Regardless of their feelings towards McDermott, most Cyclone fans would agree that Pollard’s silence on the condition of the men’s basketball program is deafening. Given what we’ve become used to during the Pollard administration (i.e., tireless promotion of all things Cyclone), the lack of a statement of any sort is becoming more conspicuous by the day. Some have insisted that Pollard must say something- anything. These pleas got me thinking: What exactly are Pollard’s options in this situation, and what would he be communicating (directly or indirectly) in each case?
As I pondered this, I came to the realization that he essentially has four (maybe five) distinguishable options. What are they? What are the pros and cons of each? And what’s the best approach given the situation that we currently find ourselves in? This exercise actually exposed one way that political savvy comes into play in the day-to-day administration of an athletics department.
Option 1: Make a simple, generic statement of support.
Example: “Greg is a great guy and a tremendous coach, and we believe he’s the right man for the job.”
Pros: It lets the fanbase know where you stand, and it gets the media off your back, at least for a brief period of time.
Cons: It can ring pretty hollow, depending on how low the lows have become.
In our situation: The cons outweigh the pros. If Pollard were to make such a generic statement, I believe it would only add fuel to the fire. It has no substance, and segments of the fanbase are already demanding blood. It’s simply not good enough in year four.
Option 2: Make a simple, generic statement of support, and back it up with some tangible reasons to maintain hope.
Example: “Greg is a great guy and a tremendous coach, and we believe he’s the right man for the job. He’s had some terrible luck over the past few years, but the team continues to play hard each and every game, and we have a strong class of players coming in next year.”
Pros: It lets the fanbase know where you stand, and it gets the media off your back temporarily. Also, if you can present a strong enough case, it may buy you some patience with a portion of the fanbase.
Cons: If the tangible reasons to maintain hope are outweighed by the tangible reasons to doubt, it can ring just as hollow as the stand-alone statement in option 1.
In our situation: The cons again outweigh the pros. I believe the tangible reasons to maintain hope are being trumped by the reasons to doubt in the minds of most fans. I believe a statement such as this could come across as mildly insulting after four seasons.
Option 3: Make a measured but honest statement admitting that there is a sense of urgency.
Example: “It’s been a difficult season and a difficult few years. Greg has had some terrible luck, but we’re not going to make excuses. We need to get this thing turned around and start rewarding our great fans for their loyalty.”
Pros: It lets people know where you stand, certainly, and it shows the fanbase that your head isn’t buried in the sand.
Cons: You’re now walking the fine line between accountability and program sabotage. There may be a segment of fans who want to hear something along these lines, but such a statement immediately brings administrative support into question.
In our situation: In my opinion, you never make a statement that starts you down this road unless you intend to relieve someone of their duties and need to start greasing the skids. The appearance of wavering administrative support (intentional or not) can impact a number of things: recruiting may suffer because players want to know that their coach is going to be there for four years; donations and ticket sales may decline because fans don’t want to invest in a sinking ship; etc. You may as well just pull the plug because the potential damage that could come from such a statement far outweighs the fleeting benefits.
Option 3(b): Make a measured but honest statement admitting that there is a sense of urgency, and attach some sort of ultimatum- vague or not.
This is option 3 on steroids. It’s rarely seen in college athletics (not that it doesn’t happen behind closed doors), but we occasionally hear of ultimatums coming down from owners and general managers in the professional ranks. My analysis of this option would be similar to option 3: There’s really no reason to go this route unless you’re okay with your coach being labeled a dead man walking.
Option 4: Say nothing at all.
Example: We’re staring it right in the face.
Pros: It allows you to keep your options open as you continue to evaluate the situation, and it guarantees that you won’t say something you’ll later regret.
Cons: It leaves the fanbase and the media dangling, and leads to a lot of speculation (this blog post, for example).
In our situation: Obviously, this is the approach that Pollard has decided to take, and I think he is wise for doing so. Of the four options, this is the only one where the pros clearly outweigh the cons when viewed in the context of our current state of affairs. Fans may demand accountability and answers, but Pollard is no dummy. Sometimes you’re better off in the long haul if you keep your mouth shut and take some short-lived beatings in print and over the airwaves.
So let’s break this down one step further. Once I arrived at this point, I began to ponder what additional reasoning may lay behind Pollard’s decision to remain silent on the state of the basketball program. I came up with three plausible scenarios:
1. Pollard remains solidly in McDermott’s corner, but understands that a statement demonstrating his support may not be very well received during the heat of battle. The fans and media will demand a statement eventually, but perhaps you hold off until Spring when the season has passed and football has started to fill the imaginations of many Cyclone fans.
2. Pollard was once solidly in McDermott’s corner, but this season has shaken his confidence. The debate that currently rages among fans and media across the state is also playing out in Pollard’s head (with a more extensive base of knowledge from which to draw, of course). His own uncertainty prevents him from making any bold statements. He needs time to further evaluate the situation.
3. Pollard is keeping his options open. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s actively pursuing a replacement, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that he may have to make that decision if it becomes financially feasible. He’s looking at all of his options, so there’s no reason to back himself into a corner with any sort of public statement.
Like everyone else, I have no idea what Pollard is thinking. All we can do is look at what we know and speculate from there. Some have been quick to dismiss the possibility that a change could be made after the season. There are a couple of reasons that I wouldn’t rule it out: First, Pollard is typically a “rah rah” kind of guy, which I have no problem with. The point is, he hasn’t said a word about men’s basketball in quite some time. Why is that? Second, Pollard replaced McCarney and Morgan when, in his mind, the department could no longer “sell hope”. How do you find a way to sell hope going forward if there are no significant changes to the status quo? Short of Brackins and Gilstrap returning next year, a large majority of the fanbase will be fairly apathetic heading into next season. Will Pollard deal with McDermott in the same manner that he dealt with McCarney and Morgan?
Some will argue that Pollard will have a much longer fuse with his own hires. Perhaps, but, like McDermott, Pollard’s career is tied to the success of the men’s basketball program now that he’s placed his stamp firmly upon it. If Pollard has dreams of moving on to greener pastures (and there is certainly a lot of beautiful green out there from an administrator’s point of view), he needs to get the basketball program turned around first. McDermott’s hiring represents Pollard’s first big move- the first bold pen stroke in the John Hancock that will be his career. It’s highly unlikely that a Wisconsin, for example, would hire an administrator who presided over the decay of a school’s flagship program. It’s in Pollard’s best interest to get this thing turned around quickly.
In my mind, the question is money. If Pollard decides that a change must be made, how do we pay the buyout? It seems like a nearly impossible proposition. That said, Pollard has shown an ability to turn water into wine when comes to our financial limitations. The new Sukup Basketball Complex is a perfect example of that. Nobody in their right mind would have ever dreamed we would have a beautiful, fully-equipped, state-of-the-art basketball complex by Fall of 2009, but it got done. I have to believe if Pollard wants to make a move, he’ll find a way to get it done.