“I’m sorry if my message got misconstrued, but it really was in the best interest of the young men. Hindsight’s 20-20. I probably should have said it was an interview. Semantics are semantics.” – New USC Football Coach Steve Sarkisian
“Semantics are Semantics”?
How about, to be charitable, telling a big fib?
Sorry Sark, you will never totally restore your reputation for integrity.
Media types and the general public will always have an extra degree of skepticism whenever they interact with you. There is no way to change this inescapable conclusion.
Almost DailyBrett has commented before about Jody Powell’s self-proclaimed, “Right to Lie.”
Powell, former press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, was placed into a lie-or-jeopardize American lives dilemma, when he was asked point-blank in 1980 about possible rescue mission for 52 American diplomats trapped in Iran.
He knew the score. He protected the (ultimately failed) mission. He lied and deceived. He really had no choice.
Larry Speakes, former press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was told to “knock down” rumors about a 1983 American invasion of Grenada. He did. The GI’s landed the following morning. An internally misled and peeved Speakes was charged with lying.
In both cases, the press secretary must interact with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis. A “no comment” response would be interpreted as tantamount to confirmation. The press secretary does not have the authority, regardless of her or his conscience and upbringing, to jeopardize American lives.
Power lied. Speakes lied without knowing it, and was charged with…lying.
Looking back to this previous weekend, former Washington, now USC Coach Sarkisian could have easily avoided being put into a situation in which he had to tell a big white lie.
Until this past Monday, Sarkisian was the head football coach for the University of Washington. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, he was a high-profile assistant coach for Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans.
And naturally because of his relative success (e.g., never beat Oregon) during his five years with Udub and his USC pedigree, he was a natural for the short list of potential new coaches at Troy.
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden flew this past Sunday to Seattle to interview Sarkisian. Trust me; he was not heading to the Northwest to bask in the freezing weather. Ultimately, the interview went well. There were still “I’s” to dot and “T’s” to cross as Haden returned to SoCal.
Sarkisian still in his Udub head coach capacity had a scheduled Monday morning interview with Seattle KJR (AM-590), the flagship station for Husky football. He knew that he was going to be asked about the swirling rumors that he had been interviewed by Haden for the SC job.
What were his personal public relations and reputation management options (Keep in mind, none of them were perfect)?
Sark’s options were to go ahead with the previously scheduled radio talk and mischaracterize his meeting with Haden as a nice chat, and not an interview. Keep in mind, the majority of the UW Athletic Department administrators and his team was presumably listening to the interview.
The other option was to postpone the interview, thus maintaining his credibility. This option requires POing the media, particularly the chaps at KJR Sports Radio, and starting rumors as to why he was not available.
As we all know now, Sark went forward with the Monday morning interview and his credibility took a huge hit just hours later when USC announced he was Troy’s new head coach.
“I just felt like at the time, nowhere near finalizing the deal, that it wasn’t the right thing to say,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t either want to put (USC or UW players) in a situation of uncertainty.”
“Nowhere near finalizing the deal?”
Sark, you met with Pat Haden on Sunday, and USC announced your hiring on Monday afternoon. When you are in a hole, stop digging.
In football, there are times when it is best to punt than being stopped short of the first-down markers.
This was a time when Sark personally should have punted. Postpone the interview. Let the rumors fly. Keep your reputation intact. And later, offer an exclusive post-USC hiring interview exclusive for KJR. Do you really think the torqued-off station would decline that opportunity?
They would have jumped at it.
Presidential press secretaries have the right to lie (and this is debatable) to protect American lives. The same latitude does not apply to Semantics-are-Semantics football coaches.