Was it just me or did Mark Coyle make his life far more difficult than it needed to be Friday morning?
Hours after the story broke that basketball player Reggie Lynch had been suspended by the university’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy, the Gophers athletic director faced the media.
That was, or at least appeared to be, the wise move.
Coach Richard Pitino previously had been scheduled to talk at 11:15 Friday morning, but to make Pitino the first person to answer for a situation that goes well beyond basketball would have been foolish.
Unfortunately, what happened after Coyle began his press conference ended up being inexplicable.
Coyle should have been advised to open with a statement explaining that Lynch had been suspended from playing in games (it already had been reported he had filed an appeal by the time Coyle began his presser), but remained eligible to practice, receive medical treatment and have access to an academic adviser.
Coyle also could have taken that opportunity to explain that because of student privacy laws he would be able to provide no information about the EOAA report, or any other details, including the fact that the complaint filed against Lynch dated to an incident that occurred on April 28, 2016. (That pre-dated Coyle’s June 1 start date by more than a month.)
This wouldn’t have been difficult and would have started things out by providing a necessary piece of information and explaining why Coyle was about to say so little.
Only, Coyle didn’t do that.
Instead, he used the shield of student privacy laws to say nothing (an understandable decision) and did not immediately divulge information that he had no reason to hide and that eventually came out (a baffling and extremely poor decision) in the sixth question that was asked!
It is clear Coyle isn’t comfortable in true press conference settings. That has been obvious a few times since he assumed the job of athletic director at Minnesota. But if you’re the AD at this school you had better get comfortable dealing with tough questions or your tenure is going to be a short one.
Being in this position makes you the face of the department. Coyle would be wise to attempt to get in front of microphones and cameras more often, if for no other reason than to gain a comfort in that setting that clearly doesn’t currently exist.
What happened Friday qualifies as perhaps the most uncomfortable Minnesota sports press conference since the Vikings misguidedly sent general manager Rick Spielman to explain that Adrian Peterson was “disciplining a child” during an incident that led to his indictment on a charge of injury to a child in September 2014. Spielman also announced Peterson was expected to play the following week against New Orleans.
The Vikings quickly reversed course on that decision after facing outrage from the public and having a sponsor drop out of an agreement with the team. In the Vikings case, it was unfair to have Spielman, a football guy, sent to answer questions about Peterson and his legal situation.
Coyle is the spokesperson for the Gophers’ athletic department so sending him to speak was the right move. The wrong move was Coyle’s failure to deliver an immediate message. That left him looking like a deer in the headlights. Not exactly the image you want people to see when trying to manage a crisis situation.