Saturday, September 27, 2008

Richt, Coaches Should Take Responsibility for Team Performance

By Scott Lowe
API Management & Marketing

What is it with coaches - specifically big-time college football and basketball coaches - that makes them think they are smarter than everyone else?

Don't they realize that other than the loyal students and alums who blindly support their programs they often come off as arrogant and ignorant when interviewed during and after important games? Why is every question asked by a reporter who "never played the game at this level" a stupid question? (Believe me, there are more than enough stupid questions that get asked, but sometimes those questions can actually be a lot easier to deal with than the more informed and challenging variety.)

The latest example came tonight during Alabama's throttling of Georgia between the hedges in Athens. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide program still has a ways to go and many difficult SEC battles to fight before it can officially be considered a true national contender. There are just too many young, inexperienced players filling gaps for 'Bama to be taken seriously - yet. But there's no question that from a football-intellect standpoint Saban prepares as well or better than any other coach in the country. He had his team as ready to play mentally, physically and emotionally as any I've seen this year.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, who leads one of the nation's most talented programs, came up short in the preparation chess match. His team clearly didn't take Alabama seriously and came out flat en route to a 31-0 halftime deficit at home. Richt's team had no answers for the fired-up Tide, which seemed to have read the Bulldog play book cover to cover. As much as Alabama bewildered Richt and his troops during the first half, the Georgia coach proved incapable of handling some soft-ball questions from ESPN's Holly Rowe going into the locker room before halftime.

Richt had every reason to be upset with his team and disappointed by their performance going into the intermission. But, as a coach, when your team isn't ready to play a huge conference game on national TV, you have to take some responsibility for that performance.

Big-time college and professional coaches need to understand that it's diffcult times like this - when nothing is going right and they find themselves on the short end of an old-fashioned butt-kicking - that they can earn points in the public opinion forum. We live in a country where no one takes accountability. People in positions of authority often accept credit for successes and blame others for failures. The majority of Americans aren't in positions of authority, so they have become accustomed to this type of behavior and extremely cynical toward those who hold the power. It is refreshing for most of us to see a coach under pressure on a national stage stand up and say, "We weren't ready to play and didn't perform at a level that is acceptable, but it's my team and I have to take responsibility for that. We are going to do everything we can in the second half to get back in this game and make our fans proud."

That type of response earns immediate respect among players, fans and the general public. It's what a leader says. The coach has every right to admonish his team in the locker room, to question their effort and commitment and to send a message to the players that they are accountable for their performance on the field. What happens in the family stays in the family. This approach is acceptable and applauded when it gets results. But more important, when paired with the behavior described above in which the coach publicly takes responsibility, it elicits respect from team members, media members, students, alumni and the population at large. The coach is viewed as a leader, a person of character and "somebody I'd like to go to war with."

Unfortunately, and Richt is a prime example, many coaches at the collegiate level prefer to act like they are the smartest person in the room at all times - especially when it comes to the media. Probably sensing that Richt was on edge after his team's listless first-half performance, Rowe asked safe, but reasonable questions about his quarterback's uneven play, his team's body language and how Richt would help his squad regain it's confidence heading into the second half. Richt's response was to act like those were the dumbest questions he'd ever heard, telling Rowe that he wasn't in charge of his quarterback's body language and asking her if she was analyzing it. Then, when she told him that she was referring to his defense (he hadn't even listened to the question), he got irritated and told her, "We just need to get after their ass," before turning from her and running off the field.

Rowe could have come out and said that his team stunk in the first half and asked him how it was possible that they weren't ready to play in such an important matchup. But, understanding the emotion involved and the dire situation the coach was in, she chose to lob a few beach balls up there for him to pummel. Instead of being thankful for the easy questions and taking accountability, he came off looking like a sore loser and a baby. His use of the word "ass," while not inappropriate in a locker room, also portrayed him as someone who doesn't understand that when you lead a nationally recognized athletic program, everything that you do or say can impact positively or negatively on how you are perceived.

In the grand scheme of things, from a business and personal perspective, this is just one of many football games that Mark Richt will coach. He may not always coach a team that is so talented. He may not always be in a situation where his program is recognized as one of the nation's elite and his job is secure. There might be a time when he is trying to find work and win back some of the respect he and his program currently enjoy. When that day comes, if he had handled this situation in front of the nation in a more appropriate manner, he would have made a positive impression on someone in a position to give him another opportunity to prove himself. But if I'm an athletic director, after witnessing Richt's performance on the field and in front of the camera, I'd probably say to myself, "That guy doesn't coach my football team."

Candid interviews that are full of insight and humor and expose someone's personality can be great for a coach's reputation, but temper tantrums in front of the nation that belittle others don't do much for people these days. Mark Richt may be a good guy who let his competitiveness get the best of him. But maybe, just maybe, he's a poor leader who isn't suited to mold young men. I can't make that judgment based on this one situation, but that seed has been planted in my mind...and I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

All-Pro Image - Management and Marketing is a sports management and marketing firm that specializes in assisting athletes and coaches with image building, brand building and marketing. API also runs its own branded events and is contracted to manage events for other entities. API has been hired to run the inaugural BIG EAST/Big Ten Baseball Challenge February 20-22, 2009 in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, FL. For more information please contact Scott Lowe at

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