Normally my Monday morning activities would not include watching a streaming press conference on my iPad. Yet as a speech coach, I wanted to see how Mark Richt responded to questions during his press conference one day after the University of Georgia fired him as head football coach.
Richt came to Georgia 15 years ago after a long apprenticeship under Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. His first few years at the helm satisfied fans, university officials, and donors, as he won games against respected opponents and occasional conference championships.
However, Georgia’s football fortunes waned. Though Richt’s won-loss percentage was superb, his teams could not defeat highly ranked opponents consistently, or even make respectable showings.
So on Sunday, Athletic Director Greg McGarity and President Jere Morehead thanked Richt for his service, commended his character and terminated his coaching career at Georgia. Additionally, they scheduled a press conference the next day.
Next time my clients ask my advice about what to say and how to behave in a press conference, I will describe Richt’s superlative performance, specifically these five points:
He expressed no bitterness.
The knee-jerk reaction of someone who has been told very publicly that their work was not productive enough would be to lash out with anger. Yet Richt’s first comments centered around thanking the university for the support that fans, students, the band, the cheerleaders and his players gave him from the outset. He added: “Gosh, even being chosen for this position was amazing enough.”
He restated his mission.
Asked “What has been the accomplishment you’re proudest of?” he did not describe a big victory, a bowl appearance, or a championship. He answered: “My biggest accomplishment has been helping boys turn into men, so they will become good citizens, husbands and fathers.”
He offered no excuses.
Fired coaches do that sometimes. “The media reps were out to get me.” “We lost our best player to injury early in the season.” “We were just three plays away from winning our division.” Avoiding excuses, Richt accepted total responsibility for the team’s decline.
His nonverbal messages mirrored his positive words. Coach Richt appeared calm, poised, totally in control of his emotions. Viewers could not detect sorrow or resentment. Occasionally, he smiled and even chuckled. He kept eye contact with questioners and even with McGarity, the man who instigated Richt’s dismissal.
He ignored political correctness while defining his future.
Political correctness would have prompted him to make safe or bland statements. Quite the opposite happened. Richt talked about his deep personal religious faith, saying unashamedly that divine help and guidance would help him select the best choice for his life and career.
While all five of these points might not match what you will need to do and say during a pressure-packed press conference, Coach Mark Richt’s demeanor, statements and responses will help you perform admirably when you face the media during a career crisis.