Cue the laugh track, here comes Bob Kennel’s annual communique.
Open Letter to Chancellor James Oblinger 23 March 2006
Subject: NC Stateâ€™s â€œInstitutional Controlâ€
Dear Chancellor Oblinger,
NC State is a Great University, and you are doing an excellent job building upon the strengths of previous Chancellors and taking us even further. Sincere thanks to you.
I am writing concerning our NC State athletic program and some rumblings within our fan base. My family has strongly supported NC State athletics for over 60 years, and I competed for the Wolfpack in the late 50â€™s one year in basketball and four in football and baseball under four NC Sports Hall of Fame coaches. My red blood runs very deep.
The level of discourse concerning NC State athletics needs to be raised to a higher standard than it currently sits with some media, Internet boards, and some individuals. This is very important for our great institution. It is well known that the general public often simplistically judges sports scores on a win-lose basis while the â€œscoresâ€ for the importance of the Centennial Campus precedent, or 30,000 students entrusted to the University, or Billion Dollar â€œAchieveâ€ campaign are not known on a daily or seasonal basis.
Recently I have been embarrassed for our University by some of the stories, language, and rumors emanating from the media, Internet, and individuals concerning our menâ€™s basketball team and coach Herb Sendek. But the issue goes far beyond that to the subject of NC Stateâ€™s â€œInstitutional Control.â€ NC State has experienced external â€œgotchaâ€ campaigns going back sixteen years to Coach Valvano, five years to Coach Avent, last year to Coach Sendek, and six months ago to Coach Amato where someone was after a coachâ€™s scalp.
Sixteen years ago we did not have â€œInstitutional Controlâ€ when Coach Valvano was dismissed. (I was the President of the Alumni Association at the time and saw first hand how decision making was taken away from NC State because we didnâ€™t have Institutional Control in place). Today we do have it, and fortunately these last-named coaches are still representing NC State very well.
The real question is â€œWhat do you do with those who wish to influence hiring and firing decisions of the University outside of Institutional Control?â€ Following are some thoughts on this subject for three publics with which the University must deal:
MEDIA: NC State is subject to both local and national media, and they will always be with us. It is strange that media outside North Carolina questions why some of our fans want to get rid of a successful coach such as Herb Sendek. Locally, however, we have seen TV, several newspaper writers, and even an anonymous Technician editorial playing up negativity at inopportune times over the past two weeks.
MESSAGE BOARD FANS: Duke and Carolina may have their â€œWalMartâ€ fans, but NC State has its â€œMessage Boardâ€ fans (as well as â€œradio call-inâ€ fans). Recently there has been a steady drumbeat of posters with â€œFire Herbâ€ mentality, with some individuals having literally thousands of separate posts on message boards. They are in the minority; but their anonymous and numerous posts help feed a negative frenzy. I personally interact with many of them under the name â€œ58 Wolf Kennelâ€ to try to reason and to understand what makes them tick. Indeed the Internet message boards are usually enjoyable for information, humor, discussions, and even emotional outlets on many subjects. However when the Internet Board or Blogger mentality tries to effect change by rumor planting or obsessive posts they will come up short in the outcome but can poison the waters in the process. Simple examples involve hurting NC Stateâ€™s national image, upsetting the families of coaches, and potentially harming recruiting.
IMPORTANT INDIVIDUALS: Every organization from universities to companies to churches has important individuals who influence decisions even though they are not the decision makers themselves. Sometimes they influence by their counsel, sometimes by their financial commitments. NC State is no exception, and NC State athletics has greatly benefited from both influences. For example, the Wolfpack Club provides excellent support for NC State athletics on the basis of such people as do individuals supporting the ACHIEVE Program. Such people are often very strong in their opinions as well as their influence. NC State is fortunate to have very few of its important people who join in the negative feeding frenzies, but it does happen. Sometimes itâ€™s not unlike a good church Deacon who withholds his tithe until the Minister is asked to leave.
INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL: Ultimately this involves the authority and responsibility of the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees to deal with athletics as well as all other University issues. For athletics this authority line goes through the Athletic Department and NC State Athletic Director Lee Fowler. He is charged with directing a competitive, clean, and cost-effective athletic program that will bring honor to the University. Responsibility for hiring and firing of coaches and other staff reside with the Chancellor and Athletic Director with the concurrence of the Board of Trustees. This is as it should be. The Chancellor may also seek input from his Council on Athletics made up of Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Wolfpack Club representatives. (I have had the honor of serving twice on this Council in the mid 1990â€™s and mid 2000â€™s, and I believe the overall health of our athletics program is the best it has ever been).
How does NC State judiciously exercise its Institutional Control given loud inputs from the three public â€œvoicesâ€ above? After considerable thought, here is how I believe each of the three might be handled.
(a) Media: Continue to be polite but firm that you will make all personnel decisions with inputs from the Athletic Director, advice as desired from the representative Council on Athletics, and concurrence from the Trustees. You might even chide the local media for helping feed some of negative frenzy by often using and being used by the Internet rumor mills. You should assure the national media that NC State has firm Institutional Control of both its athletic programs and its expanded land-grant mission.
(b) Message Board Fans: They should simply be ignored. The anonymous nature of the Message Boards leaves it no credibility in either quality or quantity of posted information. Reason is not their agenda when what they seek is personnel change. There is no appeasement for negative feelings; and debating just inflames the passions. Of course, signed letters and e-mails identifying who and why a position is being taken should always be accepted, but you and your staff must always determine the position you wish to take. There may be a few empty seats. The Wolfpack Club would probably take some temporary heat, possibly with slightly reduced membership or participation at events; but I believe they strongly support your decisions.
(c) Important Individuals: This is the most difficult issue to deal with because such people are usually well thought out as well as influential. Once you and staff have listened to them and formed your own decisions, they will just have to live with it. At one time seven years ago, I did not agree with the timing of Chancellor Foxâ€™s decision on relieving Coach Oâ€™Cain and gave her a letter on my reasons (even though not one of the important persons). However, once she made the decision, I fully supported it and told her so. Her decision was difficult but ultimately wise, and she clearly exercised Institutional Control.
There are also clear benefits to the Chancellor in dealing with such athletic issues.
â€¢ The NCAA likes to see demonstrations of Institutional Control.
â€¢ Itâ€™s good for every Chancellor to have on his or her record.
â€¢ It shows the University community that you and the AD are responsibly in charge of all our coaches to run competitive, clean, cost-effective programs.
â€¢ It also gives an answer to some national perceptions that some of the inmates were loose.
Finally, I wish to state my personal support for whatever decisions you make. I also trust the recommendations that AD Lee Fowler makes and any actions of the Board of Trustees. I have known most members of the Trustees for many years and implicitly trust their judgment as well as their Chair Wendell Murphy. I also believe the Council on Athletics can always be helpful in giving a representative view from the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and Wolfpackers.
Congratulations again on the overall job you are doing and wisdom on future decisions as well.
Bob Kennel â€˜58