First of all, you don’t announce a players-only meeting is going to happen, because that sucks all the drama out of it. What you do is get a bunch of your teammates together and do whatever it is you always do.
Play video games, have a pizza party, whatever. It’s a normal hangout, and during that hangout one or two of you may say something like, “Man, we’ve got to get this thing straightened out,” and there’s a chorus of “yeahs” and “uh-huhs” from the gallery. Presumably, since you are USC and you do have more talent than anybody else in your conference, you roll off a few wins in a row.
Then — AND ONLY THEN — do you tell anyone in the media or on Twitter that this “players-only meeting” happened. You need to be vague on details (because there aren’t any), but you tell them that it was an intense, emotional affair during which everybody aired their grievances — I mean, you all really let it all hang out there.
In your telling of the story, it will be helpful to use the word “heated” at least once, because if you do, you can guarantee that word will appear in every story written about this meeting. You also need to identify the player who did the most talking, but be careful whom you choose, because that guy will now and forevermore be the “emotional leader” of your team, whether he is or not.
You do not want any aspect of your story to be disputed.
If there was a "players only" meeting I wasn’t there… Every coach and player we have is focused on one goal and that’s winning this week!
I’m going to let you in on something here: The “players-only meeting” is not a real thing. It is a myth, passed along to the media to be used as a narrative device. You’re only supposed to tell the media after the “players-only meeting” has already worked. That’s the only way it works.
If you tell people about it before it even happens, well, what are they going to think when you lose again? I’ll tell you what they’re going to think about Marqise Lee. They’re going to think he isn’t any good at calling players-only meetings, that’s what. They’re going to question whether he is the kind of leader USC needs.
This is not to say players don’t sometimes meet to discuss football without the coaches around, perhaps even passionately. But what the professionals understand is that the players-only meeting is not for the players, it’s for the fans.
Fans need to be constantly reassured that the players care as much as they do. Fans need this kind of mythology to keep them going. Football is way too complicated for any lay person to really understand without devoting hours upon hours of free time to breaking down film and reading football coaching books.
Nobody wants to hear that you lost to Washington State because of some boring thing about gap responsibility or pass blocking technique or zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Fans want it to be something more like, “We didn’t have enough fire in our belly.” Because that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a players-only meeting and some extra eye black.
So, Marqise Lee has screwed this up, but he’s still a young guy. When he gets to the NFL, I hope, for his sake, that some wise veteran sits him down and explains all this to him. And when that happens, Marqise, for Pete’s sake, don’t go calling the guy your mentor.