The Chris Korman Exit Interview
Why do you hate Bloomington?
(Laughter) Ah, man, I absolutely do not hate Bloomington. That is definitely a falsehood. Dustin and I are two Penn State guys from State College, and I think he would probably agree, I know I definitely feel that Bloomington has such a better vibe. It's got the little Midwest thing to it. It's got a little bit of the southern thing to it. You know, it's like I talked a little bit about on the chat the other day, it's this stuck in the middle place. And then it hates both of those things, too. It's like "We're Bloomington. We're totally different.
We're artistic, but we're also rustic, and we're who we are, you know?" I think it's just fabulous.
Dustin and I came here in 2002 for a football game to cover Penn State...
How badly did you beat us?
That was the game Larry Johnson ran for 324 yards...on a sand field. This was before they had turf at Memorial Stadium. So the field was literally sand spray painted green. So we were here and it was this totally different place for us. So when I got a chance to bring him out for an interview, we just laughed and laughed about that trip. We'd stayed at the Fourwinds that trip. That's where Paterno had the team staying. We always just booked our room with the team, in the same hotel where they were staying. So, it's November 15th, or whatever, and it's like 12 degrees outside, and we're in a hotel that's got bamboo walls and everyone's wearing Hawiian shirts. We had to go buy beer at this, you know, just banjo playing gas station somewhere. I ran from the car to the door just to go get this beer.
Sounds like Smithville.
Yeah, I was worried. And ever since then I just thought it was a town with a soul, much more than all the...you know we got to all the Big Ten towns. You know Madison is a great town, great place, beautiful place, a little more urban. East Lansing is sort of blah. Champaign is sort of like, eh, you know. And even State College compared to Bloomington. Obviously, I spent a different time of my life here, but I'm really fond of Bloomington. You know, 4th St. is right over there, and it's so diverse and so interesting. It's just the people you meet here. So, I love Bloomington. I'll come back.
Are you aware that the Irsay family established a clear and proven road to success, and that's actually a one-way road from Baltimore to Indiana? What makes you think you can swim upstream, against the current of success and succeed it in Baltimore?
(Laughter) That's a great question. Uh, I don't know. I'm just going to be glad that I can get Yuengling, which is the beer I grew up on, from the time I was 15. You know the river that they take the water from runs right by my house. When I grew up I built tree forts next to the river...
So I know where to pee when I visit.
..we did too, so it was always an awkward thing...
Proves my green bottle rule: all green bottles are full of piss water.
It's just being closer to home. I don't know....I don't know if I'll be any better. I hope so. I hope we make it.
So, in your new job you're going to be the Sunday Sports Editor, something about the Toy Department, and the Enterprise Editor.
What exactly is the Enterprise Editor, and when you sit at that desk are you required to wear the Captain Kirk Starfleet uniform?
Um...yes...I just sit there like this (strikes a pose) and hail people, or whatever Capt. Picard or Kirk or whoever they are would do. Enterprise is a fancy journalism word, and it's ridiculous, for doing work that isn't easy to get, that's sort of what I determined. Enterprise is.. the word "enterprising" in general means doing something new, you're creating something, you're an entrepreneur sort of, you have new ideas. And so that's sort of enterprise journalism. It's a lot of profiles. We're going to go beyond John Harbaugh being Tom Crean's brother-in-law...
(We're interrupted by a steady stream of well-wishers. I come to believe Korman should run for Mayor of this town. I realize I should be writing a book about the people you see and the stories you hear in Nick's- it'd be fucking amazing.)
So...it's about John Harbaugh, but it's more than just he was at the Eagles, and then blah,blah. I mean we're going to talk to the kid he knew in 3rd grade. We're going to dig really deep. It's investigative. We're going to request budget information from all the ACC schools and compare them. It's just in-depth work. It's what I studied at Columbia. When I was at Columbia I actually majored in magazine writing and did more of that sort of studying, rather than going to write a game story or going to write a daily story. So it's a little bit of a return to what I thought I'd be doing after I covered a beat day-by-day. I thought it was important to cover a beat and get that on the ground experience and be in the thick of it. But now I'm sort of removing myself a little bit and taking a bigger view.
Since you mentioned it, you have a masters from Columbia. Pretty prestigious university. Penn State's no slouch either. Did you ever imagine you'd graduate from Columbia to go on to stalk teenagers for a living or be forced to converse with guys like 4guards? I mean, in your new job are you going to be expected to stalk teenagers?
Uhhh, (laughter) you know, I really think that both of those things will be amped up in my new position. It's...
You're going to be an uber-stalker?
Yes. They have a recruiting blog that's pretty well respected on the east coast. It's run by a Michigan guy, actually, a guy named Matt Bracken who's been doing it for a while and has a good name among those programs who, you know we talked about it earlier, those programs outside of D.C. which have produced Maurice Creek, among others, Kevin Durant. It's really a hotbed of basketball. So he's covered that well. Baltimore has Carmelo Anthony and many other guys. So there will be a recruiting blog, and I'm sure I'll take part. We joke, you know, it's crack. Covering recruiting is, you go to some shady gym somewhere or some gym in the middle of a cornfield. The first time I ever saw Cody Zeller I drove through corn for 25 minutes to see some gawky white kid, who was probably 6'6" then, and could barely walk. But just the excitement you felt about going to see a kid who's going to be a pretty good basketball player, and everybody's known it for a long time. But the same deal, you know we've gone up to Indy, and we're in this part of Indy where maybe you don't want to park your car, but there's a kid here who's been on the playground every day since he was 7, and he's killing it. That stuff's exciting. It's still true then. You know a lot of the stuff we do with the recruits if awful. We call and ask "what's your list?" As if human decisions can come down to a list. As if everybody is "oh, I'm 20% on this and 20% on that." All that stuff is just ridiculous. You know Rivals and Scout have done a good job of covering recruiting. And recruiting is so necessary to coverage. It's ridiculous that newspapers abdicated it for so long. Recruiting is...if Tom Crean gets fired, if Tom Crean is gone in 3 years, it's because what he did today. It's not because what he did in 3 years from now. It's because he would have recruited the wrong guys today, made the wrong pitch to whoever. I mean, that's the game. Especially in basketball, you've gotta have players. So the fact that newspapers didn't do it for so long is absurd. It was important for Rivals and Scout to bring it to the forefront... and make profit off it. They made lot of profit off it. But important to also make us realize this is something that we should be doing because people care and it is important. A lot of those guys...you know Mike Pegram, who I consider a friend and a great guy and a great business man, he is a guy who's been really successful, but he's not a journalist. And he would admit that. He has an M.B.A. from Florida and graduated from IU. He was a swimmer here and an accounting major. His whole thing is not journalism. But if you're a journalist, and you see what he's produced and the knowledge he has about IU basketball over the time he's been around it, you envy it. He understands, a lot better than anybody, what went into why Bob Knight struggled, why Mike Davis struggled, what caused Kelvin Sampson to do the things he did that got him fired. I mean what Kelvin did, that whole thing was about recruiting and about what you do to have a little bit of a step up. That's what destroyed Indiana. And Mike Pegram understands that better than anybody. Nobody gets it as much as Mike Pegram. So they reminded and informed us about why that was so important. So it's really important that we did that and jumped on recruiting. And there's really no turning back now. It's just trying to be a little more sophisticated about it, a little more honest about it. You know our newspaper charges money for subscriptions, but a lot of newspapers let you get that stuff online for free, so it's still just a journalistic thing. And how do we cover it journalistically and still be very honest about it and cover those kids. And it's an honest moment when you go to a tournament and some kid explodes. You can envision him being so good. How many people have we watched at the May Classic? It's been Derek Rose, O.J. Mayo, Watford...all these guys have been there. DeAndre Jordan, you know, guys in the league. And just to see them at that young age is a thrill. It's just a real thrill.
So you're an enthusiastic stalker?
On the subject of stalkers, are you or are you not stalking the Harbaugh family?
Well, you know, I'm still waiting for Tom Crean to set me up with a dinner with the Harbaughs. Go over there and hang out...
Have you already applied to the newspapers in Stanford or Palo Alto? You got an app on file out there?
When I interned at my hometown paper, The Reading Eagle, I went and covered Eagles camp, and the story I wrote is "right now John Harbaugh is a special team coach, but he hopes someday to be something more." He had made his career up to that point as this terrific special teams guys, which is sort of like being the guy who only pours the Jager at the bar. You're just doing one part of something. People thought he was a bright mind and an interesting guy and obviously knew the family ties, but he had just not gotten that chance yet. And later the Eagles did move him, and he rapidly went to where he wanted to be. But I did write that story, and I do feel this sort of strange symmetry, a sort of interesting connection with them. I'm anxious to meet him and tell him how well I know Tom, and see what he says about Tom, see if I can get him to be candid about just how crazy Tom is at Thanksgiving dinner or whatever. They say they don't get together too often, but I'm sure that they've been together in a room and what that conversation must be like with 3, not just 3 current, but a father, too, who is coach. Because coaches love to talk shop, and they love to have their version of shop be the one that's shouted loudest. I'd love to have that conversation and find out what they think and what they've learned about. And the different sports, how different could football be from basketball, but I'm sure that they've found common ground. So I'd love to have that conversation with them. But, yeah, I'm stalking them.
You are stalking the Harbaughs. I'll tell Jack to fill the restraining order tomorrow.
So, crabs. I've seen many times how crabs have been a big draw for you to the Baltimore area.
You're a fan of crabs?
You know, you gotta love any time you can grab some crabs after a long night, that's good.
Are you familiar with a place on north Walnut Ave. called Kilroy's Sports?
I've been told they harvest more crabs there than tin he north artic sea.
I've seen video of that. They had it on Deadspin, I believe. They had two people exchanging crabs on the bathroom floor.
So, you're going to Baltimore. It's a pretty violent city. Are you taking any special precautions knowing you'll be living in the same city as Ray Lewis?
He kills people. You know this, right?
Here's the crazy thing, there are other people in Baltimore who kill people, too.
Lot's of them. I believe they made a television series based on that unique attribute.
You know, I log on to my future homepage and try to see where the latest stabbing was. There was a story recently of a kid who just got off a train and was using his iPhone, probably using some great app or something, who knows what he was doing, and some guy came up behind him and stabbed him and killed him and took his iPhone. It's scary...but it's also real. Bloomington is a great place but it's not like Bloomington is totally safe. I work at the newspaper, so I read all the stuff that happens. It's not like Bloomington is really different. But...Baltimore is a little different. Its reputation is well known. But when I was in New York I lived in Harlem and covered the Bronx. And I'm not saying I'm brave or I understand things any more than anybody else, but there's something about being near and being reminded day by day how some people have it. It just changes the way you live. I'm ready to adapt that place as my new home and hopefully care about it enough that I'm hopeful it will get better.
Hope all you want, but Tijan ain't moving there anytime soon, so you're fucked.
Tijan and his liger.
You've spent time covering the Big 10 at Penn St. and here. I'm guessing you've been to every Big 10 city now?
What's your favorite Big 10 city to visit on the road?
(Appropriately, another pitcher of beer is ordered0
When I was at Penn State, we went there. Back on the Penn State beat it was Dustin and I and this other guy, Jeff Frantz. We used to split trips, and on this trip it was just Jeff and I flying out to Madison and stayed at the Madison Radisson. We always booked our rooms where the team was staying. And we check in and went to the hotel bar, and there was this Swedish waitress who served us some sort of local beer until we couldn't see anymore. In the morning, we woke up and got showered. And then we're sitting in the lobby waiting for the team to come out. The Penn State players start coming downstairs and march straight out to a bus. And all the coaches are doing the same. It's this monumental procession. It's the Penn State football team getting ready to play. And all of a sudden Jay Paterno, who's by in large seen as Joe's bumbling son, the bumbling price of Penn State football, comes down and instead of getting straight onto the bus, he marches to the right a little bit and goes through another doorway. And so we're just sitting there, scratching our heads trying to figure out what Jay Paterno is doing. And sure enough he comes back through this door, and he's all confused, and then he sees the bus and gets on. It was just this perfect moment of where Penn State football stands. So they all leave and we head over to the stadium. We arrive on this street, and on the right side is the press box and of the left side are houses. As we look over at the houses, not only are there gorgeous Midwestern women all in the yards, but in the second story window there appear to be beer bongs coming down from the second story to the first story. So Frantz and I go over there, and we inform them that we are writers from the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, just to be cooler than we really are. And we get in for free and perhaps have a beer, we were working later that afternoon, so we probably refrained. And we met all these people everywhere, and there were cooking like 300,000 brats on the grill. Because that's what you do in Wisconsin. But every time we've gone there...we've been there at Halloween, since I got here, Doug and I were there for Halloween. We walked down State St., which is like their Kirkwood. It's just everybody having a great time. And when they play Jump Around after the 3rd quarter...you know we've been through all that stuff. I've been to Penn State for big games and white-outs and it's as loud as can be. Obviously, Indiana basketball, the William Tell Overture at the 8-minute mark. Incredible, bone-chilling. But, that Wisconsin, the world shakes. The whole thing shakes. It's just an incredible experience. You can just look out over the lake and sip a beer. I've always loved Madison.
Since we were talking brats, if they were to assign press credentials based on the outcome of a hot dog eating contest among the IU press corps, who on the IU beat gets the best seat?
You already know this because our old intern Jared Poertner would show up, possibly still drunk, generally hungover. I love Jared. He's a great guy, a great reporter, very dedicated to his work. But he was in a frat and lived in one of these beautiful houses on Washington across from Sports. It was a gorgeous Victorian house with a wrap-around porch, and it's just a bunch of dudes. And I'm sure their beer budget for the week was $450, and it was all Natty or whatever, but it was a lot of beer drinking going on there. And he would come in, and he would get a hot dog. And then at the quarter mark he'd get another. These are not little hot dogs. These are the big, foot long, ridiculously thick, pink, been sitting in water all day, hot dogs. You wouldn't want to come near this...
(Another stream of IU luminaries greet us and wish Korman well. Any chance I had of maintaining anonymity during our sit down is completely fucked at this point.)
...so Jared could really put the hot dogs away, but...
More than Hutch?! Are you fucking with me?! I've seen Hutch cradle a weenie before, quite lovingly in fact, and that shit is a sight to behold.
Who's was it?
I don't know. He didn't seem to care, anonymous weenies. I've yet to see Hutch meet a weenie he couldn't take down.
Um...I've seen Hutch...Hutch has hoarded pizza. At basketball games they have Bucceto's pizza, and Hutch would take about 8 pieces and put them between two plates and just leave it near his computer. And then while he's writing, he would just grab a piece and munch on it at 11:30 or whatever time. But I think Jared would be up there. Ken Bikoff, who's one of my favorite people, ever, he would be up there. The IDS kids, because you've got to understand college kids and free food, I think a lot of them. They're still skinny, they clearly haven't been drinking enough, but they will try to eat free food and make it last through the week. So they would just eat 7 hot dogs and try to last until the next Saturday. So I think that's how it would shake down. Pete DiPrimio, not so good, he's small, fit. No hot dog eating for him. Um, Dustin can eat a hot dog. Dustin's got the plainest food taste I've ever seen, but he loved him a hot dog.
Bouncing back a bit, you said you liked Madison, in which Big 10 city were you most likely to pull some wool? You're a road dog, it's okay to admit it.
Oh, God. You know, um, when I was in grad school in New York City I was momentarily in love with two different girls from Iowa. So, I always had a fondness for Iowa City. They're just the nicest people there. Both these girls actually came from Illinois. One was from Bloomington, IL, and the other was from the quad cities. And they were just great people, and I always loved Iowa City. They would always call me when I was there and tell me which bar to go to or which sorority was hanging out there. So, I always like Iowa.
So you're saying you corn-holed some Hawkeyes?
You are, for better or worse, inexorably intertwined with the Kelvin Sampson All-Stars.
You may or may not have coined the term.
If you could be any member of the KSAS, who would you be and why?
Your first article here was written about Bud Mackey, no less.
The most nefarious of the KSAS.
I could give a sort of flippant, fun answer, and I think I'd want to be Eric Gordon because he's rich as hell and lives in L.A. But, you know, guys like...to me...look Kelvin Sampson obviously fucked up. I mean just fucked up. I remember the guy...he and I would have one on ones pretty frequently. I would come talk to him in his office, and he would just sit there for me. And one time he was sitting there, and I was on his couch, his leather couch. All coaches have nice leather couches. And he had pulled a chair close to me, just a regular looking, uncomfortable chair over near me, and we were talking. And all of a sudden he looked down. And at this point he was a little bit bigger. He hadn't been walking with DeAndre yet. So he had a sort of buddha going on, and he looks down at his buddha, and there was IU logo right on the top of it. He just looked down and saw that and just shook his head at it for like 30 seconds. You could just tell the guy was in awe that he was the Indiana basketball coach. You could tell it meant a lot to him, it meant a lot to him. It was everything to him. It was a big deal. He went from being at a place where you could win 20 games a year, and people would admire you, but they were still going to read the story about spring football and who the 3rd string quarterback is going to be. So he knew that he'd made that step up and how much people cared. But he could not change his own soul. And his own soul was that for so long he'd found kids who other people had overlooked or other people had worse said you're not worth anything.
Yeah. Guys who...
Guys who'd been abandoned by their own fathers.
Right. And so he found these people and brought them up and promised them things and said, "I'm going to make it right. I'm going to make sure you're okay. We're going to get through this together." And there are so many guys like that. Jamarcus Ellis is the one to me that...I don't actually know his real story, but I'm pretty sure his father was murdered, and his mother died of AIDS. Just every bad thing you could imagine. He lived in a car for some time. The guy just had a messed up life. And for so many people to sit and judge him from where they sat, which was...even the ones who just went to Bloomington North, which is no special upbringing. But then even the people who went to Carmel, and to live this entirely different life from him and say what he should or shouldn't be, or how badly he fucked up, or how he was ungracious for what he had been given here, how he'd threw that all away. And that might be true, but the kid went through so much. And my sentimental answer is that I'd try to be one of those guys and try to overcome, to become that sort of symbol for those guys. Sampson had those kids everywhere he went. And had he stayed, I don't think it's a guarantee those kids are better off, but some of them make it through. Eli Holman is better. DeAndre Thomas is better. These guys make it through and at least understand a little bit better what they need to do to make it out of these circumstances they grew up in. I guess that's the sentimental answer, but if I could be Eric Gordon I'd be buying the whole bar a drink right now.
On a related note, IU had never experienced any degree of the turmoil we have the last several years since almost to the day you arrived. Are you in fact an agent of Lucifer?
Yes. (Laughs, devilishly) You know I'm going to actually reject this. I've heard this from several people. Not the least of whom are high up and in charge of the university. I got here... I think the job had been posted for some time. They knew Stan Sutton was retiring. I think he retired Aug. 1, 2006. They posted the job after they figured out they were going to promote Doug Wilson, who had been the IU beat writer, and they were going to let Doug hire his replacement. And I think they had done that, I think it was very early, actually. It was maybe in January of that year, and they had given it a month for people to turn in applications. And Mike Davis, of course, was still the coach. Davis and Indiana had went to Penn State, and that was the game were Davis was sick or there was something wrong with Davis that day, and the rumors were that he was about to quit. Of course, I still had many friends at Penn State, and I ended up talking to them and asked them what the hell was going on. They said this whole thing was messed up, Indiana basketball is falling apart. And so I, that day, threw in an application for the job. I was interning at Sports Illustrated, and I kind of felt that I wanted to stay in New York, but to go cover a story like Indiana basketball in the place it was in, trying to find that next leader...we'd talked earlier, you know, there's been no 2nd guy after any great coach you could ever name has ever succeeded. So, I knew turmoil was coming. And as I say a lot on our chats, journalists are different. We seek turmoil. But by the time I'd got to the job, Sampson had already been hired, and he was in the midst of the NCAA stuff, and he'd already been sentenced.
Right. They hired him before the sentence had came down, and the sentence was much, much stronger than anyone had ever imagined. You know, we've written about this, but Kelvin basically told Rick, "Hey, yeah, I sat in on the meetings, and I was on the phone calls, and they're just kind of wondering what happened. I told them what happened, and it's going to be fine." But it wasn't fine. It absolutely was not fine. Thomas Yeager slammed Kelvin. That became a real mess. And so I stepped in during that. We also had a pretty good sense, at that point...it's a pretty small town, and people talk, so we also knew that Terry Hoeppner was a lot worse than he was letting on. And so I stepped in, and it was just like, "wow." I remember, probably the third week on the job, just sitting there and taking a deep breath and trying to think about what was about to come. I had known a lot of good basketball writers, and they all called me and said, "You're going to nail this guy. This is going to happen." And I knew then that there was going to be something. Obviously, I couldn't foresee how it would all go down, and how much... tumult and collateral there would be, how it would just destroy everything. I knew Kelvin Sampson was going to go down in flames, but to think that Indiana basketball, which even growing up in Pennsylvania I knew was this sort of untouchable thing, to think that that would be hurt as much as it was, I couldn't have imagined it. You know...by the time...maybe I am an agent of Lucifer is what I'm saying.
I just took a couple of things from that. You are to sports reporting what tornado chasers are to the weather, and if you're a coach in the Baltimore area right now, seek a transfer and/or take out a very, very large life insurance policy. Because you will either be fired or dead very soon. All of you.
On the serious, let's say you're Adam Herbert and it's early fall 2007. What the fuck do you? What should you do?
You mean when the first stuff about Kelvin came out.
The week of midnight madness, they took this public, but they'd actually known since earlier that summer. You're the president of this university, what would you do?
If I was not the guy who forced this hire, that's the x-factor here. Adam Herbert made the hiring happen. For whatever reason, he and some of the trustees were totally charmed by Sampson. And I can sit here and tell you that I like Kelvin Sampson. I mean, he does not like me. But as far as a guy who you'd go drink a beer with or a guy who raised good kids. And he did. His kids are great. I think he's a good family man. I think his wife is happy. I mean, all these things that we judge humans by, um, but he was incredibly arrogant and did the wrong thing. But Adam Herbert made all that happen. Adam Herbert said this is the guy, and we're going to do it. So, when October came, for him to do the right thing was for him to admit that, however many months earlier, he'd done entirely the wrong thing. The right thing would have been to cut him loose. You don't worry about scapegoating Rob Senderoff. Nobody is going to believe, you know, "Oh, we got rid of Rob Senderoff." Nobody buys that, come on. Rob Senderoff is the third assistant who they'd plucked from Kent State. He was a young, promising guy who had done great work, but you are not fooling anybody. You're sacrificing a grasshopper. And it's Indiana. You cannot do that at Indiana. You cannot have a guy who...and especially when the lone columnist in the state, Bob Kravitz, is an Indiana grad and a former antagonist of Bob Knight. He really went after Knight. But he's a guy who really understands Indiana. And he says you cannot hire a guy like Sampson. Even if the new violations were mistakes, Greenspan kept saying, "omissions, not commissions," even if that's true, that is not the guy for Indiana. That is not the right guy for Indiana. You have to have a guy who knows and understands and does it right. You just have to get rid of Sampson. I don't know who you give it to at that point. Obviously, it's a bad situation. It's October, but you have to do something. And that's hindsight, and anybody can make decisions in hindsight, but he absolutely needed to do something immediately. It's the only way to go. You think about how much better off Indiana would be, just the players they would've kept and the momentum they would've had and the image that would've stayed intact. It's clearly the only way to go.
Switching gears, again, what advice would you like to give to Dustin's next roommate?
Oooh, good lord. You know, Dustin is the...and I say this with not an ounce of hyperbole, Dustin is the best person I've ever met. Dustin is the most sincere, most generous...well, he's obviously not going to give you a lot of money because he's a reporter, but he's generous in the sense of being a great human being, being there for you and trying to understand what you're going through. He's sympathetic, empathetic...he's just that guy. He's the best friend you could ever ask for. And the thing that somebody needs to do, that I could never do, that a lot of his other friends could never do, what his brother couldn't make him do is make him worry about himself a little bit, just go and be okay with living his own life, and just do it for himself for a bit. He's a great dude. He's the best. I don't think I'll ever have as much fun in my life as I did with him closing the Vid most weekend nights. He's just the best.