Lee, pull up a chair and sit down.
Weâ€™ve had our differences over the years. Iâ€™d be lying if I said otherwise. Given free reign over the athletics program Iâ€™d put you on a slow boat to China with a quickness. Trust me on this.
But thanks to a feckless decision by our Board of Trustees extending your contract, weâ€™re stuck with each other for the next five years unless the SEC comes calling. And letâ€™s face it â€“ it wonâ€™t.
So. With that in mind, hereâ€™s a lesson from on how to deal with fans that are spitting mad about Herb Sendekâ€™s latest seasonal swoon. You ready?
First, Iâ€™m proud that in your recent radio interview you didnâ€™t repeat the â€œlunatic fringeï¿½? type comments of the past, even though pseudo-journalist Adam Gold practically soiled himself with eagerness for you to trash the fans again. Despite this plus, though, your madd public relations skillz have a ways to go. In that vein, todayâ€™s lesson deals with what to say to the fans if, as most of us expect, Herb Sendek flames out against Cal or is one and done against the Coach Whose Name We Dare Not Speak.
After all, youâ€™re not going to fire Sendek. Thatâ€™s what the lawyers call a â€œtacit admissionï¿½? that youâ€™ve been talking through your hat about how good Herb is for the past five years or so. Canâ€™t have that. The SEC wants strong leaders, not weak ones. Think Noel Mazzone!
So, youâ€™ve got to say something that defends your decision to keep Herb, on the one hand, and prevents an angry Tale of Two Cities-type mob from your office door on the other. Because youâ€™ve finally figured out (I hope) that folks ainâ€™t kidding this time when they say theyâ€™ve had it with Herb Sendek. What to do?
Think Bill Moos!
Who is Bill Moos? Why, heâ€™s the director of athletics at the University of Oregon. Moos has faced angry fans, too â€“ fans mad about Duck basketball under Ernie Kent, whoâ€™s coached there pretty much as long as Herb Sendek has at State. Some of those fans are so mad that they started a web site urging Kentâ€™s dismissal and even suggested several candidates (Sorry, Herb wasnâ€™t one of them, so no more of those â€œfaux-interestï¿½? stories to boost Herb, now).
And this at a school with no national championships (since 1939, anyway)! Imagine the nerve, huh? Think of the relationships!
But I digress. Despite all this flak, Moos decided to keep his coach. He issued a statement explaining why. And hereâ€™s where you can pick up some real pointers. What did Bill Moos say?
First, that he made the decision to keep his coach based on something other than blind support, and after apparently serious inquiry into the condition of the program: â€œI have come to this conclusion after two days of discussions with Ernie and others within his program.ï¿½?
The point, Lee, is that he doesnâ€™t say stupid stuff to the effect of, â€œI donâ€™t care if he doesnâ€™t win another game this season, his job is safe with me.ï¿½? Nor does he imply that he doesnâ€™t care about fan concerns; he spent two days discussing the results of the season with the coach and others. He wanted, you see, an explanation â€“ something youâ€™ve never publicly demanded from Herb Sendek.
Second, he assures the fans that the coach is unhappy with poor results and remains passionate about the program: â€œNo one is more disappointed with the outcome of this season than Ernie. He genuinely hurts for his players, coaches and the fans. I do feel however, that he continues to possess the energy and passion that are necessary to regain the unprecedented success that Oregon has enjoyed during his tenure as head coach.ï¿½?
Now, Lee, I know you sort of did this on the radio the other day, talking about Sendekâ€™s private passion and the like. So Iâ€™ll give you a passing grade on this one. But note what Moos says: The coach hurts for THE FANS. Remember that when the Media Relations folks start drafting that support statement, huh? And â€œthe fansï¿½? doesnâ€™t mean Smedes York and Wendell Murphy.
Then, Moos sets out a logical (sort of, see below) reason supporting his decision: â€œI believe strongly that stability in the program is extremely important. If we had been struggling in mediocrity for the past nine years, my decision would have been different.ï¿½?
Of course, Lee, you are on boggy ground here. Despite your lipstick-on-a-pig â€œfive-year NCAAï¿½? protestations of elite status, much of Wolfpack Nation believes that â€œstruggling in mediocrityï¿½? for the past nine years is precisely what Herb Sendekâ€™s been doing. Herbâ€™s photo is pasted into their Websterâ€™s New Collegiate Dictionaries next to the word â€œmediocrity,ï¿½? in fact.
But this ticking bomb aside, note what else Moos states here: Past performance matters. To you, apparently, it doesnâ€™t – given your sort of airy dismissal of the first four years or so of Sendekâ€™s tenure, as if Pete Gaudet and not Herb Sendek had actually coached the team.
Moos then continues: â€œ[T]he past couple years have not been what anyone was expecting.ï¿½? Now, highlight this one, Lee. Expectations are part of holding people accountable for results. Most State fans think youâ€™re running a Swedish socialist jobs-for-life program for mediocre coaches, the comically hapless former volleyball coach aside. Hell, Lee â€“ the United Nations fires people more often than you do, by all appearances. Donâ€™t you think you have, maybe, a little â€˜splaining to do on this issue â€“ that you expect something other than mediocrity?
I really need you to listen up on this last one: even fans who cried loudest and longest for Kentâ€™s dismissal canâ€™t deny that Moos imposed at least limited consequences for failing to live up to expectations: â€œI also bear the responsibility for the current and long term financial condition of Oregon athletics and because of that, have made the determination to forgo my option to extend Ernieâ€™s contract past the 2010 season.ï¿½? In short, no contract extension, tied to poor performance.
Now, Moos isnâ€™t perfect here. In fact, his reasons for retaining Kent â€“ boiled down, stability in the program â€“ seem a little shaky. After all, if somethingâ€™s stinking up the room, you donâ€™t keep the windows closed with the notion that fresh air would make things unstable. What Moos did do, though, is (a) communicate careful thought behind his decision, (b) emphasize that retention wasnâ€™t a foregone conclusion, (c) express disappointment in poor results and demand improvement, and (d) impose consequences, though less than some wanted, for failure.
Take a lesson from Moos, Lee. The fans want â€“ and deserve â€“ something other than a blindly supportive, smugly asserted diktat from you regarding Coach Sendekâ€™s status. Performance has consequences: something the North Carolina State Department of Athletics should bear in mind. Starting with the man at the top.