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Friday, February 03, 2006

GreatGourdAlmighty's "Airball!!!!!!!!"

So PF’s attempt to close out recruiting with a trey from downtown falls to the floor without ever threatening the rim. Airball. 0-5 from the field. I choose the basketball analogy on purpose because the contrast between the UT football and basketball programs is so unbelievably striking right now. What I take away from NSD isn’t so much that we signed lower ranked players than usual, or that we should be “disappointed” in the quality of players – that may or may not translate onto the field 2 or 3 years from now. What gets me is that PF continues to find ways to disappoint and de-energize the fan base, while Pearl achieves success after success and creates a fever pitch around the basketball program.I don’t pretend to be an expert on recruiting, but I do know a lot about business strategy and brand management, and the role of the CEO in building successful organizations and brands. This recruiting finish is another in a long line of communications, decisions and actions that produce the end result of leaving fan base (customer) feeling like it’s been collectively kicked in the groin. Performance/expectations = perception. Perception matters a lot and it’s a CEOs job to manage it. PF’s failure has been nothing short of epic.The failure to produce a positive “surprise” on signing day, coupled with the loss of another top recruit to Ears, and whiffing on two-team battles with the likes of West Virginia and North Carolina….in essence, the airball at the buzzer….means that once again the Vols underperform, and Big Orange football brand loses value with existing and potential fans and players. This, on the heels of- Off the field embarrassments, including assault and battery- a debacle of a season- Being mocked by the national media, which, love them or hate them, matters a lot when you are committed to a national recruiting strategy - muddled CEO communications that fail to take full accountability or outline a clear turnaround strategy- executive hiring decisions that are at best boringly pragmatic, and at worst, the re-hiring of Ole Miss retreads that ignore the demographics of our recruiting baseEven IF the sum total of these “moves” is marginally better performance on the field next year, the damage to the brand has already been done and will take years to recover. There are absolutely ZERO rational reasons to be excited about, and pay a premium for, the Big Orange brand. ZERO. And by the way, “paying a premium” in the recruits’ eyes is leaving the home state or turning down another premium brand program, so this perception stuff has real business consequences. So I see the recruiting finish more as another damaging, de-energizing blow to brand/perception than a good or bad recruiting haul…whether the actual players pan out or not, who knows? Meanwhile, Bruce Pearl is demonstrating masterful leadership on all dimensions. Granted, he has the advantage of being new and inheriting low expectations. But even if the wins weren’t coming as quickly, he would still be articulating a clear strategy, producing an entertaining product, energizing the student body and demonstrating a knowledge of Tennessee history/pride. He is actively building the brand on AND off the court. He not only “gets it”, he manages “it”…actively. Actually, the only sign of life from PF is that he is consistently showing up in his size XXXL sweater vest next to Pearl’s bench. Unfortunately, it just reminds everyone what an inarticulate blob he is next to a leader like Pearl.

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