The SportsNewser Interview: Frank Deford

By Marcus Vanderberg Comment

Tuesday night on HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, corespondent and legendary sports writer Frank Deford profiles University of Connecticut women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma.

Auriemma has developed quite the reputation over the years as being a fiery coach. Deford hopes his feature on the Huskies coach will show that there’s more to Auriemma than meets the naked eye.

Deford chatted with SportsNewser the weekend on his role at HBO and his outspoken comments on the now infamous trick play at Driscoll Middle School.

SportsNewser: What can people expect from your report on Geno Auriemma?

Frank Deford: I think it’s a look at Auriemma. I think most people see him, as they do so many coaches, when he’s on the court. He looks like a very frenetic fellow then. What we have tried to point out is there’s many more layers to Geno Auriemma than what you see on the court. If you think about it, it would be hard for him to continue to get players, especially young women, if he were some nutcase. In fact, the players like him a great deal and find him to be almost an uncle type figure.

How much time did you spend with Auriemma?

We spent one day together doing an interview and then I spent a day with him up in Storrs. We spent a couple of days … a good long time. I have met him before because I did an article about him when Diana Taurasi was playing for him. I did an article in Sports Illustrated. I think I know Geno pretty well.

How does the process at Real Sports work in terms of story ideas?

It comes both ways. The stories that are most unfamiliar, the ones that seem to come out of the blue about people that aren’t well known, usually come from producers that have really done a lot of homework and looked around. Other stories come from the correspondents. For example, I was the one that suggested we do the Geno Auriemma story because as I said, I knew him and I knew how fascinating he is and how well he talks. He’s a really interesting guy and he’s very candid unlike a lot of coaches that keep everything close to the vest. Geno is not afraid to speak.

How does television compare to writing?

Well, it’s the obvious. I mean television is so visual and writing, you can be so much more subtle. People often lump radio and television together because they are both broadcast mediums. But radio anyway and the radio I do for NPR is much closer to writing than it is to television. Television is just dominated by the visual. You will always have to remember that. But I think Real Sports gives us a chance to at least delve into people’s personalities better than most television shows does. It’s the closest thing on television that you can get to print.

Out of the three mediums (radio, television, print), do you have a preference as your favorite?

I’m a writer. I’m moonlighting on television. I never made any pretensions to that. As much as I like being on Real Sports, I have been a writer since I was a little boy and that’s still my first love.

Why were you so passionate regarding the trick play at Driscoll Middle School?

Very simply, it was an adult outsmarting children. I don’t think you should get any credit for that. If that had been something that one of the kids dreamed up, great. I made a point of saying that if Derek Jeter can fool the umpire, fine. We’re all grownups and that’s part of the game. But when an adult, as was the case with that coach, sets out to fool children … not only that, but participates in it. If you remember, the scam begins with the quarterback talking to the coach on the sideline. The coach actually inserts himself in the process. I just find that bullying in a way. It’s picking on children and I don’t think a coach should get any credit for outsmarting kids. Hell, I can do that. Anybody can do that. Anybody can take a bottle from a baby. That’s essentially what he did.

We are coming up on the 20th anniversary of when The National folded. As the former editor in chief, why do you think it failed?

I know exactly why it failed. It failed because we couldn’t deliver it. It costs a lot of money to deliver newsprint. It’s so much easier to do it through the air, Internet, radio, television. The second easiest thing is to do it through the mail. But when you have to take something heavy and put it on someone’s doorstep, that costs a lot of money. In places in the world where these newspapers have been successful, most people get their newsprint from mass transportation depots. They will go to a kiosk at the subway, the train station or the bus station. Americans demand that their papers be delivered to them at their door. That’s a much more expensive process. The second part of that is we are four time zones. I’m talking to you and you’re three hours different from me right now. When it comes to sports, so much of sports takes place late at night. People say they want the scores. If I’m going to get a sports newspaper, I want the scores. I don’t blame them for saying that. That made it even that much more expensive to deliver the paper. We had to do it by our own services if we wanted to get the late scores. It was a combination of the size of the country and the simple delivery. Everything else was fine. We had a terrific product. [Laughs] I’m sorry you were too young to notice. Nobody ever complained about the product.