Suck up to the networks, and other free advice for Martz
BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
For the better part of two decades, I’ve campaigned vigorously to become a well-paid lackey for a professional sports coach.
Remember my impassioned defenses of Brian Sutter? When others decried the tedium of his dump-and-chase style, I steadfastly supported the truest of Blues. Hockey fans routinely accused me of being on the take as a result.
Remember the relentless pro-La Russa campaigns dating back into the 1990s? As the town continued to relish its memories of Whitey Herzog -– and disparage Tony La Russa in the process -– I diligently promoted all his successes here in Cardinal Nation.
Given La Russa’s generous support of abandoned pets, I found no shame in serving as Tony’s lapdog in the local media.
By and large, I’ve served as a Mike Martz apologist as well. Oh, sure, we’ve taken some gratuitous shots at Mad Mike here at STLtoday.com, most vividly during the Chris Chandler debacle we saw coming a mile away.
But we kid because we care. We’ve consistently reminded fans that Martz is one of the more successful head coaches of his time and he is a better leader than he is given credit for.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I didn’t get a crack at the newly created position of Mike Martz Media Liaison at Rams Park. I have so much terrific advice to offer!
But the job went to a local radio personality instead, if sports talk radio reports and the various contributors to "Bernie’s Press Box" postings are accurate.
All I can do is collect my thoughts from more than 25 years of studying coaches and share some of them here, for free:
MY ADVICE TO MIKE
1. Ignore what is said or written in the media. Admittedly, following that suggestion would preclude him from getting this invaluable advice in this first place . . . but we all know that Mike is fully aware of everything said and written about him.
But this ought to be the last piece of media drivel he ever takes to heart. What do most of us REALLY know about football? Our job is to ask players, coaches, scouts, etc., for insights we can pass along to the fans.
Our job also is to rile up the fans and stir debate in the various mediums. Coaches should be generally aware of the media and public perception of them, but surfing the Net or listening to sports talk radio is a bad idea -– especially if they harbor any insecurity whatsoever.
Increasingly, reasoned discourse has given way to sophomoric name-calling in the sports media game. Coaches shouldn’t take any of it to heart.
2. Don’t admit all your screw-ups. It’s OK to acknowledge that particular plays didn’t pan out, but always give credit to the other side for executing an offensive play or making an excellent read on defense.
The mindset of “it’s not about them, it’s about us” is appropriate for a coach. It keeps the players focused on what they must do as opposed to what the other guys do. But taking that mindset into a news conference can make a coach seem dismissive of his opponent -– and therefore arrogant.
Coaches should shoulder the responsibility for team failures, of course, but they shouldn’t beat themselves up over particular play calls or decisions. Martz has flogged himself in many news conferences, which only fueled the perception that he isn’t really head-coach material.
3. Don’t throw players under the bus in a public forum. Martz has generally avoided this trap. A simple “we’ve got to be better than that” usually suffices, except in the most extreme cases. Let the media and the fans savage players who fail.
By taking some hits for his players, the head coach earns respect in the locker room. He can demand more loyalty and effort in return.
4. Always talk up your opponents. Martz usually succeeds there, but periodically the media gets him to slight or even insult somebody on the other side. There is no need to reach the Lou Holtz extreme -- painting the Furman backfield as the New Four Horsemen -- but NFL coaches should toss some bouquets and never serve up bulletin board material for next week’s foe.
5. Learn to keep a calm face. It can’t be pleasant dealing with the media, especially after a loss, especially when you just KNOW you’re getting pounded in the newspaper, on the radio, on TV and on the Internet.
But you can’t show the media any weakness. Be presidential! Speak calmly and resolutely, without sarcasm, stubbornness or defensiveness. Command the room with your confidence!
Answer pointed questions with honest-sounding answers that, in fact, are carefully worded. Be diplomatic. Be boring. Believe me, media types and fans will jump at the wrong phrase or the wrong tone of voice and run with it.
Players pick up on it, too. Every year, players chart their coach’s ability to handle adversity. So he has to do all his ranting and raving in private.
6. Suck up to the networks. Do you really want these blabbermouths dogging you week after week while the whole football world watches?
Of course not. Your bosses watch this stuff. Prospective free agents watch this stuff. Other media feeds off this stuff.
So the coach has to charm the various talking heads. He should also dish intelligence to the various “insiders” whom everybody in the industry reads or listens to. By working key media types the right way, a coach can suddenly seem much smarter than his record indicates.
(In this behind-the-scenes venue, it’s OK to throw players under the bus if they deserve it. ESPN needs to know if player screw-ups or inability made your game plan backfire.)
7. Don’t punish the media with pointless guidelines. That comes off as vindictive, especially when implemented on the fly, and the media will always get the last word. By shielding media types from players, assistant coaches or practices, you may only feed their ignorance of what is really going on.
Do you really want them relying solely on their imagination?
8. Force your players to deal with the media. When they play poorly, let the media slap them around for you. Make them accountable for their performance. Don’t let them hide in the players’ lounge -– because they might also hide from responsibility, too.
We’re here to help!
In conclusion, let me stress that good media relations is good business. It doesn’t win or lose football games -– unless you create a distraction, a la Brendagate -– but it does buy coaches more time to overcome setbacks while implementing their program.
The media-savvy coach keeps his gigs longer and gets second chances. Look at Steve Mariucci. He has remained a media darling through dark times in San Francisco and Detroit.
He projects a likeable image, which buys time. Believe me, owners WILL react to public outcry and team executives WILL fire coaches to deflect media criticism.
The leash is always short in the coaching game. Don’t make it shorter.
Re: Suck up to the networks, and other free advice for Martz
Finally, a sports reporter willing to share the truth.
Their opinions should be ignored, especially if their name starts with a "B" and ends in "ernie".
Originally Posted by Gordon