"I smell a rat," said Angelo Coaching Clinic co-founder Mike Martin when asked by the Austin American-Statesman about the perceived hit piece ($) written recently by ESPN's Travis Haney about Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong's late-June appearance at the clinic that has sent the Longhorn interwebs aflame.
Strong words from Martin, who said that he's "never felt compelled to explain anyone's actions at the event."
Until now, that is.
In sum, the issues that Martin and the other founders of the Angelo Coaching Clinic have had with Haney are numerous and now widespread as multiple outlets have turned to the group for clarification.
But starting back at the beginning, there were several accusations leveled by Haney at Strong in the piece, including the following passage:
Beyond that genuine close, Strong seemed to miss his target audience. What's worse, I was later told that Strong irritated the clinic's leadership -- including former NFL coach Wade Phillips, whose family is coaching royalty in the state -- by bolting just after his allotted time.
Whether he felt socially uncomfortable or did not care to hang around, it was seen as a slight by those running the show and those who had traveled to the West Texas town.
"He obviously didn't want to be here," one coach told me. "If he did, he sure as hell didn't show it."
As the article by Jeff Howe at 247Sports pointed out, Strong originally had to decline the late invitation to attend because of a previous commitment. However, intent on showing up at what is definitely considered an important clinic for a new college coach to make an impression on the high school coaches in the state, he was able to re-arrange his schedule enough to attend.
And after he did give his speech, he wasn't out as quickly as possible, said co-founder John Paul Young:
"Again, he had other commitments so he was in and out, but it wasn't real fast," Young said. "He talked to us in the green room and then talked with people in the exhibit area. I didn't feel like he was rushing to get out of there. He had a schedule and had things to do but he left a good impression on us."
Notable about the accusations by Haney is that it seems that he didn't actually ask the clinic's leadership for their opinion, instead asking a head coach there. Bit odd, that.
It was also the case that the ESPN writer wasn't even supposed to be in the room when the clinic happened, according to Young:
"He violated our rules," Young said of Haney. "No one can be in the lecture hall that doesn't have a badge. Reporters are actually not invited to sit in on lectures. Why does someone come in and have an agenda like he did? Why did he sneak in?"
The final two questions are certainly similar to what many Texas fans have been wondering, at least in regards to the latter. With the information coming to light that Haney wasn't supposed to have witnessed the speech, the first question was certainly compounded.
Part of the criticism from Haney's perspective was the content of the speech. As Young explained to Orangebloods, he didn't have an issue with that, either:
"He explained things, like they're putting the T back in Texas, that kind of stuff. Normally we tell them we don't want philosophy, we want nuts and bolts. But because he's a new coach, and we invite all the new coaches, I can tell you from the view of every one of the five directors, Charlie did a good job. Our coaches that come to the Angelo football clinic were impressed with him. Maybe somebody that doesn't like the University of Texas maybe some sportswriter that came to that didn't like it, but Charlie did a good job."
All of the anonymous quotes that understandably weren't attributed because of their content raise further questions about what the coaches hoped to achieve by making them public. What type of questions did Haney ask them? Were they leading questions to fill out a story that he had already composed in his head? Or where the coaches genuinely upset about the speech and wanting to talk about it?
How many coaches where there that didn't have a problem with the speech that Haney talked to? Zero? One? Five? There was never any attempt to provide a different perspective in the original post, one of its significant flaws -- by failing to attempt to provide any more balanced commentary, Haney opened himself up to criticism from Texas fans and hasn't exactly responded with any apologies.
In fact, on Thursday Haney finally reacted to the multiple pieces that have torn apart his original work by standing with his characterization of the event:
Nothing has changed. RT @ml_wally: @TravHaneyESPN is this still how you saw and heard it? http://t.co/Mt8BjpG0xb http://t.co/CHkN3BCXgZ— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) July 3, 2014
Shortly after the publication of the original piece, he had shot down accusations that his work was somehow personal:
If only Texas folks knew how much I like Charlie, UT and Austin. This was calling it like I saw and heard it, guys and gals. Not personal.— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) June 25, 2014
Given some of the rhetoric employed in the piece, such as calling the speech "rehearsed and cliche-ridden" helps explain why Texas fans didn't get much of a sense of Haney's appreciation for Strong.
Tweets like this after the fact probably didn't help either:
Texas fans, go to sleep tonight and know that you are loved. pic.twitter.com/7RqLNCqLzY— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) June 26, 2014
Of course, after the Thayer Evans Experience, Texas fans are probably a little bit more sensitive than most fanbases after the infamous Jamarkus McFarland article and the Oklahoma ties of Haney (he covered the Sooners for the Oklahoman) provide all the necessary fuel a conspiracy theorist might need.
While the true impetus behind what spurred the story from Haney and what compelled the incredible negativity of the anonymous coaches that he quotes remains a mystery, it's now crystal clear that the story was built on a shaky foundation and never should have come to pass in the first place since Haney shouldn't have been in the room for the speech anyway.