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A Few Good Men

Yesterday, I wanted Phil Haddy fired.

Yesterday, in the wake of a press conference which did not include the head coach, or anyone responsible for putting thirteen Iowa football players in the hospital, or any answers whatsoever from the people offered to the press and the public, I wanted to hit Phil Haddy in the head with a show shovel.  Faced with the latest disaster for Iowa athletics, this time an actual matter of player well-being that is directly and primarily the responsibility of coaches within the program and the department, Iowa's sports information director did what he always does: He convened an ill-informed group of people to brief the press three days later than he should.  There was a doctor who hadn't treated the players to "educate" us on their illness.  This was followed by Director of Football Operations and Sacrificial Lambs Paul Federici, who apparently came to the dais with no information about which coaches were involved, which players were involved, or what they were involved with.  Thank God for Biff Poggi, employee of nobody, just a concerned parent who also happened to be the only person with any actual information.  Phil Haddy stood to the side of the table, speaking up only to knock down legitimate questions, like, "Why are there no strength coaches here for the press conference?" with barely coherent responses ("We didn't have anybody directly involved with that and so that's why we had people who can talk to what was actually occurring with regard to what happened and also who can directly comment on practices." Two minutes later, Federici confirmed all five S&C coaches were directly involved. No, I'm not kidding.).  For the third time this year, Iowa's sports information director took a bad but manageable public relations situation and made it exponentially worse.

Over the course of the evening, I read Morehouse, and I read Hlas, and I read Bohnenkamp, and I read Jacobi -- I read a lot of Jacobi -- and I came to realize that the PR trainwreck, like the others that preceded it these past 12 months, wasn't Haddy's fault.  Make no mistake about it: Public relations is the function of a typical athletics department's sports information staff.  Iowa, though, is no typical athletics department, and Phil Haddy is no public relations man.

Phil Haddy has been at Iowa since 1971, and has been sports information director for Iowa athletics since 1993.  Haddy was in charge when Hayden Fry retired and when Chris Street died.  He's been through crises in the past, and has relied on a tried-and-true formula of a press release and, depending on public reaction, follow-up press conference.  It's message control, circa 1991: Only give the press and public the information you want to give them, control the story, and weather the storm.  It worked for the department in the past, and it's the same process they've used for the Lickliter firing, the McCaffery hiring, DJK, Hampton, and now for Kidneygate.  When not putting out fires, Phil Haddy can do what Phil Haddy does 98% of the time: Put out those inane fact sheets that Pat Harty copies into his postgame columns and get filmed for Big Ten Network retrospectives.  Haddy clearly looks at his job as distributor of information first, face of the department second, and public relations director a distant third.

The world has turned and left Phil Haddy here, though.  This story didn't break in a press release.  It broke on Jim Poggi's Facebook page, just as Hampton broke on his Facebook wall, just as DJK and Lickliter and McCaffery broke in the message boards.  No longer can the UI SID control the flow of information.  No longer does the story get out only when Haddy is good and ready to let it get out.  In the world of modern, internet-based media, Phil Haddy is getting lapped.

The sports information office's reaction to this most recent debacle crystallized these deficiencies.  According to Biff Poggi, his son was admitted to University Hospitals on Monday, he apparently made the "brown wizz" comment on Facebook Tuesday morning, and the story broke with twelve players admitted* by Tuesday afternoon.  Only after the story had broken into wide circulation did Haddy issue a press release (and, as previously noted, that release absurdly expected that no further comment would be necessary).  Only after fielding a day worth of questions did Haddy hastily convene a press conference.  By that time, the story had gone national; Twitter was on fire with comments from writers at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and CBS Sports, and the story made the 30-second news rundown on MSNBC.  This fact, of course, was completely lost on Haddy, a man who obviously no longer understands the media world he's supposed to work with.  Nothing made his cluelessness more clear than his decision to put Dr. John Stokes on the dais.  Stokes answered general questions regarding rhabdomyolysis, but aside from his comment that he'd been in practice 32 years and never seen thirteen people get the disease at once, he offered no more information than the reporters already had, because the reporters have WebMD.  This was a crisis created in the weight room but magnified by the internet, by social networking, by the rapid dissemination of information.  Haddy's response was a press conference ready-made for Bob Brooks and his giant tape recorder and his fedora with the press credential stuck to the brim.

There's that part of A Few Good Men where Daniel Caffey makes an objection to point out the treating doctor didn't know what he was talking about, and then Jo Galloway screws the whole thing up:



Louden Downey needed a trial lawyer that day.  Louden Downey needed someone who understood the circumstances he faced and the audience he had to convince.  Yesterday -- and the day before, and two weeks before that, and this spring -- University of Iowa Athletics was Louden Downey, in desperate need of Daniel Caffey and stuck with Jo Galloway.  It's not that a lawyer like Jo Galloway isn't useful in certain situations, but paper law isn't trial law, just as boilerplate information dissemination isn't public relations.  A true public relations firm would have gotten in front of this story.  It would have issued a definitive statement, detailing the illnesses and circumstances surrounding them, before Jim Poggi found his Facebook app.  It would have selected the ideal people to put in front of the assembled media, and it would have coached them on exactly what to say to the questions they would inevitably be asked.  It would have improved the response and minimized the story, rather than ignoring the initial problem and then turning it into yet another potential cover-up.  Iowa football is the 15th most financially successful program in the country, bringing in $81 million per year, and its public relations operation wants to sew some costumes and hold the press conference in the barn with Aunt Jenny.

I know Ferentz will hate it.  I know Barta and Haddy will say it's unnecessary.  But it's no longer in their hands.  This program, which has been slowly and publicly bleeding to death for three months, is the face of the University as a whole, and is dragging the institution down with it.  Ferentz can keep snorting at the media.  Barta can keep telling his underlings to avoid the press while reporters are in hot pursuit of said undering's car.  Haddy can keep disseminating irrelevant factoids to Pat Harty and showing up in soft-focus features on the 1985 Iowa-Michigan game with Bob Brooks.  Their time is done.  Their era in media is passed.  They have clearly shown they have no idea what they're doing, and it's time for Sally Mason to find someone who does.