February 17, 2020
Have you ever watched a Philadelphia Eagles press conference, whether it be Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz, etc., and heard a lot of people all trying to ask questions at the same time, with one reporter emerging as the victorious question asker?
Here, we'll lay out the official Philadelphia Eagles beat writer question face-off power rankings. To note, I fully understand that this will appeal to an audience of no more the 50 or so people, but I don't care. I'm doing this anyway.
(I set the cut-off at reporters who I determined are there for around two-thirds of the Eagles' press conferences, or more. This thing is already going to be too long, as is, and if I add columnists to the equation I'll never finish it.)
1) John McMullen, 97.3 ESPN: John doesn’t GAF. Once he starts asking his question, he’s just going to continue. He doesn’t raise his voice to try to drown you out, nor does he speed up his cadence. He just forges ahead like there’s nobody else in the room but himself and the interview subject, which I respect. But by far and away, in my opinion, John has the best question face-off win percentage in Philadelphia.
2) Jeff McLane, Philadelphia Inquirer: McLane’s win-loss percentage is good-not-elite on question face-offs, but I would say that he probably asks more questions than anyone on the beat, edging out Zach Berman. To note, I don’t have official statistics on this.
He also has had some of the more ballsy questions, the most notable of which occurred in 2015, after the Eagles got their asses handed to them in Detroit on Thanksgiving. After Chip Kelly said that he didn’t think it was the players or execution of his scheme that was failing the team, McLane asked something like, “If it’s not the players, and it’s not execution, is it you?” I mean...
In that moment, Chip was basically like...
McLane is also probably the beat’s biggest interrupter, in that he’ll interrupt the interview subject before they have finished giving their answer to the previous question, which is a good way of eliminating question face-off competition, but is probably annoying to whoever asked that question. In fairness, he'll usually only do this if the previous question was dumb, and the answer is going nowhere. So, whatever. Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal is a big offender of this as well.
3) Sheil Kapadia, The Athletic: OK, so Sheil is technically a bigtime national reporter these days, but he’s still around often enough and remains on the Birds with Friends podcast, so we’ll include him. Early in his career, Sheil was a mediocre question face-off competitor, but along the way he began asking questions more forcefully, and with a higher decibel level.
When he left Philly for Seattle, where the media competition isn’t quite as intense, Sheil startled poor Pete Carroll, as he explained in his introductory post for the Athletic in 2017.
During my first season covering the Seattle Seahawks in 2015, I posed a question to coach Pete Carroll during a routine press conference.
He paused and stared at me, offering a response that had nothing to do with football.
“Why are you yelling at me?” he asked, pointing out that his hearing was fine and he wasn’t that old.
4) Tim McManus, ESPN: Tim has some McMullen in him, in that if he wants to get his question in, he won't be denied. He's just going to steamroll it in. His style in winning those "must-have" moments is a little different than John's however, in that when the interview subject is trying to decide which question to pay attention to, Tim will start his question over again two or three times, with increasing volume each time until he has their attention. It's a good move! Typically though, Tim will only do this if we're nearing the end of the session and he senses the interview coming to a close.
Where Tim really stands out as an interviewer, however, is that his questions are always perfectly worded. He'll be like, "What are your thoughts on the marriage of scheme and quarterback? What strengths have you identified with Carson Wentz and how has the offense been tailored to fit that?"
You'd think that he sat in front of a mirror and practiced asking it for hours in preparation. My questions often sound like I'm JoJo the idiot circus boy with a pretty new pet. Asking that same question, I'd be like, "Durrrr, uh hey Doug, Carson throws the ball good, so do you try to give him plays where his good throwing can be used?"
5) Zach Berman, The Athletic: Zach doesn't have a good win-loss record on question face-offs, as he is a victim of his own politeness, however, as noted above, he is probably second only to McLane for total questions asked, partly because he never misses an interview session. Hell, Zach once postponed a date with a girl in 2012 to write about some nothing Eagles transaction (he wasn't sure if it was Jake Scott or Matt Tennant).
I think that partly as a result of his work ethic, he has sort of become the first media person that Doug Pederson will look at to start his press conferences, taking that honor away from Les Bowen during the Chip Kelly years.
Though easily the most prolific question face-off loser, Zach is also savvy. He'll get in on a lot of question face-offs, happy to concede the loss, but knowing that the interview subject might come right back to him. He plays the long game, which is effective.
So to recap:
He's kind of like the Eli Manning of question face-offs, which is apt, given his love for Eli Manning.
6) Dave Zangaro, NBC Philadelphia: Dave is the king of the follow-up question, and he always manages to get them in with impeccable timing. That can kind of be a double-edged sword. If you asked the previous question, it’s great! Your question now essentially has two answers for the price of one! If you don’t care about the question that he's following up on, however, that’s now an extra minute of the press conference that is of no value to you.
7) Reuben Frank, NBC Philadelphia: Roob’s exasperation with dumb questions is bested only by Les Bowen’s. We'll get to that in a moment in Les' section. But Roob’s best quirk is that he often raises his hand and forms sort of a claw with it as he’s asking his question. The claw points in the direction of the interview subject menacingly.
Also, it's funny that on a few occasions, the interview subject has been stumped on a statistic, and asked Roob for a lil' help.
8) Martin Frank, Delaware News Journal: As we noted above, like McLane, Martin is a big question interrupter. But beyond that, Martin is very well strategically positioned. He sits row 2, but directly in the line of sight of the interviewee, with an empty space in row 1 in front of him, which helps him win face-offs. Also, once he wins them, he asks perhaps the longest questions of anyone on the beat. For example, two of his last four questions this season were 70 (!) or more words. (Yes, I actually looked.)
9) Jamie Apody, 6ABC: I would say that Jamie probably has one of the highest winning percentages of question face-offs in Philly. She usually waits until the middle of interview session to fire off her question, which is probably a better strategy than going up against three or four other reporters at the beginning. And when she asks questions, she does so with Kapadia-esque volume.
10) Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News: As noted above, Les leads the beat in exasperation from dumb questions. Sometimes he’ll go so far as to throw his hands in the air if someone asks something dumb, lol, which is awesome. However, what Les will also often do is nod his head in approval for questions that he likes, which makes you feel good about yourself if you're the one asking it.
Another Les quirk (that I actually think is quite effective) is that instead of asking a question, Les will make a statement to his interview subject, and then just wait for a comment in return. I legitimately laughed out loud several times at Lane Johnson recalling Les finding him in the locker room after a 2013 loss to the Chiefs, in which Johnson gave up three sacks to Justin Houston, in his guest appearance on Chris Long's podcast. NSFW warning:
11) Paul Domowitch, Philadelphia Daily News: For a reporter who has been on the Eagles’ beat longer than any of us (I think?), Domo is super-patient during interview sessions, and doesn't get into many face-off situations. He usually waits until the end of the session before he asks his question, which is usually about two-tight end sets.
Some interview subjects, like Jim Schwartz I've noticed, for example, will make sure he answers Domo in face-off scenarios, seemingly out of respect.
I also like that if Domo asks a question, he's actually going to use the answer in a story, as opposed to just asking a question for the sake of hearing his own voice, like uhhhh, Howard Eskin?
12) Bo Wulf, The Athletic: If you listen to Birds with Friends, you know that Bo is highly competitive, which makes it a bit odd that he loses so many question face-offs. He is clearly third among his BwF triumvirate in question face-offs in a podium setting. Bo's strength is more in a one-on-one type of setting, where he does a great job of getting players to let their guard down and give either real or silly answers, depending on what Bo is going for in that moment.
On a side note, I usually sit next to Bo during these interview sessions, and he appreciates some of the unintentionally funny things "football guys" will say, like that a player "loves ball," for example, and we'll both quietly giggle like immature pre-teens.
Because I have no life, I counted the number of times an Eagles coach said "loves ball" during the Doug Pederson era, and came up with six. Mike Groh said it three times, Pederson twice, and Frank Reich once. The players that they said "love ball?"
• Nate Sudfeld twice (both by Groh)
• Corey Clement twice (Pederson and Reich)
• Nelson Agholor (Groh)
• Elijah Qualls (Pederson)
13) Kristen Rodgers, FOX29: When I was a young reporter (or at least younger than I am now), I didn't ask questions consistently in these face-off scenarios until I covered the team for a year or two. Kristen? Nope. Right in there, and improving her winning percentage rapidly. I have her as a question face-off breakout candidate in 2020.
14) Mike Kaye, NJ.com: Mike takes his share of losses in question face-offs, partly due to proximity, as he likes to sit in row 2, all the way at the end, which puts him at a disadvantage, though he does seem to get at least one question in during each press conference.
I love Mike's dedication to the uncovered stories. The Eagles will be in the midst of a three-game losing streak, people cracking their skulls open on the streets, and Mike will be like, "Hey Doug, Rudy Ford was a late addition to the injury report this week. Is he OK?"
15) Ed Kracz, SI: On occasion, a reporter will come in hot with a question that the subject is either offended by, caught off guard by, or simply doesn't want to answer, and so they don't. The great thing that Ed will do is come in with essentially the same exact question, but with softer language that makes the interviewee feel less backed into a corner, and we'll get the answer anyway.
16) Nick Fierro, Allentown Morning Call: Nick probably leads the Eagles beat in frustration after losing a question face-off. Really, the worst is when you really want to ask a question for a story you're writing, and you lose two or three face-offs in a row to other reporters who probably aren't even going to use the answers in their stories. I feel like Nick is common victim of this dynamic.
17) Eliot Shorr-Parks, 94.1 WIP: This may come as a surprise to many of you who are used to a steady stream of Eliot’s takes on Twitter, but he doesn’t ask many questions in face-off situations. As such, it's hard to put him much higher than this.
Also perhaps to the surprise of some, when he does ask questions, they aren't take-related. They're usually pretty much right to the point. For example, he's the one who asked Doug point blank if Mike Groh and Carson Walch would be back in 2020, to which Doug answered that they would, only to see them get fired the next day, leading to content for all for a week.
18) Bob Grotz, Delaware County Daily Times: Bob has the graveliest (is that a word?) voice on the Eagles' beat, which I think actually hurts him. The more high-pitched your voice, the more you stand out. For example, Paul Jolovich (if you've heard him on the radio, you know what I'm talking about in terms of pitch) used to be the GOAT of question face-offs.
19) Zack Rosenblatt, NJ.com: A common thing that some reporters will do is made some long statement before they ask their question. I know I do this. For example, I'll go, "Carson didn't have any fumbles in the first six games of the year. He has had 13 over the last eight games, I think. Is there something he hasn't been doing more recently in regard to protecting the football that he was doing the first half of the season?" Halfway through that question, you can see the interview subject's eyes begin to glaze over.
Zack does no such thing. His questions are quick. In fact, I went back and looked, and four of his last five podium press conference questions were 20 words or fewer.
20) Jeff Skversky, 6ABC: The majority of the people watching the 6:30pm local news have no idea what an "inverted cover-2" is, and so, the TV guy/gals typically ask questions that are going to be more basic and/or quirky (like how the fans gave the team a boost, for example).
One of my all-time favorite back-and-forths between a reporter and an interview subject was between Jeff and Chip Kelly, when Jeff was trying every which way possible to get Chip to give him anything about the signs they used to hold to relay plays/formations/etc. If you'll recall, they were Philly-themed, in that they'd be pictures of Rocky or the Liberty Bell, and so on.
Here was their exchange:
Jeff: Can you kind of talk about what's behind the big signs that you guys use and why you went that route in college and brought it to the NFL?
Chip: No. Next question.
Jeff: Can you elaborate on that?
Chip: No, we're not ‑‑ we could tell you what all our signals are, too, but that's not going to help us.
Jeff: Just why you went that route.
Chip: Honestly, no, we can go on to something else. I'm not going to explain why we go through that whole thing.
(There were about 5 minutes or so of football questions, when Jeff doubled back on the placard questions)
Jeff: Different players, did they kind of chip in and say, hey, let's do a cheesesteak, let's do a Ben Franklin thing and things like that? Did they give different ideas?
Chip: I have no idea what a Ben Franklin thing is, so you lost me on that.
Jeff: Well, either a Ben Franklin or a cheesesteak and all that stuff. Did they say, hey, let's do a picture of this?
Chip: You're still on the sign thing?
Chip was such a jerk sometimes, lol.
Anyway, Jeff used to be in the top five in question face-offs, and he would win in impressive fashion, often standing way back behind all the other reporters, where it's hard to win, from a sheer proximity-from-the-subject perspective. More recently, however, Jeff doesn't engage in many face-off scenarios. Been there, done that.
21) Brandon Lee Gowton, Bleeding Green Nation: Brandon doesn't ask many questions in question face-off scenarios, but nobody churns out more content. Brandon will always have his laptop with him, and he'll be flat-out writing his next story while the interview subject is still up there answering questions.
22) Derrick Gunn, NBC Philadelphia: Gunner doesn't have to bother getting down and dirty in question face-off scenarios. He just talks to the interview subject one-on-one in front of his own camera afterward.
23-25) The young pups: I would put Daniel Gallen (PennLive.com), E.J. Smith (Philadelphia Inquirer), and Erin McCarthy (Philadelphia Inquirer) all in sort of the same bucket, as they're all somewhat new to the beat. I just don't have info there yet to pick up on their individual quirks. Next year.
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports
Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader