Does the media matter?
More specifically, does a coach need to be “media savvy,” or “good with the media?”
The Boston Red Sox sure seem to think so, as every candidate to replace Terry Francona as the team’s manager has been put in front of the media even before being offered the job. Francona was known for being an amiable guy in media circles, and he helped end the Curse of the Bambino and bring two championships to Boston in his eight years as the Red Sox skipper. Still, Francona was roasted on his way out of town following Boston’s historic Septermber 2011 collapse. In a Boston Globe “investigative piece,” if you want to call it that, it was alleged that Francona has lost his clubhouse, was distracted by his now failing marriage and was abusing pain medication.
Pretty rough treatment for a guy the media supposedly liked, right?
So regardless of who the Red Sox hire, expect a full feeding frenzy every time something goes wrong and mixed reactions when things seem to be going well. That is the Boston media scene, and in today’s highly competitive and never-ending news cycle, people are going to be buried for the sake of “getting the story.” So, to answer the question, it does not matter how good a coach is with the media, but the reasons it does not matter vary from place to place.
In Boston, being good with the media still gets you a swift kick in the rear on your way out of town because, ultimately, Boston fans want results. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, one of the more closed off coaches in all of sports, gives the media very little to work with, but remains nearly untouchable because of his status as the NFL’s resident evil genius. I say nearly, because in a market like Boston, New York or Philadelphia, no one is untouchable. Despite three Super Bowl championships, Belichick still gets grief when his team loses on the road to fellow AFC power Pittsburgh, and gets called out for making questionable calls that imply he doesn’t trust his defense.
Never mind the fact that he is right to not trust his defense, but I digress.
So, in the major north-east markets, media savvy may by you the benefit of the doubt when things are going well, but it buys you nothing when the chips are down. But what about markets with a smaller media presence? Well, the media matters little there too, because powerful coaches can rule as semi-dictators, especially in college sports. In the end, the media is not going to make-or-break a coach, their results on the field/court will.
No one at Alabama will ever call for Nick Saban’s head for freaking out in a press conference, just like no one at Purdue will ever say that Danny Hope should get a contract extension for thanking the media for coming every day after practice. Saban came to Alabama, and everyone knew he was a jerk, but that didn’t give him any shorter of a leash. Hope came to Purdue and was nothing but courteous to the four reporters(one of them was me as a student) that showed up to practice, yet, as soon as the losses piled up, the criticism did as well.
Did Hope’s good will buy him any extra time? Absolutely not, but a bowl game might. As for Saban, now that he has been successful, he can be even less cordial with media members. It comes with the territory of being a powerful college football coach. It is a similar dynamic in pro towns that have slightly less of a following. In Miami, Pat Riley became the dictator of the Heat as soon as he arrived since he brought with him a championship track record. Media members in Tampa loved Jon Gruden because he was funny and a good quote, but that didn’t save him from getting canned, despite a Super Bowl win, after missing the playoffs in 2008.
The media has its place, but sometimes it tends to think, as collective group, that it means more than it does. Ultimately, a coach’s relative success will determine their fate, not whether or not the media likes them. So if you’re a jerk, continue to be a jerk, just be a winner too. And, if you’re a nice, courteous individual, continue to be that, but know that it will not buy you any favors if you don’t win.