Tate: Dear Coach ...
As the UI's highest-paid employee, the new football coach will be asked to do more than direct the team for three months every autumn.
Which set me to thinking. How far should he wander into the PR business of winning friends and influencing people? Isn't that a big part of his job? Wouldn't he be well-advised to venture outside his Memorial Stadium bunker? And wouldn't good PR provide a degree of insulation for those inevitable bad Saturdays?
The best PR is, of course, winning games. The UI's as-yet unknown gridiron leader could have the personality of Bob Knight and, if he wins games, they'll build a statue of him. But here's the hot list for the eight months between now and next football season.
— At the initial news conference, when first impressions mean everything, display a tie with orange in it, don't joke about it, and pronounce the name of the state and team nickname properly. Oh, and don't relate how much you love Bo Schembechler.
— Proclaim Vic Koenning as your defensive coordinator and, at the next Illini home basketball game, bring him to center court and throw your arm around him before shouting "I-L-L," and watch the response. And mention privately (it'll get around) how you're taken by the invigorating "Three-in-One" music.
— Have the Quarterback Club call a special meeting, bring some players, personally pick up the tab for meals of all members and invited non-members, and don't act like you're in a hurry to leave. Better yet, mill around with the crowd for a half-hour afterward. Shake hands with Leonard Seward, ask how his Dish TV business is doing, and you've won him for life. Multiply Seward by 100 — and I guarantee each of them will tell 10 buddies about the meeting — and you have 1,000 new supporters out of one meeting.
— Schedule a women's event to discuss football rules and whatever else they want to talk about. Shake hands. Always shake hands. Every hand shaken is a person in your corner and one who might be more likely to attend games. While you're at it, a men's gathering on rules and football technicalities wouldn't hurt.
— I know there's only 24 hours in a day, but line up the civic clubs and give them your best spiel. Bring a player along. Everybody loves to meet the players. Sam Maniscalco knocked 'em out at a recent Rebounders meeting.
— Go see recruiting guru Tom Lemming. Ask how the UI can get back in the forefront of Chicagoland recruiting. Start fresh with him — let bygones be bygones — and work with him. Tom is influential with prospective athletes up that way.
— San Antonio's River Walk is great, but this is more fun. Ask Kent Brown to escort you, your wife and the Koennings through downtown Champaign on a warm Friday night in the spring. The stroll through the throngs of dining-drinking folks from Destihl to the Esquire is an unforgettable experience. Mike Thomas profited from meeting many businesspeople while living downtown for his first month.
— See if you can work in C-U's special events ... a Tony Clements comedy show ... Taste of Champaign ... Urbana's Sweet Corn Festival ... a Krannert show ... an Assembly Hall event. Set up lunches at the country clubs. Hit Old Orchard on a Thursday at 11:45. Buy lunch for Lee Cabutti. Work the crowds. Look 'em in the eye and shake hands. Always shake hands. People everywhere are dying to meet you.
— Attend UI sports events as though you enjoy them. Don't arrive late. Cheer for the wrestlers. Don't leave the softball game in the fifth inning or the tennis match before it's over. Pretend you're a fan. You might like it.
— Confer with Bruce Weber about his accessibility and how he's become engaged with the community and Coaches vs. Cancer. Weber is busy, too, but he seldom says no to any reasonable request. The UI is not a military station or a hermitage. Live here like it's permanent and take part in the surroundings. It's harder to get Weber to leave events than to get him there.
— Sit down with Kevin Hambly on how to get the students energized. This may require visits to sororities and fraternities. You need those students. If you meet them, they will come. As an example, two hours prior to the UI-Maryland game, basketball coach Mark Turgeon sat with students to build a positive impression in his first season.
How's that for a to-do list? I know, it's a killer. But that's what the job is. Being the football coach is more than three months of games in the fall. You're the university's most well-known employee, and a great deal is expected. If you view this as simply another military stop along life's highway, the next stop might not be too far behind.
Ron Zook finished with 7-6 and 6-6 seasons. Those records might have been good enough to save him if he hadn't lost the community. He did precious few of the items above.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.