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BYU Coaches Missing the Boat with the Media

21 March 2013 Brett Richins
BYU OC Robert Anae.

BYU Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae.

Robert Anae’s little dust-up with the media on Monday has certainly made the rounds around Cougar nation and the local media this week.

In the interview below, BYU’s offensive coordinator seems just a bit put off by the fact that he has to deal with reporters after a somewhat less-than-perfect practice session that day, and he seems particularly defensive regarding some questions.

Anae’s dealings with the media in his second run as the offensive coordinator had thus far been surprising cordial, and much more open than at any time during his previous stint. Some in the media even wondered out loud if the coach was turning over a new leaf.

However, the old Anae reappeared on Monday, for whatever reason. Maybe he was just having a bad day.

His confrontational stance with the press caused me to reflect back on an era at BYU when LaVell Edwards dealt so deftly with the media and would often have them eating out of his hands with his dry whit and deadpan humor. Those were the days before Gary Crowton killed off the Big Five coaches luncheons held in Salt Lake each week during the football season. The relationship between the media and the head coach at BYU has never been the same since.

LaVell was a master at dealing with the press. I’ve never met a single member of the media who had a bad thing to say about the man. That might have something to do with the fact that some of them were his golfing buddies. Instead of taking a defensive approach to reporters, he had a way of encircling them with open arms and winning them over.

As a BYU student in the late 1980’s, I recall interviewing LaVell in his office for a story I was writing about the large number of his assistant coaches who had since moved on to great success in both the college and pro ranks. The article was for nothing more than a class assignment, but with the way LaVell treated this green, aspiring journalist, you would have thought that I was a columnist for Sports Illustrated. You never got the feeling around the man that he viewed himself as superior to anyone.

I realize that it was a different time and a different era. It was before the advent of the internet and sports talk radio stations and all the scrutiny that has been created by the new media. But I can’t help but think that Bronco Mendenhall–and members of his staff like Anae–are missing the boat by viewing the media as a necessary evil.

Dealing with the media and public is an important part of the job of college coaches at major programs these days. Media-wise coaches use the media and their relationships with members of the press as tools to build their program, create good public relations, put forward a good image for potential recruits, and make well-heeled donors feel warm and fuzzy about their favorite team. Many coaches are pros at pressing the flesh and they understand the value of having positive relationships with the media.

College football programs are a very public face of a university, but in BYU’s case it also represents a faith and a people. It seems odd that a coach can say on one hand that his purpose is to make the football program the flag bearer for the school and its principles, yet hunker down like a solider in fox hole and put up defenses when in comes to dealing with the public and the press. Especially when you consider that the local media in Utah is comprised of a bunch of tame pussy cats compared to a lot of other markets.

Mendenhall and Anae would do well to let their guard down just a bit, relax and realize that the media can be used to their advantage. The media isn’t out to get them; they’re just trying to do their job and feed the need of BYU fans and donors who want to know what is happening with their beloved program. The current restrictions on access to practice and the limited opportunity to interview coaches make that difficult. One would think that the least the coaches could do in their once-a-week, five-minute interview sessions is to answer questions without copping an attitude.

Some members of the local sports media are not members of BYU’s sponsoring institution, and a number of them attended rivals schools in college. So they may come to their jobs with some built-in personal biases and preconceived notions about BYU. To build a wall around yourself and act like those people (yes, reporters are people too) are a pack of lepers, tends only to strengthen some of those notions. Many BYU fans complain about a perceived bias against their Cougars in the local media, but some may not realize that some of it is caused and perpetuated by BYU itself.

Would it be so bad for Mendenhall and crew to be a little more open, friendly and available to the media? It could only be a help to the program.

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