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Greg McMahon walked with a purpose.
The Rantoul native about to enter his sixth season as the New Orleans Saints’ special teams coordinator strode across the football practice field at Wabash Park last week.
He had watched the Eagles work out from underneath the brief shade the overhang outside the third-base dugout at the Wabash Park baseball field where the Rantoul Township High School varsity baseball team calls home provided.
Clutching a Styrofoam cup beverage in his left hand, with his prodigious Super Bowl XLIV championship ring adorning his right ring finger, McMahon first greeted former college teammate and roommate Ira Jefferson.
The two met at Eastern Illinois University, where they both played for the Panthers and where their coaching careers — both in their third decade — began.
After a few pleasantries with Jefferson, a new RTHS assistant coach, McMahon — wearing plaid shorts with a black New Orleans Saints t-shirt and black Saints’ fishing hat on his head and a matching pair of black sunglasses on this hot and sunny morning — introduced himself to several other members of the Eagles’ coaching staff, including first-year head coach Joe Bendoraitis.
He gathered the current Eagles’ players around him after RTHS defensive coordinator Mitch Wilson — the person responsible for arranging a visit with McMahon — introduced McMahon to the players.
Just as this editor was about to snap a photo of McMahon addressing the Eagles, McMahon held up his right hand and said, “I’m just going to talk to the team.”
With that, McMahon, Eagles players and coaching staff sprinted to a shaded tree near one of the diamonds closest to the Community Service Center, a safe football field away from me, the big bad (and only) media representative there.
What McMahon said to the Eagles isn’t clear.
What McMahon’s thoughts on the upcoming 2012 Saints’ season isn’t clear.
What McMahon’s thoughts on, say, any topic, isn’t clear.
He wouldn’t talk to me. Of course, it goes without explanation that the Saints are about to enter one of the strangest seasons in NFL history.
Bountygate will do that to a team. For those unfamiliar with the situation or just need a plain refresher course, the Saints will play the 2012 season without its head coach Sean Payton and at times, without several of its key players and assistant coach/interim head coach Joe Vitt.
Payton was suspended for the entire season, with general manager Mickey Loomis suspended for eight games and the former Saints defensive coordinator and alleged mastermind of the bounty scandal, Gregg Williams, suspended from the NFL indefinitely.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell determined that the Saints ran a bounty program that rewarded players with payments for injuring or taking out opponents. With as much scrutiny as head injuries and the safety of its players has undergone in the last five years, the punishments were swift and precedent-setting when Goodell announced them in mid-May.
So far, McMahon’s name hasn’t come up in the scandal. Who knows if it ever will.
Who knows if McMahon will ever grant his hometown newspaper an interview again. We’re not blaming McMahon.
He came up after a 15-minute talk with the Eagles and explained that Saints owner Tom Benson doesn’t want his coaches talking to the media this season except for once a week during the season.
The bounty scandal has cast a black eye on the NFL and the Saints’ organization, a franchise that was mired in mediocrity for so long until Payton’s arrival.
Payton, along with the subsequent blossoming of players like quarterback Drew Brees, helped lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl win in 2010.
McMahon has played a role in the franchise’s turnaround. He was the one who convinced Payton to try that daring on-side kick the Saints recovered at the start of the second half, a gamble that many football coaches would never make.
It’s good that the new RTHS football staff is reaching out to past alumni like McMahon.
Former Eagles standout Sean Bubin was scheduled to speak to the team on Tuesday morning. It gives the current players someone to look up to.
Of course, opinions might be split on whether a coach with an organization that has run into the problems the Saints have in the past four months is the ideal person for that role.
From the limited interactions this paper has had with McMahon through the past five years, we think McMahon’s a quality guy. He still has family in Rantoul, and said last year in a feature story that he enjoys coming back to his hometown.
His brother still owns a car dealership in town.
Until Bountygate, he was happy to talk to us and answer any questions we might have. He led a prayer breakfast at St. Malachy, his former grade school in Rantoul, in 2010, a few months after the Super Bowl win.
He patiently and thoroughly answered my questions a month after I started here last year for a story.
But when it comes to the present day, McMahon won’t talk, and who knows how long it will last. Bountygate isn’t going away, nor should the coverage of it.
It’s a fine line the media and the people we cover try to balance every week. News is news, good or bad.
The refusal to talk — and again, this seems like it’s coming from the top levels of the organization, not simply from McMahon — opens up the public’s suspicions.
Especially when a course of an interview hasn’t even started or any questions have been asked.
Access is all we ask for in the media business, especially at a community newspaper level. Let us do our jobs and trust us to do our jobs.
But of course, when it comes to the big business that is the NFL, we should come to know that access to its coaches and players when a sensitive and unpleasant topic hits the airwaves, is virtually unattainable.
At least that’s the message McMahon and the Saints organization has sent.
Loud and clear, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Matt Daniels is the sports editor with the Rantoul Press newspaper. Like the column, love the column or hate the column? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org