I am not a Forde fan, and never have been. His tacit admission that he was frequently hard on UK because he felt like he had to be reminded me of the major issue with Jerry Tipton’s reporting. Beat reporters at newspapers usually want to be seen as not being homers, and I totally get and support that.
But I think that at the same time, the cognitive dissonance created by their desire to look independent and the pressure to write favorably about the object of their reporting results in questionable decisions, and pushes them to insert negative observations into otherwise positive stories to give them "balance." Balance isn’t achieved that way, it is achieved by being honest with your readers first and worrying about how it will look to your peers somewhere down the line, preferably way down. That’s hard to do, and reporters often fail. There’s no shame in that — it’s called "being human" — but too often I think reporters wind up valuing the wrong things.
Then there was this:
What’s your take on John Calipari?
Cal has kind of cornered the market in modern college basketball, what it is and how to succeed at it. He’s the best recruiter since, like, John Wooden. I’m not a huge fan of how he does things sometimes, but you’ve got to recognize his success and give him credit for it. And I think he’s an underrated coach.
From when I started covering him in 1990, he has things in perspective now. Then, he was just so driven that that was all that mattered. Now he just seems much more appreciative, well-rounded. I’ve always liked covering him because I think he’s an interesting guy, very smart. He knows what the media wants and I think he’s still doing fantastic work.
It’s pretty obvious from the above that Forde was dissimulating when discussing both men. It’s much more obvious from his writing that he genuinely dislikes Calipari and likes Pitino, and I think the tension between the two men is a major contributor to that. It is my opinion, regardless of his comments to Himmelsbach, that he is such a huge fan of Pitino that he resents anyone who stands in Pitino’s way, and Calipari most assuredly does. Pitino’s record of on-the-court success against Calipari continues to diminish year by year, and in my personal opinion, that is a major driver of Forde’s dislike of Coach Cal.
Let me just say that there is nothing wrong with Forde holding an opinion of both men and writing about it with that bias firmly front and center — he is a columnist, not a beat reporter. He doesn’t have to be unbiased or even fair in his commentary, and heaven knows he isn’t. It is also likely that he has other reasons to dislike Coach Cal, but I think the relationship between he and Pitino drive most, if not all, of his critical comments on Calipari. I would have appreciated it if he’d been a bit more honest about the issue, though, rather than soft-pedaling it. At the same time, being too frank would have probably have made him come off as nasty, so in all honesty I doubt I should have expected more.
I also don’t want this to be seen as critical of Forde’s talent — he is a talented writer and does some very good work, particularly when he isn’t talking about Coach Cal or Rick Pitino. When he stays away from his former state, his stuff is usually quite interesting and is almost always well-written. It’s pretty unfair for us to criticize everything he writes due to his obvious discordant feelings about Calipari and Pitino, and everything he does shouldn’t be seen through that lens.
Many, and perhaps most of the Big Blue Nation hold a generally negative view of Forde mainly because he is incapable of fairly dealing with either Calipari or Pitino, favoring the latter and disliking the former. Even if Louisville were not coached by Pitino, most of us would take issue with a national columnist who favored whoever the Louisville coach was over the Kentucky coach — that’s just how fandom goes. That Pitino was the former UK coach just makes it worse. I promise you if the situation were reversed, it would be Louisville fans who took issue with Forde.
I also resented this, but not because it’s wrong:
Kentucky fans can be the best and the worst in the country. They’re the most passionate, but also they take things to the extreme sometimes and that doesn’t reflect well on them.
Forde’s right, but once again, we see a bit of dissimulation. He’s really saying "UK fans suck" and uses weasel-words to avoid looking unprofessional. The truth of the matter is, human beings struggle to be fair to those who they think hate them — it’s human nature to "hate back," and reporters are human, too. It is also a truism that fans of many schools are passionate and take things to the extreme — there are no end of examples, and the perfect clarity of this careful disrespect comes from his comparison of Kentucky-Louisville to Alabama-Auburn — a totally apt comparison. While there is similarity, for sure, there is little doubt that Alabama-Auburn is more intense. Neither Louisville fans nor Kentucky fans try to destroy the objects of each other’s tradition. Louisville-Kentucky is mostly a cold loathing, while Auburn-Alabama flames with the heat of a thousand suns.
There are some interesting anecdotes in the column, which make it worth the read. I loved the recollection of a confrontation between Forde and the mercurial Bob Knight. I also thought his comments about John Pelphrey were interesting and would have like to have heard more about that. So just because I have taken issue with the column, mainly pointing out validations of things that have been discussed many times here and elsewhere, you should read the whole thing.