ESPN analyst Merril Hoge tried to temper remarks made in a recent interview about Vince Young on a Pittsburgh radio station and also said that he has no personal vendetta against the Tennessee Titans quarterback he has openly criticized.
Hoge, who has been a staunch critic of Young’s abilities as an NFL quarterback since before the Titans selected him in the 2006 draft, said he doesn’t want people to think he has a dislike for Young as a person in any way.
“I want to set the record straight. People think that I hate Vince Young,” Hoge told The City Paper in a telephone interview Monday evening. “That’s not true. I’ve never met Vince Young. I’ve been critical of him and his play, but how can I hate him? I don’t even know him. And I feel really bad that this thing has gone as far as it has with people thinking I have something personal against him. I don’t want any player in the NFL to fail.”
Hoge said that with all Young has been through, from his reluctance to re-enter the Jacksonville game two weeks ago, to the following day where Young skipped a scheduled MRI and had police searching for him after he was unaccounted for four hours, that there is more at stake than just a football player.
“When it comes down to it, it’s not about Vince Young as a quarterback. At the end of the day, with all he’s been through, it’s about Vince Young as a human being. That’s what’s important, and I don’t want him to hate me or think that I have something personal against him,” Hoge said.
Hoge’s original interview aired on WDVE in Pittsburgh, then re-aired on Nashville sports talk radio stations on Friday and Monday, again stirring up the controversy and soap opera that has swirled around Young since the season opener.
In the original interview, Hoge not only referred to Young as a “baby,” but also indicated that Titans coach Jeff Fisher was adamantly against drafting Young and told him that he did not believe Young could run an NFL offense, and that he would threaten to go to Texas and install the Longhorns offense in Tennessee if Young was drafted.
On Monday night, Hoge backed off those remarks, relating this account of that conversation with Fisher prior to the 2006 draft.
“My conversation with Jeff before the draft really goes back to when Buffalo drafted J.P. Losman, who I did not believe was going to be a good quarterback in my evaluation, and he happened to be the first pick ever made by [former Bills coach] Mike Malarkey, who is a great friend of mine,” Hoge said. “Mike calls me and asks me how I could rip his first pick ever.
“So when the Titans were looking at possibly drafting Vince, I spoke to Jeff and told him that if they picked him, my opinion wasn’t going to change and that I didn’t want him to be blindsided by my remarks.”
Hoge then went on to say that it was he who suggested to Fisher that Fisher should “go to Texas and run the Texas offense” with Young, not a threat from Fisher to use that against drafting Young.
Hoge said that the Titans were making the final pre-draft debates about whether to choose Young or Matt Leinart, whom Fisher and then-offensive coordinator Norm Chow both wanted, and that Fisher told him that no matter which quarterback the Titans picked that there would be a united front presented from the organization.
“Every organization has a debate. No one is ever united on a pick, but every team says they are. And they’d be fools not to say that. If you pick a running back in the first round, the defensive coaches are upset because you didn’t take a linebacker,” Hoge said.
He also went on to say that Fisher, contrary to the way Hoge attributed it to the coach in the radio interview, has been a constant supporter of Young.
“I’ve been critical of Young, and my opinion and stance on that won’t change, because it’s my opinion and it’s my job to tell people why I like or don’t like this player, and why this player is playing well or that player is not playing well,” Hoge said. “But Jeff has been a staunch supporter of Vince’s throughout the entire process. I think Jeff is a straight shooter and a good coach, and I believe a coach like him gives Vince his best chance to be a successful NFL quarterback.”
Hoge indicated that he has spoken to Fisher since the interview in an attempt to clear up the matter, and also indicated that an analyst’s opinion of a player pales in comparison to the coaches’ opinion of the player. He referred back to the Losman situation.
“Jim Kelly introduced me to Losman at a golf tournament, and he didn’t even want to shake my hand, because he disliked me and what I said about him so much, and I explained to him that what my opinion is doesn’t matter. The important thing is that his coach, Mike Malarkey stuck up for him and believed in him. That’s all that matters, and it’s the same way with Jeff Fisher and Vince.
“My opinion and evaluation of Vince the player is not going to change. There have been times that I’ve said things and Jeff has called me and said, ‘Hey, that’s not true,’ or ‘Hey, that’s enough.’ So Jeff has always defended Vince.”
As for the part of the interview where he said Titans defensive players could be heard on the sidelines criticizing Young’s demeanor and saying his knee injury might help the Titans, Hoge said that those sorts of remarks and scuttlebutt make the rounds in conversations with several players and coaches, but that it should be easy for Young to change that opinion of him, even if those remarks were uttered by teammates.
“For him right now, the most important thing is for him to heal both physically and mentally an get back to helping the Titans,” Hoge said.
Efforts to reach Fisher on Monday evening were unsuccessful, but the Titans coach did refute the remarks in an interview Monday morning on WGFX-FM after that station aired the original Hoge interview.