But the bottom line is that any positive answer to the mind-numbing proliferation of questions about improved leadership this year is going to naturally call into question prior leadership.
Ever heard anyone prior to a season say, "Oh, no, our leadership this year sucks. It was much better last year.''
Didn't think so.
The same, of course, applies to coaches, who get the same leadership questions the players do. The hope of public relations staffs universally is that the coaches handle the questions better - or at least as well as - the players. Sometimes that doesn't happen.
Which brings us to the Smith/Holgorsen/Ryan flap. Holgorsen recently addressed the issue of leadership by saying, "It was a big issue on last year's team, and I mean an issue in a bad way.'' The immediate assumption was that he was talking about Smith, last year's quarterback, who has been hounded by the leadership question for months.
Maybe he was talking about Smith specifically. Maybe he wasn't. But when the questions about Smith's work ethic and leadership came up before the NFL draft, Holgorsen did nothing but defend his former quarterback.
Truth be told, that Holgorsen would refer to leadership last year as "a big issue . . . in a bad way'' isn't exactly the most PR-savvy quote of the year. Then again, Holgorsen isn't exactly the most PR-savvy coach out there, either. There are times he tends to open mouth and insert foot.
In fairness, though, the "issue in a bad way" line was only a small part of a much longer answer to one of those rare leadership questions he's fielded this month that didn't seem trite. He was asked how important the issue of developing leadership was and, given that he still hasn't picked a starting quarterback, does it necessarily have to be the quarterback?
His full answer:
"We've talked a lot about that with our group and started our meeting [the day before camp began] with that very subject. What defines a leader? What's the definition of a leader? You can't find it. It's not in any book, it's not in any dictionary, it's not the same every year. What I've told our guys is, 'Yeah, we've got to develop leadership, that's for certain.' It was a big issue on last year's team, and I mean an issue in a bad way. We need to develop it and we need to find out who the guys are we can count on.
"Everybody in the whole room, everybody on the team, everybody who's practicing right now - coaches and players - have the capabilities to be a leader. It starts with being able to lead yourself and do everything right on and off the field, and then you've got to get yourself in position to make plays. And once you've got the opportunity to make plays, then leaders sort of step up and make those plays.
"Does it have to be a quarterback? Naturally it kind of takes place that way, yeah. It doesn't have to be. I told all three of those quarterbacks, 'You're not going to be in any leadership groups with me' just because they've got other things to worry about right now.''
He went on to talk specifically about the three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job in camp and that they had other things to worry about besides leadership issues. When he was done, I asked him about that singular "issue'' quote that couldn't help but stand out and if he would like to expound on it.
"I don't want to expand on it. I've said for a while that we're not going to talk about 2012,'' he said. "We have lessons that we can take from 2012 that we talked about with our team. I'm not going to go into detail on that, but there are some examples that happened throughout the course of the year on a variety of people - a variety of people - that we could take those lessons and [say], 'We don't want to see that happen this year.' '
And then that the singular quote rocketed to the New York media, where Smith is in the New York Jets camp, and to Ryan, his new coach there. That Ryan bungled the leadership question where it came to Smith - "It tells me I'm glad my kid never went there,'' he said of WVU - just once again goes to show that a lack of PR savvy isn't confined to a college coach in Morgantown.
Again, though, the bottom line is that this whole thing is driven by the media's ridiculous infatuation with talking about leadership. Ask about it once, sure, or in specific cases. These days, though, when intelligent questions escape the mind, the fallback seems to be asking about the rather abstract concept of leadership. Ask it enough and eventually the answer might cause some commotion, which obviously it now has.
If you ever hear me utter the L word, though, please shoot me.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.