Washington State Coach Defiant After Fan Call Him Out for Spreading “Fake News”

coach crisis pr

The position of head football coach at a major conference university is almost always a hot seat. Typically, coaches find themselves in the news either for winning or losing, or reacting to winning or losing. Occasionally, though, a coach at a big-name school will say or do something that has nothing to do with the sport he was hired to coach, but still manages to put that coach and the university that employs him in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Such is the case for Washington State football coach Mike Leach. With the upcoming NCAA football season set to kick off in a little more than a month, Washington State’s head football coach is in the news… and not for enticing a blue-chip recruit to play for the Cougars. Instead, Leach is answering questions about a heavily edited political video he shared on social media. For the purposes of this article, it doesn’t matter who the video was about, what the topic was, or which “side” of the political spectrum it was meant to agitate. The fact is, the video was heavily doctored to create a false impression of what the person in the video said and what they meant by what they said.

People on social media quickly corrected the coach. They offered rebuttals and explained why he was mistaken. Leach’s response? Not: “my mistake, let me check it out.” Instead, he went with: “Prove it.” So, they did.

After being inundated with facts that were also easily available to a man who, essentially, represents an institute of higher learning to the general public, Leach admitted the video was “incomplete.” But that was the extent of his mea culpa.

Will Leach’s action lead to his firing? Unlikely. In fact, this relatively minor dustup is not likely to incur any public sanctions at all. But you can bet there’s conversations happening behind the scenes. As a head football coach at a major program, Leach is likely one of the highest-paid employees of the university, and he’s certainly one of its most public faces.

The school cannot afford PR issues that affect fundraising or impact off-season recruiting. Top recruits have lots of options, so their decisions often come down to details and quirks. Will they want to play for this guy based on his public image? They – and their parents – will now be asking that question. Regardless of the answer, it would be better for Washington State if that question never had to come up.

But this PR issue is not just about the university. It’s also about “Brand Leach” and whether or not larger schools will put up with his “baggage” to take a chance on him bringing success to their programs. It’s a question sports media is already asking, with prominent journalists wondering out loud if Leach has hit a career ceiling of his own creation. Going forward, any time Leach makes a public mistake, this admittedly small media kerfuffle is going to come up. It will remain in web search results and be included in countless articles going forward. As a single event, it’s relatively minor, but people are already beginning to connect other dots and draw conclusions based on them.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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