An Interview with Rick Gosselin
“This whole business is built on who you know. My network has expanded with special teams coaches and draft rankings and games-lost-by-starters charts. I’ve never wanted to be in a position where people don’t take my call…they always take my call, partly because they know I might give them something.”
“One of the problems with the industry today is that young writers coming in want instant gratification. If they take a coach out for dinner they want something they can write about. I knew people ten years before they gave me anything to write about.”
“When Pete Rozelle was commissioner the media was almost a partner. Now they push us aside and say we don’t need you anymore – we don’t need newspapers to write about us. We’ve got NFL.com – our fans can get access that way. Little by little they push us farther away.”
Rick Gosselin: Interviewed on October 12, 2006
Position: NFL columnist, Dallas Morning News
Born: 1951, Detroit, Michigan
Education: Michigan State University, BA, 1972
Career: United Press International: Detroit 1973-1974, New York City 1975-76, Kansas City 1977-85; Kansas City Star 1986-89; Dallas Morning News 1990-
Favorite restaurant (home): Esparza’s, Grapevine TX, “Mexican – in converted funeral parlor – best Margaritas in town – that’s saying a lot for Dallas”
Favorite restaurant (road): Pascal’s Manale, New Orleans, “barbecue shrimp – always a staple – off the garden district”
Favorite hotel: Marriott Marquis, New York City, “I love Broadway – that’s right in the heart of it – NFL draft was in it in the 90s – you could walk to any Broadway theater – the Great White Way – I love the vibe of NY.”
Honors: Dick McCann Award, Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2004; Huddle Report No. 1 ranking on predicting Top 100 draftees for 2006 draft (87 of 100); Huddle Report No. 1 ranking on 2006 Mock Draft
Q. You wrote yesterday, “If I’m buying an NFL ticket this week, here’s how I spend my money?” When was the last NFL ticket you bought?
A. I have Dallas Stars season tickets so I do pay to see sports. I’ve covered the NFL for 30 years and I can’t remember the last time I sat in the stands for a game. I have my Stars season tickets and I go to an occasional baseball game.
Q. A writer is paid to go to a game. How can a writer speak as a fan?
A. I’ve tried to champion the cause of fans in my writing. I’ve criticized the NFL long and hard about all TV timeouts. In that column you cited I had a comment by Bert Bell – he said if we start valuing the TV audience more than the paying public we’ll be in trouble. I said “Sadly, that’s come to pass.” These games drone on and on because of TV timeouts. I grew up when there weren’t stoppages – they just played the game. Now there’s a bad precedent in moving the starting time to accommodate TV – one o’clock games are moved to 8 p.m – to make sure TV gets good games on Sunday night. But if you’re a fan who flew in for a one o’clock game maybe your flight out is at 8 and you can’t change it. When I go to Stars games I sit there for TV timeouts and experience what fans experience for football games.
Q. Is there a danger in relating too closely to fans? What about professional objectivity?
A. I’m of the belief that fans are what make this game great. They drive the interest and revenue made by the clubs. Fans read my stories. Everything we do – playing games or writing about games – is for the fans. The NFL has to take better care of fans. They’re now paying $30 to park in some places.
Q. What’s the difference between a professional writer and an amateur writer?
A. Access. I have access to the principals. I can talk to Jerry Jones, Tony Dungy, or a player. Because of that I like to think I have better insight than the average blogger. It’s a big thing for newspapers in general. What we hang our hat on at the Dallas Morning News is covering the Cowboys every day. We have people in that building every day. We know the owner, coaches and players and we have insights no one else has. When I go online to read about the baseball game in Oakland I go to the Detroit News because they have the insight into Jim Leyland and the players.
Q. What is your system for reading the news?
A. There’s an overload now. You can spend all day reading the Internet – I’ve taken a step back. I try to find what is pertinent – the story of the day. If it’s steroid I go to the San Francisco Chronicle. Baseball – the Detroit News; Terrell Owens – the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read the Internet from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’s so much out there I’ve become more selective – I don’t blindly read everything. I probably read less on the NFL than other sports because I have access. I can call coaches and G.M.s – I don’t have to read about it.
Q. How should a fan read about the NFL?
A. Sportspages.com is a pretty good traffic cop and can point you in the right direction. NFL.com is a good starting point in the morning – it tells you if players are hurt or benched. If somebody on the Eagles is benched I find out on NFL.com and then go to the Philadelphia Inquirer to find out why. Most teams have two or three correspondents on NFL.com. Club websites have a lot of manpower. They have access – their writers are on the other side of the wall with the club people.
Q. Are writers for club websites journalists?
A. Each club decides that. The Bengals hired Geoff Hobson, who was the best beat guy on the Bengals, and told him to cover them like the newspapers do. He does a great job aggressively pursuing signings. Other reporters are told to not step on toes – let’s just get our information out to the public. There’s no standard for team correspondents. Some just do light features.
Q. How can fans make those distinctions?
A. True fans – Cowboys fans – read everything. No matter what I write I have a 50-50 divide. People here think I’m a Cowboys hater but outside of Dallas they think I’m a homer. We have a knowledgeable fan base. A lot of our fans are into fantasy football.
Q. Do fantasy football sites have better information than newspapers?
A. I don’t play so I don’t spend a lot of time reading fantasy football sites. But if a guy isn’t sitting in a building how is he coming up with inside information. You see those fantasy football ads – “inside information” – I’m not sure how they get that stuff. I know how hard we work and if we can’t get it how can they? These guys aren’t in the building so how else can they get their stuff if not from what we’re writing.
Q. Why do people pay fantasy sites?
A. Everybody is trying to get an edge – they’ll pay if they think they’re getting an edge.
Q. What does your job entail?
A. I’m the NFL columnist. I cover the other 31 teams. We have five or six people in the Cowboys building every day. I go to a dozen training camps in the summer. I pick the best story of the week and go to that game. A lot of what I do is Cowboys driven. For instance, in training camp I talked to young Philadelphia receivers and corners about what they learned from T.O. If there’s a Cowboys hook readership will be greater. So I cover the league but it’s often related to the Cowboys or the state of Texas.
On top of that I do a lot of analytical statistics-oriented things – a lot on the NFL draft.
Q. How do you cover the NFL draft?
A. I don’t get into draft coverage until the season ends. I’ll talk to scouts and personnel people at the start of the process to get a feel for the board. Then I’ll focus on position coaches, and as we get closer I’ll talk to G.M.s and coaches and fine-tune the list. I don’t worry about mock drafts – I want to focus on position boards – the top 20 at skill positions for instance. I’ll deal with offensive coordinators, G.M.s, coaches and even friends of mine in college football. The more opinions I get give me a better feel for the player. Most people are honest with me – especially early on when you don’t have an idea of how they fit. I’m constantly fine-tuning. If it’s tight end I’ll call tight end coaches. From mid-March to mid-April I fine-tune it, to figure out what rounds they go in – then I put it together. I probably talk to over a 100 people in the NFL.
Q. How do you measure your success?
A. I do a top 100 board – I rate the top 100 players in the draft. I’m putting out there who I think will be the first second and third round guys. There’s a lot of luck in mock drafts – one trade and the dominoes fall in different directions. But there’s no luck in the top 100 – either you know or you don’t. Since 1998 I’ve had the best top 100. My 100 generally hits 80-plus on the list. The Huddle Report ranks everybody. You can look at the Huddle Report. ( http://www.thehuddlereport.com/top100/index.shtml)
Q. The Huddle Report ranked you No. 1 for the 2006 draft. Can you take that to your boss?
A. (chuckle) The Morning News likes it but there’s nothing extra in my paycheck – trust me on that.
But it’s in a lot of draft rooms on the day of the draft – I can say that. People are aware of what I do and how I do it.
I also have one of the tougher grade cards – a majority of my grades are C, and some are F. There are only six or seven great drafts in NFL history, so I’m not giving out 20 A’s. Everybody starts with a C. Generally I give out two A’s, one A plus and one A, to the two best drafts. Come January I will re-grade the draft – and I’ll put out my April grade against the January grade. I hold myself accountable – which is not done a lot in this business. I owe it to these people – it’s one of the reasons I’ve got credibility in this league.
Q. How do you build credibility?
A. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I’ve known some of these people for a long time – I knew John Fox when he was an assistant coach at Kansas in the early 80s. One reason I got this job in 1990 was that I knew the young staff at Oklahoma State headed by Jimmy Johnson. So when they hired me I walked in with ready-made sources. One of the problems with the industry today is that young writers coming in want instant gratification. If they take a coach out for dinner they want something they can write about. I knew people ten years before they gave me anything to write about. They know I’m trustworthy and they tell me things. I get a lot of inside information on drafts – information that’s credible – from relationships built up over time. If I started today covering the NFL draft I wouldn’t have that insight. I could devote 24 hours a day for the next year and I wouldn’t come close to what I know from spending three months on it.
Another thing I do is the Special Teams Report. Frank Ganz, the Chief special teams coach in the early 80s, gave me the formula. He gave me 10 categories and I’ve added over the years to where it’s 22 categories. I started doing it on a regular basis when I got to the KC Star in 1986. Most special teams coaches will call me after they’ve been eliminated – it comes out the week after the Super Bowl. It takes a lot of cross checking – we run it on the Sunday of the Pro Bowl – then after that I’m on to the draft. After May 1 I take some time off.
People give me information because I give them back – they benefit from things I have. Most reporters want something – they want information – but when coaches call me I can give them special teams rankings and they can benefit from that. If you’re a personnel director and you want to draft a running back you can call me and ask how I have my running backs stacked. You know I’ve been talking to a lot of people. You’re getting a feel for what other people think.
The week after the regular season I do a chart on ‘games lost by starters due to injury’. I go through each play-by-play chart and figure out which starters were missing and when and how many were based on injury. Now I’m getting calls from trainers. They can take my chart to the club and say “Look, we’ve got one of the healthiest teams in football.” That benefits trainers and strength coaches.
Q. What does it get you?
A. Access. I can e-mail a trainer. I was doing a story on pads and I e-mailed a trainer, and boom, he sent something back. Most clubs won’t let you talk to trainers. But I have access because I have given them something in the past.
This whole business is built on who you know. My network has expanded with special teams coaches and draft rankings and games-lost-by-starters charts. I’ve never wanted to be in a position where people don’t take my call. I don’t call on a weekly basis – I call coaches two or three times a season. They always take my call, partly because they know I might give them something. I chart officiating – penalties called by what crews. I give that to coaches if they ask. So I take but I also give.
Q. How’s the access for media covering the NFL?
A. It’s said. When I covered the Chiefs in the late 1980s – a one-paper town – I had complete run of the building. That was before the NFL declared media the enemy. I could walk wherever I wanted. I remember in 1989 sitting in a room watching the game tape with Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher. Now you can’t even talk to assistant coaches with most teams. One GM said to me “How did this happen?” All of a sudden the idea was to close the media out. The network I built was built on assistant coaches. If I was writing a story on a wide receiver I could go to the wide receiver coach and say “this is what I have” and he could say “you’re off base”. We no longer have that access, which is why some stuff gets into print that’s wrong – there’s no check and balance system. You can’t run it by coaches because they’re denying you access. I learned everything from assistant coaches. They always had time for me – now there is no time.
Q. Why has access been reduced?
A. They don’t need us. Look at the TV numbers. Every seat was sold the first five weeks of the season. They’re getting record ratings. They’ve got NFL.com and NFL network – they’re creating their own media. When Pete Rozelle was commissioner the media was almost a partner. Now they push us aside and say we don’t need you anymore – we don’t need newspapers to write about us. We’ve got NFL.com – our fans can get access that way. Little by little they push us farther away. The pressbox used to be at midfield on the mezzanine level – now it’s at the corner of the stadium or at the top. Luxury boxes have the good positions. It’s tough for guys like me who became a reporter trying to cover the league one way and now you can’t get players or coaches. Lots of times you only get the head coach in a press conference forum. I don’t know if I could have become the NFL writer I became under these ground rules.
How do you develop sources? I always felt developing as head coach or a GM as a source was a waste of time. I got to know the guys coming up and they knew me when they moved on to the NFL. It’s not an instant gratification business. If you want to be good at it you have to invest the time.
Q. How would you describe your writing style?
A. Writers can educate or they can entertain. I’m heavier on the education side. When someone reads a story of mine I want them to say “I didn’t know that”. I do my own research – I’m not part of a notes network.
Dave Smith, who hired me at the Morning News, gave me one of the best bits of advice about quotes. He would say, “You can write it better than they can say it – don’t become hostage to quotes in stories”.
Another thing Smith told me – the backbone of any good newspaper is beat coverage. That was one of the reasons he hired me. I always admired the grinders – so did Dave. You need a strong Cowboys presence in this city. He made sure we had one.
(SMG thanks Rick Gosselin for his cooperation)
Giants use bye to reinvent wheels
12:24 AM CDT on Monday, October 9, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Giants spent September building an identity as a passing team – and losing their identity as a playoff contender.
The defending NFC East champions ranked second in the NFL in passing through the first month of the season but were 1-2 in the standings.
Their bye came in the first week of October, and it gave the Giants two weeks to relocate their true identity. So guess who’s back running the football?
“That’s who we are,” Giants left offensive tackle Luke Petitgout said. “That’s what we do.”
Instead of trying to ride the arm of Eli Manning, the Giants rode the legs of Pro Bowl halfback Tiki Barber to a 19-3 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
Barber turned in his best game of the season – 23 carries for 123 yards. It also was the first 100-yard rushing effort allowed by the Redskins in 12 games dating to November, when LaDainian Tomlinson lit them up for 184 yards.
Rick Gosselin on the NFL
More importantly, the ability of Barber to gouge the Redskins allowed the Giants to control the ball and keep the clock running. During one stretch at the close of the first half and the start of the second, the Giants snapped the ball on 28 consecutive downs.
New York spent almost 35 minutes on offense, which kept the vaunted Washington offense off the field. The Redskins entered the game with the NFL’s third-rated offense but managed only 10 first downs and 164 yards in 25 minutes.
To succeed against the Redskins, the Giants knew exactly where to run – at the right side of the Washington defensive line manned by undersized end Andre Carter.
The Redskins gave Carter a seven-year, $32.5 million contract in free agency this off-season, including $10 million in bonuses, to rush the passer. But the Giants seemed intent on making him tackle – and he didn’t.
Barber swept left end on the first two plays of the game for 13 total yards and didn’t stop attacking Carter the entire day. Barber gashed the right side of the Washington defense for runs of 18, 13 and 10 yards.
The Giants called 17 running plays at the right side of the Washington line, and Barber gained 102 of his yards. Carter did not make a single tackle in the game.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” said Petitgout, smothering a smirk. “We just ran the play that’s called. Mum’s the word. It’s a long season.”
Bush finally breaks out
Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 for the electricity he brought to college stadiums.
Bush was instant offense for Southern California, which is why the New Orleans Saints grabbed him with the second overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft. He averaged 7.3 yards per rush for the Trojans, 13.6 yards per catch and 12.7 yards per punt return.
Bush was compared to Gale Sayers for his offensive versatility and big-play ability. He averaged a touchdown every 15 touches in his college career and spewed out 93 plays of 20 yards or more.
But the Saints had not seen that electricity in NFL stadiums through the first month of Bush’s career. He managed only two plays of 20-plus yards in his first four games and both were receptions – a 23-yarder against Green Bay in September and a 32-yarder against Carolina in October.
Bush did not score a touchdown in his first 99 touches in the NFL. But touch No. 100 was a doozy. It was what the Saints – and all of New Orleans – had been waiting for.
Bush electrified a sellout home crowd with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in the waning minutes Sunday, propelling the Saints to a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That gave the surprising Saints sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 4-1 record.
The Saints didn’t need Bush to be the focal point of the offense. Deuce McAllister is a veteran Pro Bowler still in his prime. He turned in his first 100-yard rushing game of the season Sunday, pinning 123 yards on the Buccaneers.
Having McAllister gave the Saints the luxury of spotting Bush – like Southern California did with LenDale White.
And Bush has been productive in that capacity. He leads the Saints with 34 catches, including a career-best 11 on Sunday. He also ranks second to McAllister with 170 rushing yards and has been the primary punt returner.
The only thing Bush hadn’t done in his brief NFL career was score a touchdown. Until Sunday.
IN THE HUDDLE
Observations from Week 5:
•Rookie quarterbacks are 0-3 in their NFL starting debuts this season with Arizona’s Matt Leinart and Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski both losing Sunday. They join Week 4 loser Vince Young of Tennessee. Rookie quarterbacks have lost 11 consecutive starting debuts, including those by No. 1 overall picks Alex Smith in 2005 and Eli Manning in 2004. You have to go all the way back to November 2004 to find a rookie quarterback who won his NFL starting debut. Incredibly, it was Drew Henson of the Cowboys – and he was yanked at halftime of that start.
•The Kansas City Chiefs are in second place of the AFC West with a 2-2 record. But they’d be leading the NFC West at 2-0 with victories the last two weeks over San Francisco and Arizona.
•Speaking of the Chiefs, Larry Johnson saw his streak of 100-yard games come to an end Sunday at Arizona, sort of. For the first time in three games he failed to rush for 100 yards – but he did post his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
•Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans with 66 seconds left spoiled Chicago’s shutout bid in a 40-7 victory. It also was the first touchdown pass allowed by the Bears this season.
•The Tennessee defense failed to post a sack for the second consecutive week and the third time in four weeks. The Titans have only seven sacks all season – and the inside push is gone with the suspension of tackle Albert Haynesworth.
•Terrell Owens failed to win his homecoming game Sunday against the Eagles, but LaVar Arrington succeeded up the road in New York. Playing against Washington for the first time in his seven-year career, Arrington made one tackle and broke up a pass in the Giants’ 19-3 victory over the Redskins. “We needed to get back on track no matter who we were playing,” Arrington said.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Third missed FG
Neil Rackers was automatic as automatic can be in 2005 when he kicked an NFL-record 40 field goals in 42 attempts for the Arizona Cardinals. But through five games this season he has more misses than he did in all of 2005 – three. He missed two in the second game against Seattle and a third Sunday against Kansas City. All three misses came from beyond 50 yards. Rackers pushed a 51-yarder wide right in the closing seconds that would have sent the game against the Chiefs into overtime.