AD Versus Local Media and Perception

Submitted by antonio_sass on December 4th, 2010 at 10:53 PM

In my view, one of the biggest failures of the University and Athletic Department in the past 3 years has been public relations.

 For whatever reason, the local media has been hell-bent on cutting down our football team and head coach. Larger media markets pick this shit up via ESPN, SI, etc, and a public perception is formed. From "Major NCAA violations" to "Lack of Family Values"  to "Thugs" to "Embarassing Bust Speeches," the MIchigan brand has taken a hit,nationally. And this matters. It affects recruiting, it sews discontent within our fanbase, and it looks bad for the University as a whole. The really disappointing part is that the original stories are nearly all either massive exaggerations or utter bullshit -- all you'd have to do is a little digging. Nationally, there are still a ton of people who think Rich Rod is dirty, or an asshole, or a cheater. How many times have you heard recruits say "When I met with coach he was much different from what I had heard."

Here's my question: Why hasn't our Athletic Department gotten ahead of this narrative? Why have they let these smears go almost completely undefended? No matter who the head coach is, this is an attack on our football program and university. I'm not asking for David Brandon to publicly endorse RR's W-L record, but he should defend the man and our program's integrity and character. It is both the right and smart thing to do.

Dave Brandon oversaw the recent Dominoes campaign that completely revitalized their brand (at least I'm pretty sure he did), so he's clearly cognizant of the importance of public perception, and he has the tools to shape it. When our recuits and players feel the need to publicly defend their head coach, there is something very wrong with public relations.

I firmly believe that we are still the leaders and the best. The "Michigan Way" is a sacred thing, and needs to be defended.



December 4th, 2010 at 11:02 PM ^

Dave Brandon has not held his position for long, but he's already planning a brand turnaround.  He said so on multiple occasions. 

(We will) craft the message a little better in the media in terms of who we are, what's going on here and why it ought to be attractive to people

He's even hired a Chief Marketing Officer:


December 4th, 2010 at 11:10 PM ^

I was aware of this, and think it's a good first step -- but saying you're going to do something is quite different from proving that you can and will, when given plenty of ample of opportunities.

Of course, this falls on Bill Martin as well.

The post wasn't intended to imply DB can't improve in this area, but I do think he (and BM) should have been better thus far, and it's a large reason why the program is where it is at now (Wins and Losses being the other big one, of course)


December 4th, 2010 at 11:23 PM ^

I do think he (and BM) should have been better thus far

Maybe Bill Martin should have done better, but DB seems to be doing what he can.  Brand management and reputation take a long time to build/repair.

it's a large reason why the program is where it is at now

This I disagree with.  Sure some in the MSM has demonized Michigan over the past few years, but I doubt that had much to do with the state of the program.  USC has had a tremendous amount of negative publicity the past few years also and they still have a top 25 recruiting class.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:11 PM ^

For whatever reason, the local media has been hell-bent on cutting down our football team and head coach.

Come on, we know what that reason is.  The media doesn't go after winners.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:55 PM ^

This may be true for the national media, but I disagree that it's the explanation for some of the local media slappys. 

Even if Rich Rod won 7 big ten titles, he still wouldn't be a "Michigan Man," to use a stupid, antiquated, meaningless expression.  It's the dark side of a rigid adherence to tradition -- a feeling that things aren't being done the right way unless they're being done the familiar way, the way that Bo would have done it. 

Rich Rodriguez isn't Bo, and he's not Lloyd Carr, and he hasn't spent 40 years of his life thinking Michigan-Ohio State is the most important thing on the planet.  For some people, that's a problem.  Those people are idiots.  Many of them write for local papers. 


December 5th, 2010 at 11:22 AM ^

If RichRod won just one big ten title just about all of the negative stories would stop.  At least, until the team had a bad year.  It's ALL about winning and losing. 

As I posted in another thread, Pete Carroll used to play cheesy songs/get emotional in his team meetings on a regular basis.  But his team won, so ESPN did weekly fluff pieces on what an awesome motivator he is.


December 5th, 2010 at 11:59 AM ^

it should bear repeating:  Bill Freider was fired from coaching the Michigan Basketball team during the tournament because he had already taken the job elsewhere (Arizona).  Bo fired him, because he wanted a 'Michigan Man' to be in charge.  By Michigan Man, he meant one who was All In for Michigan and not lined up to be coaching somewhere else, or had interests elsewhere. He wanted a coach who was focusing on the team and had his mind on developing his players during the tournament.

Thus, I think Jim Harbaugh is currently not a Michigan Man.  

steve sharik

December 5th, 2010 at 12:38 AM ^

...or maybe you should've included a "/s", but if not:

The media doesn't go after winners.

Care to explain why the media went after Reggie Bush and is now all over the Cam Newton story?

Perhaps you meant "winners" in terms of character.  But if that's true, how come the media went after Rich before they even knew the man?

I think it becomes more and more clear why Bo and Lloyd had such animosity toward the Detroit media.

Waters Demos

December 5th, 2010 at 8:49 AM ^

Good counterpoint.  However, I think the point that a winner attracts less negative press still has quite a lot of explanatory power.

The two examples you point to are national stories involving systemic failures that relate to the myth of "amateurism" that the NCAA propagates.  Regardless of success, stories like these go to the heart of college athletics, and, therefore, will attract media scrutiny (perhaps rightly so).

As a counter to your counter, look at my alma mater (MSU).  Have you seen how quickly the scrutiny regardlng MD's decision to let CLR back on the team died down?  A lot of people in EL are still unhappy with this.  Even more grumbling is still taking place about the alleged dorm incident involving MSU bball players.  But winning a share of the B10 championship in football and being a perennial winner in bball appears to preclude these stories from developing and lingering, or even taking root at all, in the press.  Neither of these stories go to the central issue of "amateurism"; therefore, both easily get swept away in the wake of success (perhaps unfortunately).

Re: your point about Bo and Lloyd, as a former prof of mine once said about the media, "they ALWAYS get it wrong."  As chair of a major department on campus, his way of dealing with this was to stay away, and it appears that Bo and Lloyd held the same conviction (almost certainly rightly so). 


December 4th, 2010 at 11:14 PM ^

But I'm curious what EXACTLY you want them to do more of. Issue more press releases? Have the coaches do more interviews (with the self-same media)? Have Brandon issue more statements? Start attacking the media? Saying everyone loves them some Josh Groban?
<br>I agree that it would be nice, but whenever someone says "do it better", I wonder "how"? You may have great ideas...maybe someone will tell Dave to try a few of them.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:30 PM ^

I agree, it's tough to do anything now after so much shit has been published.  Depending on what negative feature is being reported, it's sometimes hard to attack that specific feature directly because it can make you look even worse and defensive like you're covering something up.  

I imagine it's getting harder and harder to combat negative or made up stories with so many people so close to the program using their own personal accounts (Twitter, facebook, blogs, etc.) to communicate more directly to the same public who hears information from the University directly.  If the individuals (players, coaches, recruits, journalists responsible for reporting primarily for Michigan, whatever) give a different perception than what the University wants to show, the University then has to do damage control on people who should be helping promote the University.

Going forward it seems like Michigan needs to rev up the PR machine and keep positive stories coming out consistently so there isn't a lull in the news for negative stories (made up or otherwise) to gain a lot of traction.  There will always be stubborn people who aren't willing to change their opinions but that's just life.  

I think DB's been a great public face for the university (no timeline discussions please) and his perceived straight-forwardness bodes well for improving the team's public image.

Section 1

December 5th, 2010 at 1:18 AM ^

why nobody in the media was interested in doing the counter-story.

The real story behind Justin Boren, for instance, was more interesting than what we really got.

The real story behind the Rosenberg/Snyder/Freep story is now much more interesting than the nothingness of what the real result of the NCAA investigation was.

Somebody could do a very interesting book on the press' hunting of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:21 PM ^

Rod Beard from the Detroit News talked to Brandon at today's basketball game and got some comments from him on the football bust:

"It was an emotional night and it always is," Brandon said Saturday while taking in the Michigan-Harvard men's basketball game at Crisler Arena. "The emotions were high and the passion was high and that's Coach's way of communicating his passion and respect for the kids and the program." 

Since the banquet, Rodriguez has drawn criticism for putting the focus on himself, amid speculation that his job could be in jeopardy. Brandon, who also was at the banquet, has repeatedly said he will not evaluate Rodriguez's job performance until after the season. 

"It was different. It was something he wanted to do and he did it. I'm sure he planned it -- he had it cued up to play and he did it," Brandon said of the scene at the banquet. "He's a very passionate guy. People haven't seen that side of him and he showed it at the bust."


"The attention that any athletic director wants -- and any coach wants, and any player wants and any fan wants -- is the attention around winning and being highly competitive," Brandon said Saturday. "That's what we all want and what we need."


December 4th, 2010 at 11:32 PM ^

First off, to some extent, DB has started doing this.  When the NCAA rulings came out and basically said that the "major violation" of promoting an atmosphere of non-compliance was unfounded, DB made a pretty blunt statement that the local media (i.e. the Freep) should issue an apology for this BS.  I thought that was a ballsy move for an AD.

As for publicly defending RR, DB is in a tough situation.  Most of the criticism is not really the stuff that an AD or a department can respond to.  For example:

1.  RR-WVU divorce.  Michigan can't weigh in.  THe matter was in court, so "no comment" had to be the response.

2.  NCAA violations  -while the matter was pending, same thing.  Can't respond in the media without hurting your cause with the NCAA.

3.  On the field criticisms (Losing record, no bowls in 2008 and 2009, worst M defense ever, MSU/OSU/B10 record)  - what is the response?  These may or may not be RR's fault, but the only way to respond is to win.  Anything else looks like whining and excuses by the AD, and would be mocked even further in the media.

The only thing that DB can do now if he wants to "control the message" is endorse RR as the coach.  Obviously, that is not going to happen for a month, for wahtever reason.

I do agree that the media has single-handedly ruined RR's tenure here so far - they have hastened departures, transfers and negativity and severely impacted recruiting.  But there isn't much that the AD could have done about it.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:35 PM ^

I had a conversation with a non Michigan fan tonight about how he thought RR should get fired because because of the "major violations" and him being an classless asshole (look down the road for that guy) who is dragging down Michigan, yada yada.  Basically the story that everyone hears except those who go to the trouble of getting a balanced story about Michigan football.  It was tiring to again run down the list of exaggerated or plain BS stories about RR.  Has he had some bad PR faux pas?  Absolutely.  Is he a selfish, dumb hick from WV who only thinks about his interests.  Absolutely not.   

It is just the way the news functions today.  Good stories don't sell.  There are plenty of examples of RR's positive impact from his emphasis to develop grounded, responsible players (DR with all the early Heisman hype and he only fell over himself to deflect the attention and talk about the team) to being an active participant in bettering the community which only require mild efforts to uncover.  Those stories?  Yeah, not so exciting and therefore not worth the $$ to reprint.  

I don't mean to compare or even remotely imply this is on the same plane as war, but there is a similar comparison to Iraq: when things were at their worst (2005-2007) all you heard about were the daily explosions and body counts.  However now that life is returning to normal, albeit it quite slowly and still with daily acts of violence, there is rare news coming out of Iraq.  Good stories do not sell the newspapers like vilification and directed spite.  Sadly this will only cease when the program is completely back on its feet and again standing atop the Big Ten.  Only then will the lazy, sensationalistic journalists seek out easy prey somewhere else.  Sad to see that sports news resembles TMZ more than legit sports news of old.  


December 4th, 2010 at 11:43 PM ^

Even if only a small percent is Rich's fault, has the narrative gone to far for him to succeed here? Does the damage to recruiting and record make it too tough to come back from it? Or can the program survive another year of giggling and then get enough of that cure all, wins? (And lots of them...).


December 5th, 2010 at 12:18 AM ^

The problem is, how much does the narrative change with "only" 9 wins if one of them isn't vs. OSU? Or worse, everyone but OSU and MSU. (And if you throw in Nebraska, to lose our 1st conference game vs. them...or the ND night game to get off to a bad start, as the 3rd...). THAT'S how bad it's gotten...where a 9 win season could still have people calling for his head. And a better team in 2012, but a hellacious schedule.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:00 AM ^

Really good question.  I think maybe DB is considering this more than anything.  As much as I want to keep Coach Rod.  My worry is that it might be too late.  Look at the perception right now and the rumors flying around.  Even something as Braylon's support, Stan had to call and clarify the perception of former alumni. 

If Coach Rod gets another year, how intense will the spotlight be.  The coaching staff will have to be perfect otherwise rumors and perceptions will get worse.  That is a tough way for anyone to work through.  The pressures of the job are intense enough.  Until we get to a certain amount of wins(don't know what record to be honest), the pressure will not ease up. 

I am afraid that all we are doing is setting up for Coach to fail.  I think the defense and offense will get better but the record may not show.  I like others here will keep the faith but unfortunately, we are the minority. Sorry if I went on a tangent, I was just trying to answer M-Wolverine's question.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:27 AM ^

He's getting bombed more than coaching discussion posts, and then he does something a little cheesy (as he even admitted) with some music choice, and they portray him as a clown for it. Yeah, he does or says the occasional thing that makes me cringe, but I wonder how much program and school drivers can handle (ego, PR-wise, whatever), the program being laughed at. Because men and women like that aren't used to it.
<br>I'd love for him to prove everyone wrong. But the more that comes, I'm not sure he can with everything against him. And I don't know that the program doesn't turn around faster without it. And the Rich since the post-OSU is just plan saddening. I'm not sure, after the initial pain, if he isn't better off being let go. How much should he have to take? Sigh.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:42 AM ^

I will be real honest and I've said this before.  But before the blog, everything I heard about him was negative.  I live in the city and my friends are mostly Big East graduates.  They didn't have anything good to say about him and the media was horrible.  All I read was how he was unloyal and untrustworthy.  After reading things on the blog and researching more, I really like the guy.  And I have changed from someone wanting him gone to someone who wants him to be here for a long time. 

But, everytime, I meet people who are into college football, they are shocked that I would support him.  Even some M grads are the same way.  None of them have any idea of what he has done here.  I have to explain it to them.  And therein lies the problem that the OP spoke about and will be very hard to change. 

One interesting sidenote.  When I talk to my friends and other people I meet and they ask how can I support him and want him to be our coach, I ask them would they want him as their coach.  I think you know what their answer is.  And these include ND, Big East, ACC,
SEC, and Pac12 grads.


December 5th, 2010 at 1:10 PM ^

Wait who cares how harsh the spotlight is if the guy has 9 wins and is continually improving a young football team. Obviously there are many recruits who would think the Michigan fanbase/media are ridiculous if they continue vilifying a coach who has done nothing but improve the win total by 2 each year. He has built a good, young football team here despite the constant media harrassment.

Personally I'd love it if RR gets to 10 wins and the media is still ripping him. It makes them look terrible. It shows even more the bias they hold against RR if they are ripping a guy who is constantly improving, especially if he hits 10 wins.  Do you really think anyone would expect Michigan to let go of RR if he gets to 10 wins next year? The media could do anything they wanted and it wouldn't happen.


December 5th, 2010 at 1:27 PM ^

I just think they have made it very hard for him to get to that threshold.  He won 5 straight games this year and the spotlight was still pretty harsh.  Many in the media was saying just wait, this may look like last year.  To be under the constant negative spotlight wears on people and more than likely mistakes will be made. 

Maybe he just needs to win a big game and those critics will quiet down.  I can see him winning 10 games and there will still be critics.  Look at how many people who were predicting 6-6 or 7-5 records that are still upset and want him gone.  If you weren't going to be happy with those records, why even keep him then.  Most people get fired when they don't live up to expectations, not when they fulfill them.  Just my opinion.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:30 AM ^

While I think that this criteria is patently unfair, it is valid -- and something that DB has to consider.

That said, if he retains him, something along the lines of what he said about Beilein would be a big help:

"John Beilein is, I think, the perfect guy for the University of Michigan...John Beilein is a stand up guy. He is a winner, and he's going to be a winner here. He's just got to get the athletes to win championships."

Also, an exciting DC hire would definitely soothe some of the pitchfork-wielders. 



December 5th, 2010 at 12:54 AM ^

I don't see him saying that, and that's part of the problem. He should have said it at the beginning of the year, but IME, DB is hedging his bets and trying to play both sides at once. He wants to come out clean.

Publicly supporting your coach and then firing them the next year ("we wanted it to work, and we threw our full support behind him, but [for whatever reason] it didn't work out") is much less painful (for the program) than letting him stand alone as he is unfairly attacked.

Section 1

December 5th, 2010 at 12:48 AM ^

We often hear that "it's really all about winning."  The "obody would be playing the silly negative stories about Rodriguez, if he was winning."

Well, I happen to like Beilein, but is he "winning" any more than Rodriguez?  Beating Big Ten rivals, in big games? 

Rich Rodriguez has gone 3-9, 5-7, 7-5.  But to hear the local media this week, one might have thought that the Rodriguez record at Michigan had been the opposite; 7-5, 5-7, 3-9.

Bando Calrissian

December 5th, 2010 at 1:19 AM ^

The Beilein comparison is a strawman at best.  I think pretty much every any reasonable person would acknowledge the deck Beilein is playing with in his program is far different than what Rich Rodriguez is working with in the football program, and the expectations and attention on Michigan Basketball are far, far different than those on Michigan Football.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

In addition to this, Beilein took Michigan to the NCAA tournament two years ago, where his team won its first game. Plus, that year Michigan beat two teams that were ranked no. 4 at the time--UCLA and Duke--and also beat no. 16 Purdue. Last year, Michigan beat no. 15 OSU and no. 15 UConn. So, yes, Beilein has won several "big games."

Are people's memories this short?

Blue in Seattle

December 5th, 2010 at 1:38 AM ^

When questioned after one of the games on the poor performance of the defense Brandon made a comment that you can't expect freshman to compete equally to seniors on average.  He has been supporting him.  And yes despite that support it gets so twisted in the media that no one notices.

Which is why he has closed down for the holidays on most comments.  It just won't help.  So out come all the bland generic comments, and yes he is criticized for those as well, but again no comment is going to change people's perceptions.

So you hope for a win in the bowl game, knowing that even a win won't shut people up, but at least it's the next event for Football.  Nothing new has happened since the loss to OSU, so there really is nothing new to say.

There is no news to release to the Press in the form of a Press Release.

Other than that our Soccer Team beat the #3 seed and has made it into the NCAA Final Four, something a Michigan Soccer Team has never done before.


December 5th, 2010 at 1:26 PM ^

I remember a few interviews where Dave Brandon has praised RR's coaching abiltiies and the kind of person he is. The quote about Beilein being a stand up guy and a winner was is in an article where Brandon was defending Beilein for the poor facilities that he inherited as the basketball coach. He wanted to let people know that Beilein was in a unique situation where it was going to take some time for Michigan to put him in a  better situation to succeed. Basically Brandon feels that Michigan is at fault where Michigan basketball is concerned because of the facilities and because of that has given JB a vote of confidence.

I don't think this proves anything one way or another on how DB feels about RR. I remember reading some very positive remarks towards RR by DB. Brandon will evaluate all coaching positions(other than basketball positions) after the season and by giving Rich Rod a vote of confidence like he gave John Beilein that would be going against his timetable for coaching evaluations. JB will not be evaluated in the same way other coaches are and that is all DB is getting at with these quotes.


December 4th, 2010 at 11:52 PM ^

Your assertion (Michigan has had bad public relations) has merit.

IMHE, there are multiple reasons for bad PR, as well as some tangential issues.

  1. The culture at Michigan for some time has ignored PR for the most part. Namely, I don't think Bo and those who followed him gave a rip about PR. They were not alone in this. I believe this would also be the case for Woody Hayes.
  2. This Michigan culture actually follows from a philosophical outlook. That outlook is that substance (who we are) is of ultimate importance, and our image (what others think of us) is secondary. This leads to a kind of Michigan arrogance (we're Michigan, we do things the right way, and we don't care what anyone else thinks.) I personally resonate with this culture and philosophy, but it doesn't work anymore.
  3. This arrogance leads to bad PR from those who are jealous or insecure. Those below are always going to take a shot at whoever is king of the hill. Specifically, I would expect little brother fans to always take shots at Michigan. BTW, this is not unique to us. You see this dynamic at play with USC, Florida, Texas, and others.
  4. This arrogance also leads to some Michigan alums looking down on RR. He is from the south, he has a southern accent, he doesn't share the same liberal, open-minded, secular values. The snobbery and cultural elitism irritate and bother me, but they are very real.
  5. When did DB officially start? Do you have any idea how hard it is to move a large institution, with norms that have been in place for years? Naming a CMO is a huge step, and more than any other AD has ever done.
  6. It also seems that many Michigan fans are pretty thin-skinned. Ya know, Michigan's a great school, I'm glad to be an alum, but there are plenty of other good schools out there. And not everyone is trying to knock us down.
  7. Lastly, be careful what you wish for. While i agree that we want better PR and media coverage, I'm far more concerned about who we are than what others think. I don't much care for those who are all image and no substance. When your core values, your substance, are good, this eventually comes out. When you have a good image, great PR, but you're rotten at the core, the PR ultimately doesn't matter.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:00 AM ^

Agree with all of it. Just an addition on #1...the reason Bo believed this...and was right...he knew that "if he was winning he didn't need the media, and if he was losing, they couldn't save him". Which, while all the new media nuances you mention make that less true, has still been our Institution, and Rich's, biggest problem.


December 5th, 2010 at 12:18 AM ^

The worst irony of the whole recent run of bad press (meaning local media exaggerating things or just plain making shit up) is that it came only after Rodriguez attempted to open up the program and be more media friendly/accessible.  For his trouble he was immediately attacked by the people who complained the most about the tight lipped atmosphere under Bo or by those who felt they had earned some sort of privileged access to the program that was now being given to any and every writer around.