Opening Up at Media Days
July 7, 2016 by Jean Neuberger • Print Story •
The college football season is set to kickoff in a few weeks.
For now, this is the media season. Media days, that is.
Soon, football media will descend on the conference media days, ready to ask anything possible to coaches; most of whom are ready to leave as soon as they arrive. No doubt, up in Big Ten country, the masses will flock to Jim Harbaugh. Down in ACC country, they'll wonder if Dabo Swinney's Clemson team could find its way into the title game again. On the West Coast, they'll talk about how Christian McCaffery got hosed in the Heisman voting and if they'll be snubbed again from the College Football Playoff.
And, without question, they'll be some fire directed in Dallas towards Jim Grobe, who is trying to douse the flames of an epic dumpster fire at Baylor. They'll question Oklahoma's Bob Stoops as well as to the incident with Joe Mixon, along with taking in Dorial Green-Beckham after his noted assaults while at Missouri. They'll crank the heat in Birmingham, as well, as Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze and Tennessee's Butch Jones will have some explaining to do for the press.
In fact, as this article is being released, Tennessee just agreed to a settlement to the tune of roughly two and a half million dollars. Looks like the ballroom at the Hyatt Wynfrey in Hoover will be slightly packed for Tennessee's turn at the podium.
My hope, for this season of media days, is this: Be direct. Be open. Don't circle the questions.
Too many times, NCAA coaches (as well as the pros) will provide coachspeak during press conferences. Sometimes, it's needed as the information that's being asked is of a confidential nature. However, when there's controversy, circling around the questions only triggers more of them. More scandals. More digging. More accusations. Nothing good comes out of it.
One only needs to remember ESPN's 30 For 30: Pony Excess, to be reminded that trying to dodge media inquiries leads to massive catastrophes within an athletic program. And, while the NCAA is bumbling investigations left and right, now isn't the time to set yourself up for more danger.
Think the days of the SWC were cutthroat? They were, but it's nothing like today. Programs are more cutthroat than ever; mostly because fan bases, thirsty for titles and bragging rights, are that way. The pressure and will to win can be overwhelming and can lead to a lapse in morals and ethics, as we found out in Waco this summer.
So, beyond every fiber of common sense and judgment that any public relations expert would have, I'm begging the coaches now: if you're under investigation and you know what happened, go ahead and confess it out in public. Be upfront; admit it, address the ways you'll fix it and work to move forward from it. Is it risky? Incredibly. But it might be the only way to save your job later, as well as your program.
Let's turn back to Tennessee. If Butch Jones tries to bury this; it won't help his cause. He'll be negatively recruited on for years. If he circles around the questions, that negative light on Tennessee will only shine brighter on them. His best option is to admit that the program needs to address the major dilemmas that led to their settlement and pledge to clean up the mess that existed during his tenure. If he does it, he might win over some of the public outside of Vol Nation. If he tucks and rolls; he will look the part of a sleazy lawyer and pour some gasoline under his seat.
And yes, it will add a spice to media days like never before. However, it's also the only time you can spin a tough issue completely in your favor and have thousands of voices vouching for you. It's definitely the only way Grobe can go, especially as he's the interim hired to clean everything up. Just maybe, it'll work for someone else, as well.