(Posting is going to be a little sporadic the next few days. I’ll do my best to keep everybody updated if anything big happens, but most likely things will be quiet here on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, as I’ll be in a semi-remote part of the great state of Minnesota that doesn’t tend to agree with the internet. Either way, Happy holidays.)
Brian Kelly’s decision to meet with the media yesterday — two different sessions, one with print writers, the other with internet reporters — was a strategic move that truly showed that the new Notre Dame head coach understands the flow of information and how important the media is to his job as the head coach of Notre Dame. While Charlie Weis was always candid in his media sessions, there was always an adversarial relationship with Weis and working members of the media. Whether it was ESPN or a local reporter, it seemed like there were guys that Weis didn’t like, and guys that didn’t like Weis. That’s not a good thing for a coach, especially when you have a team so susceptible to mood swings like those of the Weis regime.
During Kelly’s session with the internet writers, the role of subscription websites came up (Rivals, Scout, etc.). Here’s what Kelly had to say on the subject:
“You guys have a job to do, but you also represent the interests of Notre Dame with your subscription members. I would think, and maybe I’m wrong, a lot of them are Notre Dame supporters. My expectations would be that you would want to provide content that allows your subscribers to continue to subscribe.
“We can give you access and allow you to do some things that other people can’t do. Whether it be the Tribune or the Chicago papers, it really just depends on how we want to lay the ground rules down to be quite honest with you.
“If you want access to players, if you want access to players, if you like to do things that others can’t do then we’re going to carve that out. We can treat you like the newspaper journalist or you could get some access that others can’t get. I think we’ll have to sit down and our next time we get together after this will be, ‘What’s the rules of engagement? How do we do this?’ I can tell you how we did [it] at Cincinnati. When I got there no one [cared] about Cincinnati football. So we were just happy as heck to have anybody write something about us. So it was like, ‘Come on. You can stand on the sideline with me. You can call a play.’
“At the end of the day, we want to win. You want Notre Dame to win. If Notre Dame wins and it’s positive, you get more people. Again, Brian [Hardin] will probably lead that kind of initiative because we haven’t even crafted it yet. I just wanted to meet you guys and give you guys some access and talk about some of the things that were on the agenda for where we are. We’ll have to sit down and say ‘Okay, here’s how we’re going to do this stuff.’ Then maybe you guys after this conversation can kind of communicate your wants, desires, concerns. Then we can craft back some of those things.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I agree with Kelly’s approach to these subscription websites. For many, this is the source material for their impressions of the Notre Dame football team. The information they find out about recruiting, about player development, the daily source for “insider” scoop, these websites funnel information to websites like ND Nation, where thousands more get their information, and eventually, the collective decides whether or not they like the direction the Notre Dame football program is going. For Kelly to reach out and understand that sites like Tim Prister’s and Mike Frank’s are different than the stuff you’ll find on Brian Hamilton’s blog at the Chicago Tribune is essential to understanding what makes the media tick.
Charlie Weis acknowledged that this separation existed when he hand-picked certain writers for his infamous final interview. But the fact that Weis’ message was lost when he stupidly felt comfortable to talk about a sleepy beach community that kicked Lebowski to the curb underscored the fact that Charlie never figured out how to use the media.
Using the media doesn’t mean exploiting the media. But it does mean understanding the job that all of us working to cover the team have to do. Notre Dame built its tradition on the back of unrivaled media coverage that turned Notre Dame into America’s college football program. While it’s silly to argue that Notre Dame still has the same stranglehold on the national headlines that it did back in the days of Rockne (or even Parseghian), it’s just as naive to think that Notre Dame doesn’t need to be proactive when cultivating it’s imagine in an era that finds just as many people in the media resenting Notre Dame’s ubiquitous position.
While Kelly has yet to do anything that has do to with actually playing football, yesterday’s interviews continue to show that he has a masterful ability to focus on the minute details. If those skills translate to the football field (and they have in his past two stops at the D-I level), Irish fans will be incredibly happy next fall.