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ESPN’s Rick Reilly talks “The System” and Taylor

Rick Reilly visits Grinnell to watch Jack Taylor and “The System” in action. Photograph Connie Lee.
Rick Reilly visits Grinnell to watch Jack Taylor and “The System” in action. Photograph Connie Lee.

This past Wednesday, the men’s basketball team went head to head with the Wartburg College Knights.Wartburg was able to stop Jack Taylor’s hot streak, but ultimately lost to the Pioneers, 88-79. Rick Reilly, formerly a columnist for Sports Illustrated and currently a  columnist for ESPN, flew in from L.A. to see the game and write an article on Taylor for ESPN. Reilly has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. Grinnellians Rob Storrick ’15 and Chris Marsho ’14, spoke with Reilly during halftime for Midwest Conference TV (MWCTV).

What do you think of The System? What is your opinion now that you have seen one half of Grinnell basketball?

I guess my first thought was that it is completely dumb and an embarrassment to basketball until I got here. Then I think it’s really interesting. It’s like a mad scientist, and the players are his beaker.

The way he brings people in like it’s a hockey game. The way that there’s no point in even having a shot clock. The way the scoring banner is five times bigger than the conference championship banner. The way the manager puts people into the game. The way the coach sits at the end of the bench? Why? It’s crazy stuff that happens here, but I kind of like it.

When you get to know the two coaches, they’re just about having fun. This is not just like the Miami Heat vs. the Lakers. Nobody is coming to Grinnell to go to the NBA. They’ve sort of brought me around to their way of thinking, which is, ‘Yeah it’s kind of a gimmick, it’s kind of a sham, but it’s our sham and we really like it.’

[One of the coaches] told me they’d sometimes go like, ‘Let’s see, which record should we break tonight’ [with hands over eyes, pointing to record book], and I’m like, ‘How cool is that?” It’s like they aren’t taking it seriously, which I guess offends some people. I kind of like it.

So you work in the industry of sports. What’s the general sense you have gotten from your colleagues about what Grinnell does?

Nobody comes here. You can’t really rip Grinnell until you come and see it at least, right? Nobody has come and met Jack Taylor. It’s easy in this day and age to say, “Ah, I just saw him on YouTube, and I saw a couple quotes, and I decided I hate him.”

Isn’t it worth coming to see something that’s never happened before in the history of college basketball?

I always like to at least meet people before I rip them . Or praise them. So I really don’t think it matters what they think, I guess, because it’s all sort of this hurly-burly that exists today in the blogging world where we just [say] like, ‘Here I am at 8 a.m. and I am going to have this huge, nasty opinion by 9.’

Well, how about you come meet these people, hear about it, see it for yourself and then see what you think? So far, I am kind of impressed. I mean, he’s trying to play good [defense], he’s passing the ball well, he’s triple-teamed and he doesn’t seem to be disgusted and it’s great to see … these kids’ faces who are like, ‘I just got this wide open three! I’ve been here for two years and never got a wide open three.’

And speaking to your point that there’s been some negative criticism, there was an article written by Gregg Doyel … It was pretty scathing, you know, I think that when you said you have to come here and meet the people, I think when you put a face to these people and see what goes behind the whole monster of the System, it puts a different light on it.

Which one is Gregg Doyel? I always get him confused with the other guy. Oh no, it’s Doyel who gets people confused. You know, Doyel has to come up with a lot of columns in a week. Everybody makes a mistake. I just think you should come here and see them, you know?

Absolutely. So, I have one last question. I saw that you tweeted out a couple months ago in September. You were 86,569th in line for the Packers season ticket list. What would it mean to you if you obtained season tickets?

That would mean I have discovered the secret to immortality, because I would be 10,000 years old. That would be cool! But, I would still have to have a job, which would not be cool.

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