Tom Garrity

UNM’s Ostrich Mode Backfires

In Crisis Communication, Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 at 1:57 am

UNM Lobo LogoThe University of New Mexico is in the national sports headlines, but it isn’t for the football program being 0-4 and losing to in-state rival New Mexico State on Saturday night.

The latest headlines are generating a buzz because of a police report claiming that the UNM Football Coach punched out one of his assistant coaches at a post-game meeting.

Once reporters uncovered the police report Monday morning, the University put together an afternoon statement saying that they do not “condone” the head coach’s behavior.  The University has since tried to end the discussion by not commenting on it any further.

After taking a quick a look at this disastrous crisis communications response, I’ll provide an indicator as to why we shouldn’t expect any further comment from the University.

I am sure as soon as word got out internally that this altercation had occurred, there were more than a few expletives proclaimed at every level of the Athletics and President’s office.  Then, someone thought, “hey, maybe nobody will notice the police report and we can just focus on the attention on this week’s contest against Texas Tech.”  Whoever suggested that strategy should be fired and sent to denial school for a fresh dose of reality.

The University of New Mexico had a chance to be proactive and appear to be taking the high road.  As soon as the Albuquerque Police Department showed up, communicators should have started planning their Monday morning news conference to provide full disclosure of the situation, express their regret and perhaps even talk about a penalty for the head coach losing his cool.  Unfortunately, UNM went into “Ostrich Mode”, stuck its head in the sand and hoped nobody would notice the police report.  As a result, UNM appears to be hiding from another embarrassment.

Those who are hoping that UNM President David Schmidly will intervene and overrule the Athletic Director will have better luck hoping the football program doesn’t go winless.  The UNM President has made his position known, indirectly, regarding his thoughts on firm handed coaching techniques.  While he was President of Texas Tech he was the key negotiator that brought fired Hall of Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight to Lubbock.

How can the President comment on the football coach without bringing in his past hiring decisions involving the basketball coach?  That will be the key question mulled over by the public relation practitioners in the coming hours and days as the fallout over punch-out gains more momentum.

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