Coaching the Coach
“No matter how you slice it the tuition, boarding, books and basic living expenses for the kind of scholarship we are funding comes in around $250,000 for four years. Johnny Appleseed is our beta test at the University of Miami. We are going to have to make it clear that the funding is limited to a timely completion of a full workload over a four-year span. He’s already looking like a guy that is going to take six or seven years to complete college. And that’s okay. Now we’re looking at the D-III liberal arts schools in Ohio and even those programs are estimated at sixty grand a year. I don’t care. I want to do this thing right by these kids. It isn’t a program for the disadvantaged but it is a program for the average. And as our name implies, the Failure First Scholarship is an entitlement that does not have a penalty for falling short in academic progress toward a degree or anything else. Just read about those billionaires who went to school for a couple of semesters at Harvard or wherever and dropped out to build their fortunes. That ain’t the kinda kid we are gonna see coming through our program. If we are lucky, we’ll have upstanding citizens who contribute to society in places like Red Bud, Illinois and Arlington, Ohio.” The coach was getting better and better at explaining how this program was different from so many other scholarships. He loved the idea that this award was a genuine chance with no strings attached. But even he worried that the program could not sustain itself unless the approach got investors beyond himself. Jan Abbeshire understood this almost immediately and offered to structure the award to tighten up the purse strings so the fund would be around in 6-10 years instead of running out of gas in year 4 or 5 as she and some financial advisers she hired were projecting. This kind of analysis was not her cup of tea, but she was sure the coach was not really thinking long-term when he made is generous initial gift. The one smart thing he did, however, was to start the fund publicly with Alan Edgewater which assured a pretty high level of visibility. That’s the good news. On the other side of the coin, however, was the intense scrutiny on the first recipient and the next winner to be announced in a matter of days. Jan felt the solvency of the fund and the no-strings features should be included in press releases when the announcement of Andy Valentine was made. She also, felt the coach should be ready with short but candid talking points about the first winner, Johnny Appleseed. Jan counseled that the coach should be forthright, honest and transparent about Johnny’s progress, his recent legal entanglement notwithstanding.
“Coach, the incident on Miami Beach that Sunday afternoon is not one you want to try in the court of public opinion. There were prescription drugs in the car that ended up in Johnny’s possession. He and the other two males in the car were drinking. The law officer might have been a bit over zealous but three college boys playing loud music in broad daylight; indeed in the bright sunlight; are asking for trouble. No amount of reassurance from you is going to satisfy the media on this thing. You simply need to be prepared to give a canned response, of which we will prepare for you.”
“I got it. But hey, boys will be boys. I know from my coaching experiences that scrapes like this one here always sound worse than what they really are. Narcotics, puhh-lease. Johnny got caught holding the bag. They were pain killers and they weren’t his. So the boys are at the beach and having a few pops. So what?”
“That’s fine if you feel that way coach, but your statements to the media – and I mean any reporter, newsman or stringer – need to be more terse and factual without all that room for interpretation. I’m not going to ask you to say NO COMMENT but I am going to ask you to be unlike your usual folksy, engaging self on this one, okay? The statement will be something on the order of I’M SORRY FOLKS, I CANNOT COMMENT ON THE JOHNNY APPLESEED CIRCUMSTANCES AROUND HIS ARREST IN MIAMI. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT AN ATTORNEY FOR JOHNNY AND HIS TWO COLLEGE COLLEGUES WILL PROVIDE AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT IN A FEW DAYS.”
“Well that sounds pretty evasive to me. I hope you can give me something a little meatier than that. I know you are talking to the attorney in Miami. I’m glad I found that guy. By the way, he is almost famous in South Florida for high profile cases involving celebrities and such.”
“Johnny isn’t a celebrity. He isn’t Justin Bieber. We have to downplay this thing, or it will overwhelm the story we hope the media will pick up about Andy Valentine and his aspiration to go to Kenyon or Oberlin to study music or whatever.”
“Knock Knock,” Daniel Bluestone stood in Jan’s office doorway and politely interjected. “I don’t mean to interrupt your meeting but I was hoping the coach had time to stop by my office and talk a little bit about Sazarac”.
“Well sure, Dan. I’m more than happy to. We’re sort of wrapping up here anyway.”
Jan clenched her jaw to suppress comment. She was sure she’d need more time with the coach before the Missouri Athletic Club awards banquet. Now that Dan interjected the possibility of a more fun dialogue with the coach, she was sure she would not be able to get him back in the right frame of mind to practice answering media inquiries. She started thinking of ways to mitigate the coach’s exposure but that would be difficult. The coach liked the spotlight and was just delusional enough to think he was skillful in these situations. His media training, after all, was limited to responding to local high school sports beat writers who would be happy with the cliché answers of which coaches were so adept. Stuff like. “I’m just so proud to this team. They left it all out on the field tonight. They played with a lot of character. And I cannot say enough about this coaching staff. Finally, I have got to give a big shout out to the fans…”