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Florida Football Coach Provides PR Case Study to End the Year

serk1Just when you thought you could put the finishing touches on your year-end list of best/worst stories, University of Florida football coach, Urban Meyer, added yet another chapter to 2009’s book of sports public relations case studies.

On Saturday, all modes of media went into overdrive when the 45-year-old two-time national champion coach announced he would step down after the Gators met the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, January 1, in New Orleans. He cited health challenges and priority of family over football in his decision.

We were barely into the first quarter of Sunday’s first NFL games when word started to trickle that Meyer had a change of heart. Later in the day from New Orleans he said in a press conference that he would instead take a “leave of absence” and that assistant coach Steve Addazio would serve in an interim capacity until his unspecified return.

Meyer’s presser provided more questions than answers. Did his doctors suggest he take time off, because of repeated heart and stress-related concerns that led to his announcement, Saturday? What about his family, for which he expressed repeated concern on Saturday, but reportedly contacted only after calling Florida athletic director, Jeremy Foley, on Sunday morning?

gtmcknightHoly Crazy Timing, PR observers! The Allstate Sugar Bowl all ready had its share of off-field media stories as Cincinnati’s coach during the regular season is now the head coach at Notre Dame and its interim coach has accepted a job elsewhere, (those are nuggets for another category header).

In the last couple days, people have compared Meyer to Tiger Woods, Brett Favre and UF colleague and basketball coach, Billy Donovan, all of whom experienced PR debacles in recent years, for mismanagement of their messages.

In this case, Meyer’s flip-flop makes Favre’s look like simple oversights. Favre took weeks to decide after two retirements that he really wanted to play again, and subsequently signed with new teams. Meyer changed his mind in less than 24 hours.

The UF coach’s tale is Tigeresque with ambiguous, unanswered questions that loom as the Gators head into the Sugar Bowl. From recruits to alumni, inquiring minds likely wonder who will have the reins of the team when spring practice begins, because Meyer didn’t provide the who-what-when-where-why-how in the Sugar Bowl presser during which he changed his status from the day prior. Even Woods knows vague comments only fuel speculation.

Then, of course, there’s Donovan, who left UF in 2007 to coach the NBA’s Orlando Magic, only to return to his former Gainesville post five days later.

Granted, Meyer barely got off the plane in New Orleans before he met the press in New Orleans on Sunday. What remains to be seen is if he takes control of the message and puts all of the facts out during the next day or two so that questions regarding his job and health status don’t continue to dominate Allstate Sugar Bowl headlines instead of the game itself.

That being said, I hope Meyer is doing what’s in the best interest of his health for the sake of his family and himself.

What do you think – should Meyer have put everything out in the open to take control of the message, or do you think the public and media will allow him to simply coach a bowl game this week without explanation this week?

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18 Responses to Florida Football Coach Provides PR Case Study to End the Year

  1. Jay S. December 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Had the story ended w/ Saturday’s news that Meyer was retiring/stepping down, no other explanation would’ve been needed. However, his quick flip-flop, I feel, needs to be explained. If he was so sure he needed ‘time away’ and needed to ‘retire’ on Saturday, what changed overnight that he now only needs a ‘leave of absence?’

    Like you said, he press conference provided more questions than answers. And being secretative and giving people the impression you are hiding something only makes them want to dig deeper to find something, anything.

    Methinks, with this flip-flop, Meyer might end up biting off more than he can chew.

  2. sean malarkey December 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    I wonder if his flip flop was influenced by the UF athletic department. If you think about the impact that it might have on recruits, and current players – it makes sense.

  3. Komail Mithani December 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    I believe because of the magnitude of his position and the countless supporters (aka Alumni boosters at the University of Florida), Meyer should have just been open about his current health problems and the steps he plans to take. I think he should have re-evaluated his situation after the Sugar Bowl in order to think through all the advantages and disadvantages to his decision.

    We should also look at this from the PR side of the University. The message being generated may be that the college was not familiar with Meyer’s health problems or were ignoring them. I mean if you made a $4 million dollar investment per year, you would probably want to know everything.

    What should the university do? Reevaluate their program so that Meyer has less responsibility? I am curious to know how many other coaches, at big name programs, may suffer from health related problems because of their work and high-level of stress that comes with the job.

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