Professional Sport Coaches Play the PR Game

By: Andrew Patterson

Recently, I was reminded just how much a professional college sports coach has to play the PR game.

Last Sunday I was covering a Penn State women’s basketball game for my Comm260 class. After the game, I was able to attend my first ever press conference. It was actually a pretty cool experience, and I was even able to ask Head Coach Coquese Washington a question. Oh man, was I proud of myself.

But in all seriousness, this was a non-eventful press conference after a 60-point blowout victory. However, coaches often face challenges in dealing with the media, with issues both on and off the field.

This is especially important for professional sports coaches.

A recent example is Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid.  Post-game press conferences have been agonizing to watch for Eagles fans like myself lately. The Eagles are in the midst of an eight game losing streak after starting 3-1, and Reid has struggled to answer to the media. Reid typically responds with, “We got to do a better job,” and little else. Despite the great success he has had in the league, Reid certainly isn’t the most articulate of coaches. However, he is the face of the team to the public, and the notoriously restless Eagles fans want answers that, unfortunately, Reid can’t really give them anymore.

On the other hand, some coaches embrace the PR aspect of the business. Perhaps most notable is New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan. Ryan’s loudmouth personality seems to fit the spotlight of New York City media. From wearing wigs at press conferences to making Super Bowl win guarantees for two seasons in a row, some say that Ryan desires drama and a media circus surrounding his team. That said, after failing to reach the Super Bowl during the last three seasons, Ryan refused to make any such Super Bowl guarantees when asked by reporters at the start of this season. Maybe he has changed his tune after all.

Returning back to Penn State, perhaps a most recent and comical PR gaff involved Head Football Coach Bill O’Brien. To be fair, O’Brien has been universally praised for his handling of the media during a tumultuous time at Penn State, yet in the immediate aftermath of the overtime victory against Wisconsin in the last game of the season, O’Brien rushed the field with the celebrating players, and possibly was caught up in the moment. When asked by an ESPN reporter about how he keeps his team focused, he infamously responded, “They’re a bunch of f***ers!” Or did he say “fighters”? That was the question circulating around State College the next day, as video clips of the profanity slip went viral.

Personally, I think his mind meant to say “fighters”, but his heart said otherwise. But if that’s the only PR gaff Head Coach O’Brien had during his first year at the school, I think we can live with it.

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