SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In college football, there are plenty of wonderful and memorable traditions. From rolling Toomer’s Corner to dotting the ‘i’ to Howard’s Rock and more. But there are also awkward traditions, especially this time of year.
The annual joint coaches press conference in ballrooms before a conference championship, College Football playoff or national title game is arguably the most uncomfortable ritual in the sport. Two opposing coaches whose teams are one day away from battling dress up in suits to sit next to each other and at least pretend that they’re friends for 30 minutes while they endure a Q&A and photo op session.
If you’re unsure what that scene might look like, LSU coach Ed Orgeron and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley posed together ahead of the Peach Bowl semifinal.
Memes were made for moments like these.
Across the country at the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney were in a similar situation. At 8:30 a.m. local time, they walked up on the dais together while laughing about something only they were privy to. As they sat down at their seats next to each other, Jerry Weiers, the Mayor of Glendale, Ariz., greeted them and presented both men with oversized gift baskets that included chocolates from a local chocolatier.
Once two Fiesta Bowl employees removed the baskets from the table where the coaches were sitting, the press conference began with Swinney making an opening statement.
“Ditto to everything I said yesterday,” the Tigers’ coach joked. At this point in the week, Swinney and Day have addressed the media three times. The rest of Swinney’s remarks included familiar phrases like, “It’s been a great week,” and “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Ohio State.” In his opening statement, Day said, “I echo everything Coach Swinney said.”
At one point, Swinney got a question about punting, and in an effort to keep the mood light, went off about how Clemson will run a trick play the first time they punt against Ohio State on Saturday. Mid-answer, he turns to his right and jokingly says, “Oh, Coach Day is sitting right here!”
After answering about a dozen questions apiece from reporters, Day and Swinney were guided to their left where the large Fiesta Bowl trophy sat on a table between Ohio State and Clemson helmets. At first, the coaches didn’t smile, just like in the earlier photo of Orgeron and Riley.
Then, after Swinney asked photographers and the reporters holding up iPhones if they’d gotten their shot, the coaches laughed and shook hands as more cameras clicked. Then, the coaches said something else that only they could hear and left the ballroom to go back to their respective team hotels.
Usually any availability with coaches and players is worthwhile. But that doesn’t change the fact that this kind of obligation will always appear slightly awkward.