- Posted by Jonathan Ringel
- On December 21, 2021
- communications, public relations
Hidden inside the story of a pro football coach losing his job is a lesson in public relations.
Check out The Wall Street Journal article, “How Urban Meyer’s NFL Tenure Unraveled So Quickly.” It describes how Meyer, whose teams won national championships at Florida and Ohio State, was fired after coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 2-11 record.
What struck us is that the first indication that Meyer was having problems came from a PR fumble, not a player dropping a football on the field. That loose ball prefaced behavior that demonstrated a disregard for what players and fans, among other key audiences, might think about him.
“Less than a month into Meyer’s tenure, Chris Doyle, who Meyer had hired as the team’s director of sports performance, left because of renewed attention on past allegations of bullying and discrimination made against him when he was the strength coach at the University of Iowa,” wrote the WSJ’s Andrew Beaton. “Doyle had denied the allegations.”
“The incident was an early signal of how Meyer would handle the transition,” Beaton added. “He had to quickly pivot from saying the team had done a ‘very good job’ vetting Doyle, to saying they ‘should have given greater consideration to how his appointment may have affected all involved.’”
Beaton goes on to detail how Meyer’s team violated league rules, how he made a comment about team vaccinations that drew fire from the players’ union and how he starred unwittingly in a viral video showing a woman who wasn’t his wife “dancing suggestively on his lap.” When a former player this week accused Meyer of kicking him, the Jaguars’ star quarterback was quoted complaining about the drama: “You can’t always be in the headlines.”
Beaton acknowledges that had the team won more games, Meyer’s problems largely would have been ignored.
He’s right; if the Jaguars were 11-2 instead of 2-11, Meyer might have been a hero in Jacksonville, regardless of his missteps.
But plenty of coaches have survived bad seasons. Good PR—or at least no bad PR—buys goodwill, the benefit of the doubt or just plain time to get things right.
We like to say at Poston Communications that being a good leader today requires media and communications experience. It’s clear this advice applies to professional football—and any other profession—too.