August 22, 2000

An open mike is OK with Criner

By Steve Addy - LAS VEGAS SUN -

When NBA coaches and players complained about wireless microphones and locker room cameras last season, the league chided their overreaction, but pulled the plug for harmony's sake.

Jim Criner doesn't understand all the fuss.

Las Vegas' new XFL coach wore a microphone for six years in NFL Europe, and he isn't fazed that the WWF-created league plans to wire everyone except the water boy when it debuts in February.

There will be no such thing as a private moment on the field, not with eyeball-sized cameras planted in helmets, open microphones everywhere and all of it fodder for the real-time Internet broadcast.

"It's great for the fans, and it honestly doesn't interfere with your ability to coach," Criner said.

Football coaches as a group are unlikely proponents of such technology, especially when it violates the supposed sanctity of their locker room or sideline discussions. How long would it take for Buddy Ryan to grind his microphone under his heel or drop-kick the Coach-Cam into Row 15?

But the XFL hopes to attract fans by taking them behind the scenes, so Criner and his fellow coaches will have to embrace the high-tech intrusion whether they like it or not.

"We want to take fans into the locker room at halftime," XFL president Basil DeVito said. "We want them to hear what's happening on the sidelines and in the huddle. If a guy drops a pass, we want to hear what the quarterback says when he gets back to the huddle."

A cutting-edge idea, to be sure, but the NBA had trouble implementing such a policy in the middle of last season.

Coaches Paul Westphal of Seattle and Butch Carter of Toronto were fined $100,000 apiece when they refused to be miked for games on NBC. The players union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the new TV policy had to be collectively bargained. Rather than fight it, the NBA pulled the plug and rescinded the fines.

In the XFL, everybody will know the policy from the start.

"I don't have any problem with it," Criner said. "It's something I'm quite accustomed to. We've done all that stuff in Europe, with cameras on the quarterbacks and linebackers' helmets. It doesn't bother me as a coach. The great thing is it gives the fans insight and knowledge that they wouldn't get otherwise."

A perfect example came this season on May 21 when the Claymores hosted Frankfurt. The game went into overtime at 24-24, and in NFL Europe each team gets one possession before sudden death takes over.

Frankfurt scored first and kicked the conversion for a 31-24 lead, but Scotland came right back with its own touchdown. That left Criner with a decision: go for the point-after kick and take his chances in sudden death, or try for a two-point conversion to win the game.

Criner called timeout, and all of the deliberations went out live over the Internet.

"I asked my defensive coordinator (Myrel Moore) if he felt we could stop them (on the next possession)," Criner said. "He said no. We also had some very tired guys and a few injury situations, so I thought about it and decided to go for two."

Internet fans saw and heard Claymores QB Kevin Daft call the play and encourage his teammates, then his angry reaction after the play broke down and he had to throw the ball away, giving Frankfurt a 31-30 win on Scotland's field.

"Our fans treated us like we won the game," Criner said. "It was because they got to hear all of the considerations that went into the decision. They felt like they were a part of it. We lost the game, but the fans seemed to like hearing why we went for two."