.
“So my question is, we write the Sarkisian Era story. We’re not even done with the first chapter yet. Can you unfold some of the onion of what are you working on, how are you solving this problem? I realize that you might not even know. But, you know, I’m gonna steal from Julian Edelman, ‘it’s gonna be one hell of a story.’”
On Thursday, Dan Solomon at Texas Monthly posted an interview with Middleton to let him tell his side of the story. And as Middleton sees it, he was simply trying to be nice.
“I was trying to convey to him that I recognize who you are not only as a coach and your credentials and his staff’s connections,” said Middleton. “You know this. I feel blessed to even be sitting in that room to be afforded to ask the question. And in the media, there’s disrespect. So my goal was to shine a light and recognize him and the entire team and what they were doing, and then ask a direct question and say, “What are you doing to fix this?” and to let him have a chance to express it because I knew that he was probably going to get eviscerated.”
Middleton says that he is aware of the reaction he’s received for the question (“It’s like reading Mean Tweets on Jimmy Kimmel”) and he’ll consider some ways to avoid going so long in the future (“I had other objectives, but yes, the next time I will be shorter”). He also spoke at length about how he wanted his role to be a positive one because he has “ultimate respect for [Sark] and his players, for the team, for the University of Texas.”
Therein lies a bit of the problem, however. Middleton talks at length about how he sees his site, Horns Illustrated, as a place for “lifting that player up or that coach.” It’s a place to be a Texas Longhorns supporter, first and foremost. And there’s nothing wrong with that on its own. But when you enter the press conference with a bias to support the people you are covering at the expense of objectivity, you’re pushing up against the journalistic code that is expected of the people there. The point is not to tell the person you are interviewing how great they are, the point is to let them try to tell you.
It’s also worth noting that Middletown tweeted his intentions to ask this particular question beforehand, and included a quote about criticism, implying that he understood what would happen if he went through with it.
Working on my question for tomorrow's press conference with Texas Longhorns football head coach @CoachSark
You simply won't believe what I ask him. I pray I get the chance to ask a question. It is not a guarantee.
— Horns Illustrated (@HornsIllus) November 15, 2021
“I was making a statement that this question is going to be positive and I’m going to try to balance out the negative,” Middleton told Texas Monthly. “I feel honored and very blessed that he called on me—and I got to be called on first, which doesn’t happen a lot—so I was making a statement that I was going to be positive, instead of negative.”
Saying that the nature of most questions that Sarkisian was getting were “negative” is something that Middleton brings up a lot. The implication is that other reporters are purposefully being negative when, in reality, the situation is what’s negative and they’re just asking appropriate questions of the person in charge. The Longhorns are in the midst of a losing streak in a disappointing season. It’s fair for the conversation to involve “negative” things but that doesn’t mean the people asking those questions are purposefully trying to be negative. So it’s not really the responsibility of anyone to try to add positivity to the situation, and that’s what doesn’t sit well with a lot of other journalists.
This frustrates me more than the question. He *did* know it would get a reaction. He tweeted beforehand that people “won’t believe what I ask” and then promoted it afterward. This was self aggrandizing b.s. and now he’s acting like people doing their job are too negative. https://t.co/GHHr7DMN4X pic.twitter.com/xpVC3jR4bB
— ??️♈️? (@ADavidHaleJoint) November 19, 2021
It’ll be interesting to see if Sark calls on Middleton again and, if so, what kind of question he comes with. The folks at UT Athletics likely love having him in the room, knowing that he’s going to keep things “positive” even if they lose. Perhaps even more so if they lose. And he’s certainly free to ask more questions that revolve around how great Sark and his assistant coaches are, but that’s not likely to sit any better with his colleagues than it did the first time.
And we don’t think anyone could dispute this.