(authored by a UTK graduate and self-described UT sports fanatic)
The University of Tennessee football head coach search blew up into epic proportions over the weekend. Simple communications planning could really have benefitted the University and the Athletic Director.
University head coach searches are a funny animal. All behind closed doors and very hush hush until ‘insider sources’ start naming potential hires. For better or worse, whether or not you agree with AD John Currie’s selection of Ohio State University’s defensive coordinator Greg Schiano as the new UT Football coach, the communication rollout couldn’t have gone worse.
We offer some communications tips post mortem to the University, free of charge!
(1) Get a feel for the public reaction to your candidate – and not just from the state’s biggest donor. If your supporters feel uneasy about the hire, go with their gut feeling and move on. In a formal sense, focus groups or data collection can help a company avoid a large financial or product failure. Do the same for a huge hire.
(2) Have your boosters and supporters on your side. Give them the reasons why your hire is the best guy for the job. We emphasize this all the time. Internal branding and communications plans go hand-in-hand. If your employee or client doesn’t understand the product, will a potential client buy it? Brand advocates can make or break a product release.
(3) Build good messaging. For yourself and for the aforementioned advocates. Saying “he’s a good hire” (or nothing at all in this case…) isn’t enough. Tell me why. Show me results. I’m not going to buy a new car because the manufacturer says it’s the best. I want to see Consumer Reports, Safety Ratings and anecdotal stories from drivers. This is the easiest part of the coaching hire roll out. Arm your people with good information, from proven sources!
(4) Never underestimate social media. National news was made over a 4-8 football team within hours due to the social media backlash. Again, for better or worse, UT Vols fans made their voices and opinions heard so much that the hiring contract was negated. We’re not saying UT leadership should manage by committee but if you aren’t following tips 1-3, be prepared for this.
(5) If all other pieces of advice are ignored, don’t issue a defensive statement. Own the mistake and move on to an actual, legitimate coaching search.