Ask a Simple Question . . .
It was about as harmless and uncomplicated a question as any reporter ever asked any football coach.
"Coach, would you evaluate the pass rush today?" Comcast SportsNet studio analyst Trevor Matich asked Greg Blache, the Redskins' defensive coordinator, following Washington's 27-24 preseason loss to the New England Patriots on Friday night.
What came next was easily the last response Matich or viewers of the show expected, especially after a seemingly meaningless exhibition game. After a few seconds of typical coachspeak, Blache, on camera from FedEx Field, asked Matich, sitting in a Bethesda studio, "What did you think of it?" before launching into a diatribe that included mocking Matich at one point and telling him, "I knew you had an ulterior motive."
(You can watch the video of the entire exchange on Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog, though a headline over the story that now reads "Greg Blache Blows Up Trevor Matich" probably would be more reflective of the incident by saying "Greg Blache Blows Up at Trevor Matich.")
Matich, a 12-year NFL veteran before retiring as the Redskins' long snapper in 1996, said in a telephone interview Monday night he had no idea what precipitated the coach's bizarre and rather uncharacteristic reaction.
After all, he asked a simple question that clearly has to be on the minds of countless Redskins fans, who are wondering if the team can improve on its paltry sack total of 24 in 2008 (tied for 28th in the league), particularly with the offseason addition of mega-million free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and heralded first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo, a linebacker-defensive end.
Matich also said that he was "surprised at the way things escalated. When it did, I thought the appropriate thing to do was to just lay out, just let it go."
That's exactly what Matich did. Instead of interrupting and firing right back at the crotchety coach, Matich kept his cool and took the high road as Blache went on and on, interjecting only "Coach, let me say this, nothing personal there and there is no ulterior motive. The pass rush has been a question for good or for bad, and my question was how would you evaluate it?"
Matich easily could have taken the low road, particularly on a night when Blache's defense was torched by New England quarterback Tom Brady, who had a gaudy 122.7 passer rating. He merely completed 12 of his 19 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns before Haynesworth pancaked him late in the second quarter after Brady had released a throw, knocking the quarterback out of the game with a sore shoulder.
For example, Matich could have asked Blache point-blank why there was hardly any pressure on Brady from his first unit, and whether that remains a major concern for a team that didn't mount much of a pass rush all last season. And when Blache tried to turn the table and asked him what he thought about the rush, Matich could have said: "Excuse me, Coach, but I'm not the defensive coordinator for this team. You are, and my opinion doesn't really count."
But Matich chose to allow Blache to vent, just as he should have, following a golden rule of journalism that reporters never should become a part of the story, even though, sadly and through no fault of his own, it happened to him anyway Friday night.
"If people want to know what happened, I'm perfectly content to have them look at the video and determine for themselves whether or not the question was relevant and how each party comported themselves," Matich said. "The best thing for me to do was to say nothing. As a professional, my job is to serve the fan. The fan would not have been served by an escalation of what was happening. I tried to ask a question fans would be interested in hearing the answer to. That's why I'm there."
By the way, Matich is hardly typical of so many former players turned "broadcasters." He's been working in front of a camera or behind a radio microphone ever since he retired, appearing on Channel 5's sportscasts as a Redskins analyst for several years before joining Comcast's pregame and postgame studio shows in 2008. He's obviously not the confrontational, look-at-me ex-jock preener and screamer (think Michael Irvin). Matich also is currently employed by ESPN as an NFL and college football analyst on radio and television, where he provides measured and reasoned information on a regular basis, just as he does on the local airwaves.
Asked if Blache had been in touch with him since the postgame interview, Matich said that as of Monday night, he hadn't heard from him. Blache, generally regarded by the Redskins media corps as an accessible, eminently quotable and usually stand-up kind of guy, might be wise to reach out and make that call and apologize to an interviewer who asked a simple question, and deserved far better than he got.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.