Can we be thankful for Mark Pope for a moment? Listen to this:
I teach rhetoric in college, and one of the hardest things to get my students to do is to understand their audience on a deep level. Everyone wants to say their thing their way, showcase their brilliance, and I totally get that. But if you're really going to be great at this stuff, you have to get your people down to the core.
Pope gets BYU. Maybe he gets every fanbase, I don't know, but he gets BYU for real. Check out this answer from his interview Monday:
Q: How does BYU measure success from playing in the Atlantis tournament?
Pope: The politically correct way, and true way, to answer that question is, we’re so excited to be here to learn more about who we are. We’re going to get an unbelievable opportunity to play some of the most elite programs in all of college basketball right now and give ourselves a gauge of where we are and how we need to get better. The answer from our heart is, we’d like to come win all the games. That’s why we’re here. We’d like to win these games. We’re going to have to play really, really, really well to do it. The only game that matters, of course, is the game tomorrow against USC. That’s our hope and ambition — try to win that game tomorrow.
This is just about perfect. BYU fans know we're not winning the NCAAs this year (or maybe any year, though we don't rule it out). We know we're not really going to challenge the top programs, and that playing good competition helps the team gel and become as good as it can be--even if we lose.
But we don't wanna lose. We want to win. More, we have a complex about winning, and when we don't do it the world ends. Most coaches push against this. They talk about the process, about doing our job and not worrying about the score, etc. This goes back at least to John Wooden, but maybe farther, and everyone takes their lead from the Godfather of Basketball--do the little things right and the big things take care of themselves. No way am I going to say that they shouldn't--when I coach I say the same things.
Talking to the team, though, and talking to the fans are two different things. Two COMPLETELY different things. Kalani Sitake, bless his posterity forever, does not understand this (I use this as an example; there are lots of coaches with the same problem). Telling the team to put it behind them and move forward and concentrate on the things in their control and trust the process and love one another and all that is fine. That's what Nick Saban is saying in private, too...or at least that's what people say he's saying, though I have trouble believing it. I'm sure Mark Pope is saying similar things in the locker room as well.
The fans, though, they don't want that. And we don't need it, either. It probably would be good for us to keep an even keel, not get so wrapped up in what is just a game, but that's what our real lives are for. We do sports because it gives us a place where we don't HAVE to do that. Where we can be euphoric about Puka Nacua's foot being in molecular contact with the turf for a tenth of a second. Imagine being that happy or sad about someone getting a couple of slides done for a presentation on Tuesday afternoon. We'd go mad. It's exhausting. But for a few hours on a weekend we can let the game be life and death. We don't want to be told to calm down and trust the process.
We want blood. And we want a coach that wants blood.
Maybe Sitake does. I know the man a little, and he's a pretty competitive dude. But he doesn't talk like it. He talks, after a very bad loss to a reasonably meh team, calmly and rationally. He talks about film. He talks about culture. He talks about assignments. And as fans, we want him to say, "Heck with that. We were crap and heads are going to roll. We could have played just as well with eleven random guys we found at the WalMart this morning. I'm pissed off and you can bet things are going to change." That's how we're feeling. We want a coach to feel that with us--and to TELL US he's feeling that.
Pope does. He knows it will be tough for BYU to win more than one of our three games this week, but he doesn't try to tamp down expectations. Yeah, he mentions the process and learning who we are and the experience--all of which is true--and then he says "But we want to win. That's why we play. We want to win the game." As a fan, I can't ask for much more.
So this year--like the last few years--I'm grateful for Mark Pope, for a coach that knows how to make me, as a fan, feel like I have the big man in the trenches with me. Win or lose.