This is my Tuesday column on Mark Jackson: WARNING: This is a Warriors column. 49ers fans, feel free to skip this.
OAKLAND – Out of nowhere, Mark Jackson started to act like a desperate head coach on Monday night.
Before the Warriors played the Philadelphia 76ers, Mark Jackson informed the media that his starting center, Andrew Bogut, would miss his third game in a row with a shoulder injury. A reporter asked Jackson how Bogut got hurt.
Jackson said, “As far as I know, it was not on the court. It wasn’t in practice. It wasn’t in a game. I’m not really sure. It may have been sleeping (Jackson shrugged his shoulders), and I say that in all seriousness (Jackson shook his head). But it’s important for us to make sure we continue to treat him. It’s legitimate. And then let’s be smart with it.”
Jackson admitted he wasn’t sure how Bogut injured his shoulder, so why did Jackson guess? And why would he have to say the injury was legitimate? Was there a question about its legitimacy? And why would Jackson raise the sleeping issue or that Bogut might be brittle or unlucky? Why even go there? Is that a coaching tactic?
A confident coach doesn’t talk like that. A confident coach knows the story and controls the narrative. He doesn’t guess out loud at press conferences.
Jackson could have said, “I’m not really sure, please ask the trainers,” or, “I feel uncomfortable commenting on a player’s injury before I know everything about it.” Those are acceptable answers.
Big surprise, Bogut didn’t like Jackson’s answer. Shortly after Jackson made it, Bogut hailed reporters in the Warriors’ locker room before the game to set the record straight. Bogut said he hurt his shoulder against the Jazz on Jan 31, not in his sleep. “The sleeping comment is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if I should read between the lines with it.”
Imagine a key player on the 49ers – Patrick Willis – saying that about Jim Harbaugh. Or a key player on the Giants saying that about Bruce Bochy. Wouldn’t happen. Harbaugh and Bochy leave no room for interpretation. They keep it simple and control the messages they send to their players through the media. That’s how most head coaches operate, even college coaches.
If a coach makes a mistake like Jackson made, says too much, offends his own player, the coach generally owns up to the mistake and fixes it.
After the game against the 76ers, a game the Warriors won by 43 points, Jackson sat at the podium with an irritated look on his face, waiting for the postgame press conference to begin. The first question was about Mareese Speights, who scored 32 points off the bench for the Warriors.
“Before I get to (Mareese),” Jackson said, “I want to address something from earlier. I made a statement about Andrew Bogut. My statement said “legitimate.” My statement even said I had the same (injury at one time). My statement said he was hurt. Please don’t twist my words.”
Blaming the media.
The media didn’t twist Jackson’s words. The issue had nothing to do with word-twisting, anyway. Bogut didn’t like the words Jackson used, specifically the word “sleeping.” The right way for Jackson to fix the issue would have been to say, “I shouldn’t have said anything about sleeping. Bogut did not hurt his shoulder while he was asleep. That is ridiculous – he’s absolutely right. I don’t know why I speculated about his injury in the first place. I owe him an apology.”
But Jackson blamed the media. Weak.
The next day at Jackson’s post-practice press conference, I asked him, “Why did you say Bogut might have injured himself while sleeping? He said that was ridiculous.”
“He said that last night,” Jackson said. “Did you talk to him today?”
“No, he’s not available to talk today,” I said.
“Well, it’s documented,” said Jackson, although it is not documented. Jackson never explained why he thought Bogut might have hurt himself while sleeping.
“You said your words got twisted,” another reporter asked Jackson. “How did your words get twisted?
“We are going back to an old story,” Jackson said. “Anybody that wants to rehash it, you’re more than welcome to do homework and take a look at it. But I will not waste another second going back. It’s not going to happen.”
Why is he so defensive? Why won’t he own up to his mistake and fix it?
I have a theory.
Although he’s winning, he may be feeling more heat from the Warriors’ upper-ups than we realize. Jackson led the Warriors to the sixth-seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season. The Warriors were supposed to be better this season – they traded for Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut has missed just four games this season after missing 50 games last season.
But the Warriors have not improved yet. They currently are tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the seventh seed. It is no guarantee the Warriors will make the playoffs.
If the Warriors miss the playoffs, management probably will scapegoat Jackson, not Bogut.
That may explain why Jackson was so defensive. Memo to Mark – your fight is with management, not the media.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.