Okay, first a caveat. I run a blog about Arkansas politics not sports. As such, I don't have any sort of inside source on if Boise State Coach Chris Petersen is being pursued to be the next Arkansas football.
But it does appear to me as someone used to parsing politicians' statements that Petersen's statement at his press conference on Wednesday as to whether he was in discussions with other schools was a good example of a “non-denial denial.”
The term “non-denial denial” was coined by The Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee in characterizing the statement from the White House, which seemed on their surface to deny the charges made during the Watergate scandal but in reality did not deny anything.
Let's look at what Petersen said when asked by a reporter about his “name getting mentioned for every single job in the country.”
“22 minutes that's better than I thought…” – Petersen begins by both praising the reporters for holding back on asking about other coaching jobs until late into the press conference and making the whole question seem silly to bring up.
“…It is not even kind of…” – Petersen responded when asked if this was a “distraction.” This is not a denial that he is being considered, but a denial that it is a distraction.
“…because it's just rumors…” – Certainly true. It is just rumors, but he again does not deny the rumors.
“…that is really all I have to say about this. I say it every year…” He is asking the reporters to move on and reminding them that previous rumors were not true. That implies these rumors are not true without actually saying that they are not true.
“…it's just rumors. I really don't even think don't even think half the time it is reporters. Everybody is a reporters these days. Everybody has an opinion on a blog or something like that so they throw it out and so 'Oh, what's gonna happen…” Petersen cleverly here implies that if these highly respectable members of the sports media bit on this rumor, then they are as bad as those dreadful good-for-nothing bloggers.
“…I remember Chad a couple years ago just had to talk to me – sorry Chad – just had to. 'But this one is really really true. This one I promise you. This one is getting legs.' I mean it was so far from false that it wasn't even…(interrupted by Chad)…” Petersen is smart guy. He reminds one of the reporters how silly he was for pursuing one of these rumors in the past.
“…so…I mean… It's just…It is what it is…” This is a completely meaningless phrase used when someone clearly does not want to talk about whatever “it is.”
“…I mean you guys love it. It sells whatever…” Silly reporters trying to sell papers.
“…But it means nothing it means zero here. We don't even pay attention to it…” Here he is referring to the Boise State program, which I am sure it is true as they stay focused on their upcoming game. But not paying attention to something does not mean it is false.
“…The only trouble is in recruiting…” You guys keep asking me about this and you will hurt recruiting for the program you cover.
“…and so 99.9 percent is always completely false. The problem is .1 …so… there hasn't even been .1 … so … yeah.” This was as close as Petersen comes to a denial, but he stops just short. Of course, he gives himself the tiniest bit of wiggle room, but also note the tense he uses is past tense. It seems to me he is saying there hasn't even been .1 in the past rumors. He is not saying that is the case with the current rumors. He then clams up clearly wanting to move on which the reporters do.
Note how different the statement is from an absolute Shermanesque denial of “If offered another job, I will not accept” type of statement.
I have no idea if Petersen is even on Arkansas' list. I hope so because he is a good coach and seems to be a great guy. But this statement – while sounding like a denial – leaves the door wide open.
Robbie Neiswanger has his take on his blog on the Arkansas News Bureau website, including some interesting tidbits on Petersen's contract that could throw a twist into things.