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What Media Execs Can Learn From Tennessee’s Coaching Search

Demetri Ravanos

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By the time you read this, the University of Tennessee may have a new football coach. Given all that has transpired between November 26th and December 2nd (when I am typing this) though, it’s pretty safe to assume that either no, it hasn’t or Tennessee has hired a cardboard cutout of Nick Saban advertising Coke to fill the role left vacant after Butch Jones was fired mid-season. Seriously, what about this coaching search makes you think anyone in Knoxville had even a rough idea of a plan before this process started?

Sports fans have taken notice. Hosts and producers have definitely taken notice. Have program directors and general managers taken notice? It seems like anyone in the hiring business should be paying real attention to the missteps Tennessee has made. There are four of them that apply directly to sports radio.

1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

It wasn’t that long ago that the entire athletic department at the University of Tennessee was facing some tough questions about sexual assault on its campus. The football team was under an even brighter spotlight when it was alleged that the school’s athletic department had allowed that team and its players to operate above the law for decades.

I mean this was national news. The firings and reorganization from that scandal is what resulted in John Currie becoming the school’s athletic director. So why on Earth would he think hiring someone that has been accused of helping cover up Jerry Sandusky’s years of sexual abuse at Penn State is a good idea?

Here’s what Currie learned as fans, students, and politicians from across the state spoke out against the hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano as the Volunteers’ new head coach: wins matter, but the program matters more. So, if you are going to hire someone that has been accused of having the same kind of skeletons in his closet that your program has been dealing with for years, he better be DAMN good. And Schiano is just slightly above okay.

What can you learn from that? Well, it’s important to hire people the listeners can get behind. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to recycling local names listeners already know. I’m advocating for quite the opposite actually. Don’t force feed your audience more of the same. Any host that is willing to embrace the community and bring an interesting new voice to a station will always be a bigger hit with listeners than a guy that just got fired by the competition and is planning to do the exact same show on your airwaves.

2. KNOW YOUR OPENING

The University of Tennessee is a second-tier program in the SEC. This seems to be the one thing that John Currie was aware of when he began his search. As a result, he was willing to settle for a name like Greg Schiano, a name that even without the Penn State baggage, would excite absolutely nobody. It doesn’t take an SEC lifer to realize that Greg Schiano is the Cool Ranch answer to Butch Jones’ Nacho Cheese. At the end of the day, they’re both Doritos.

You can be aware that there are limitations in your market or at your company and still make an effort to land A+ talent. If you think you’ve identified the right candidate, it’s time for the two of you to switch roles.

When someone sends you their demo and resumé they aren’t necessarily saying they want to work for you. They’re saying your company or city is somewhere they’d consider calling home. As soon as you identify your target your job is to convert interest into desire. Part of that is putting together the right compensation package, but the other part of that is selling the strongest part of your offer.

Is your company notoriously cheap? Sell the market. Does the market have a less than desirable reputation? Sell the position’s and company’s growth potential. Do what you have to do to make the candidate as excited about you as you are about them.

3. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME ON PEOPLE THAT DON’T WANT THE JOB

If there is anything the University of Tennessee is bad at (aside from football, of course) it’s reading the room. How many coaches turned interviews with Tennessee into a raise from their current employer? I can think of three and I’m not really racking my brain.

Oklahoma State is Mike Gundy’s alma mater. He was never going anywhere. Jeff Brohm just got to Purdue. Dave Doeren isn’t going to leave NC State for a school with the same disadvantages but a lot more pressure.

On top of that was the pining for Jon Gruden. Now granted, most Tennessee fans I know don’t think Jon Gruden is ever coming to Knoxville to be the savior of that program, but the fact that Currie made time to try and interview Gruden and the fact that he never stepped up and said “This idea is silly. We want an experienced college coach” paints a picture of desperation.

These two lessons are interconnected. Yes, you do have to sell a candidate on all you have to offer, but be perceptive. Recognize that maybe all you’re doing is building this guy strength to go to his current employer. That is a waste of your time.

4. CAN ANYONE MEET YOUR EXPECTATIONS?

What are candidates seeing when they look at your station? What do they think when you lay out your vision?

One thing that I have been told turned off at least one candidate for the Tennessee job was the outsized expectations. Most fans and boosters in Knoxville believe what the team accomplished in the late 90’s should be the norm. The problem with that kind of thinking is that consistently recruiting to that level takes time. And if you can’t tell, trigger fingers get itchy quick in the SEC.

Do you give hosts the time they need to establish an identity and grow an audience? Is there an active and engaged sales staff at your station? Are they all working towards a common goal? It’s hard to sell any candidate on your vision if what they see when they walk in the door runs counter to everything you say.

It’s too late for John Currie. Who knows, maybe new athletic director Phil Fulmer will turn this whole thing around and make an excellent hire, but it seems like 2018 is already a lost cause for Tennessee.

Know what you want. Companies that take stock of their shortcomings regularly are the ones that can consistently improve. Know what your target wants and show him/her that addressing it is a priority for you. If anything good comes of all of the Vols’ mistakes, let it be the lessons you learn about talent acquisition.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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