Concrete Blonde

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm
He's a Buckeye, and he's fake - but he's not a fake Buckeye.

Don't let the pretty picture fool you: This isn't really a column about Kirk Herbstreit. 

This is a column about you, the easily-persuaded plebes who continue to fuel the false narrative that Ohio State fans are ruthlessly terrorizing Herbstreit for simply speaking truth to power.  This is about setting the record straight.

It's too easy to paint the Ohio State fan base as a cauldron of unsophisticated zealots who take to the streets with torches to go after anyone who dares to sully Buckeye football with unpopular remarks.  Falling for the fiction that Herbstreit has fallen out of favor with Buckeye fans only for traitorously speaking ill of Ohio State is absolutely lazy

Herbstreit has been castigated wholesale by his own because he repeatedly speaks out of both sides of his mouth.  Each and every time he is called out for that hypocrisy he has trashed the Ohio State fan base with the same strawman defense that you keep swilling down without any critical thought whatsoever. 

He went to Ohio State, therefore he must obviously love Ohio State; he's just saying what you don't want to hear.  Actually, what he's saying about Buckeye football is what a lot of us are saying these days.  But that's only part of the story. 

Your observations of Herbstreit are understandably and significantly limited in comparison to ours. That's not necessarily your fault, but you should be better informed before you jump on the false narrative train.  We're here to help: Let's turn back the clock a bit...

Back in 2007 when Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to go to Michigan there was much speculation that Terrelle Pryor may commit to the Wolverines after favoring Ohio State for much of the recruiting process. 

Herbstreit took to the ESPN airwaves in interview after interview during the bowl season and cited Pryor as the "x-factor for Rodriguez's first recruiting class" and proclaimed him to be the perfect quarterback to run the new offense in Ann Arbor. 

He also called Pryor the most important in-state recruit for Joe Paterno in years.  He said that Oregon was a strong possibility to land him as well, with the Ducks and Wolverines having the schematic advantage to best suit Pryor's skills, Pennsylvania having the home field advantage and Ohio State contending simply by having recruiting him consistently and the longest.  Herbstreit singlehandedly brought the name Terrelle Pryor out of recruiting circles and into nationally-televised prominence.

All of what he said was absolutely true, by the way.  Pryor would have been perfect for Michigan, or Oregon.  While there were a lot of Buckeye fans who wished Herbie would have just STFU about this reality and stopped selling the Wolverines and Ducks to young Pryor through his television set, what he was saying was undeniable.  You do not remember any Ohio-born uprising against Herbstreit then for aiding in Pryor widening his recruitment because there was no such uprising.  We're not irrational, we're just biased.  Just like you.

Fast-forward to last week, when Herbstreit said matter-of-factly that Ohio State should quit recruiting players like Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor, as if he had never spread the gospel of Pryor as a program savior just three years earlier. 

As a fan base, we were understandably frustrated, not just because it was classic Monday morning quarterbacking, not just because every other school in the country also recruited both players, not just because the idea of not recruiting players of Clarett and Pryor's abilities would be bad recruiting, but because we remember.  As an outsider, you only saw the backlash and quickly defaulted to an extremely lazy Haters Gonna Hate explanation.

Speaking of Clarett, whenever Herbstreit's strawman is called to the stand - the how dare you make me explain my loyalty to Ohio State canard - this candid photograph from the 2003 BCS title game is presented as Exhibit A by the defense.  Not even ten minutes after that picture of Michael Doss' interception return was taken, it was Clarett who was plowing into the end zone for the score. 

Do you think Herbstreit cheered?  Or was he hesitant since Clarett shouldn't have ever been recruited?  Because doing so would constitute that "truth to power" you thought he was speaking last week. 

Let this be known: Second only to writing about Tressel's giant throne of lies, I absolutely hate writing about Herbstreit.  Both of these topics suck, but the Herbstreit one is just so stupid.  I had to write about him back in January after he unapologetically dropped Ohio State three slots for winning the Sugar Bowl and figured I had checked off that topic box forever.  But then he moved to Tennessee and cited "the relentless 5-10% of the fan base" as the reason for his departure and that couldn't be ignored either. 

Then last week he gave us his brilliant Pryor/Clarett hindsight and shuttered his Twitter account while playing the martyr card once more.  And you ate it up, again.  You have to stop doing that.  Yes, he's pretty.  Yes, he's on your television.  Yes, he's also a narcissist who shines a heroic light on Ohio State's real and perceived warts because he thinks it makes him a more credible national analyst.  Every time you gobble this up, you're feeding his narcissim.  That in turn tweaks my OCD and then I have to write about this shit all over again.  Please stop it.

As much as I hate writing about Herbstreit, I'm not a blind Buckeye homer or fan apologist either.  Herbstreit is quite accurate about the radical, relentless fringe of the Buckeye Nation.  I've been writing about the Buckeyes since the Cooper era and our fringe is not at all shy about telling you exactly what they think of your lousy, dumbassed opinion.  There definitely are people who cannot differentiate between being critical and disparaging.

From nasty emails to 140-character Twitter bombs in my direction to one special guy who in 2005 identified me on campus following a game and told me how much he hated something I wrote after the Iowa game from two years earlier I can speak from experience: Herbie isn't making that up.  These people do exist.

Being criticized is no fun for anybody, whether it's empty trash talk, unwarranted jabs or legitimate, pharmaceutical-grade medicine you have to take.  But Herbstreit has three choices for dealing with that kind of criticism: He could try and learn from it, he could ignore it or he could handle it with the gravitas of a scorned pre-teen and stomp away in a huff.  Guess which two options he doesn't consider.  Guess which one option you continually applaud him for taking.

He's obviously incapable of ignoring his critics and clearly he's not learning from them because he thinks they're all personally attacking his loyalty to Ohio State.  I don't think he's disloyal to Ohio State.  (I do think that Pryor's "Fake Buckeye" tweet made for a fun meme though.)

Herbstreit has used the Haters defense twice now in the past couple of months.  That's shallow on a level recently seen from now-former USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett after the Trojans got hammered by the NCAA following the culmination of the investigation that Herbstreit's network deliberately did not cover for three years. 

Garrett said (of the NCAA findings) "there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans." He was universally derided for being a moron.  Conversely, whenever Herbstreit takes valid criticisms of his statements and actions around Ohio State, he defends his loyalty instead of deciphering what is riling them up and Buckeye fans are then universally derided for having thin skin.  You've got it backwards.  The one with thin skin is the one with the frosted tips.

Speaking of USC, you may remember that Herbstreit was very outspoken to the point of almost being harsh about how Pete Carroll failed to police his players and should have avoided recruiting players like Reggie Bush, whose actions led to that expensive and embarrassing scandal, a vacated BCS title and a forfeited Heisman trophy.  Just kidding.  Herbstreit never said anything that stupid.  No, he saved that tortured logic for Ohio State.  Apparently it's not as easy for him to be so honest about other programs.

His AP rankings after the Sugar Bowl and petulant verbal sparring with Pryor aside, Buckeye fans probably wouldn't have any issue with Herbstreit if he had ever also said, I don't know, that he would never send his son to play in a struggling Tommy Tuberville offense.  Or if he said Urban Meyer shouldn't recruit players like [insert any two of 25 arrested here].  Those are the kind of damning statements he has reserved only for his beloved alma mater.   Sure he's critical of other teams;  he once said that Colorado was a lousy program just to get under Colorado alumnus Chris Fowler's skin on the Gameday set.  He really put himself out there that time.

Herbstreit could also use his conspicuous position to speak out about Oversigning, but instead he breathlessly fawns over SEC roster depth as if it miraculously happens on account of geography.  He has the platform to bring attention to whatever he wants.  His causes célèbres generally do not dwell on the negative.  Except for one.

In recent years, we'd probably be a little less salty if he had previously contributed any opinion of substance about the USC case instead of adulating over how good Bush looked in a uniform.  Or if he ever stopped slobbering over Carroll's program long enough to be even mildly critical of what turned out to be major violations. That's context.  That's what rubs Buckeye fans the wrong way about him.  Not just what he says, but but he continually fails to say.

Herbstreit also lacks the emotional intelligence that one would expect of a millionaire in his forties who works on national television, and this is either lost on you or you aren't paying attention.  Again, your observations of Herbstreit are understandably and significantly limited in comparison to ours

Shortly before he deleted his Twitter account he was getting in petty fights with anonymous followers (he even called one Buckeye fan a jackass) and had a timeline filled with what could best be described as poorly-written huffing and puffing.  Try and remember that this is a grown man with four children.  He then blamed his Twitter demise on, yes, us.  And you believed it.  Again.

Herbstreit is just fine with an audience, if you're the type who enjoys empty cliches about making plays in space and puffery without much substance.  He's downright lousy in an unscripted forum and he knows it.  That's why he's quit Twitter; not because of Buckeye fans.  He is best with a stage where no one can talk back. 

Whenever news of how poorly he is received by Ohio State fans reaches him, he instinctively points at his diploma, points at his father and calls it ridiculous.  Ohio State fans then point at Newton and LaMichael James and wonder why Herbstreit's spotlight consists only of fawning over them and adjusting his pants instead of being equally outspoken about their character issues.

All we're looking for is the same, hard-hitting criticism leveled by Herbie in anyone else's direction.  He may feel that he would look like an Ohio State homer if he did that, but you know what?  Everyone knows he went to Ohio State.  It's not like he hasn't repeatedly put that out there.  Treat everyone the same.  It shouldn't be that hard. 

That's how you build a reputation for being openly scarlet and gray, yet objective.  He could ask Chris Spielman how he does it so well.  Or Cris Carter.  Or Robert Smith.  They all share the same employer, yet only one is singled out for being unfairly critical.  Hell, Smith quit the Ohio State football program and has recently been critical of Tressel while casting doubts on his future at Ohio State.  Strangely, he doesn't seem to be forced into continuing to remind us that he's from Ohio and once set the freshman rushing record.

No, Herbstreit doesn't continually bag on Ohio State because he hates Ohio State.  He loves Ohio State.  In all likelihood he's overly "honest" about Ohio State solely to make himself appear to be an unbiased analyst, as he bites his tongue about other teams for fear of becoming unpopular with those fans too. Some analysts embrace their roles as trolls (cough MARK MAY cough) but Herbstreit is clearly not one of them.  He trolls for but one team: The one he knows best.

It's a relatively common human condition to want and need to be loved, so Herbstreit's behavior isn't exactly uncommon; just odd for someone of his age and stature.  It is a little sad though, that he continues to resort to doing this on national television where too many people can repeatedly observe it.  However, it's not nearly as sad as the fact that some people (cough YOU cough) have absolutely gobbled it up. 

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