PR Failure #13: NY Jets Head Coach Adam Gase’s crazy eyes!

Aaron Blank / February 1, 2019

 

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Another Month, Another Blunder.
Welcome 2019. You crept up before we even had time to make a resolution. By looking to past actions, good and bad, we can prepare for a better year. Resolutions keep us accountable and allow us to learn and grow from last year’s mistakes. Likewise, we can learn from mistakes happening in our own industry. Failures keep us accountable, and while we are never hoping for a PR flop here at The Fearey Group, we always welcome the opportunity to dissect what went wrong and how we can always strive to be better.
You can read about our look back on 2018’s failures and the top lessons learned, here.
We no longer need to turn to 2018 to find an example of a PR moment gone wrong. A few weeks ago, the New York Jets of the National Football League hired former Miami Dolphins head coach, Adam Gase, to lead the Jets’ coaching staff. What started as an exciting announcement in professional sports, quickly divulged into a meme for the Internet thanks to one fateful press conference.
The Story:
Adam Gase was head coach of the Miami Dolphins for three years before being fired in early January 2019. He led his first season with the Dolphins in 2016, ending with a 10-6 record and a postseason appearance. The next two seasons? Not so great. The Dolphins went 13-19, leading the team to part ways with its head coach.
Known as a quarterback guru, once coaching all-stars such as Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler, the Jets picked up Gase as its head coach on January 11, 2019, hoping to help groom young QB, Sam Darnold, into an elite athlete. After Coach Gase joined “Gang Green” (aka the Jets for you, non-football fans), it was time to announce the new hire in a press conference.
This is where things went wrong.
Jets CEO Woody Johnson did his research on Gase’s coaching abilities, but it seems as if nobody vetted his public speaking abilities. Check out Coach Gase’s Introductory Press Conference. Unlike the well-spoken, confident, charismatic sportscasters we often see on ESPN, Coach Gase made an uncomfortable first impression. He spoke nervously and monotonously. He failed to win over the crowd, and he made weird amounts of very direct eye contact that did not play out well for his first appearance.
To really see what we’re talking about, all you have to do is turn your eyes to this:
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Footage of Gase went viral. Tweets about his darting eyes and intense gaze compared the new coach to everything from actor Nicolas Cage to a mouse lemur.
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With a fan base skeptical of anything (it is New York, after all), this press conference was Coach Gase’s first chance to win over the Big Apple. Unfortunately, his wandering eyes made for more jokes than support — something that could have wholly been avoided with some proper preparation. Now, Coach Gase’s approval will be solely up to his coaching abilities. If he can bring the Jets to the playoffs next season, his wide-eyed stare might be forgotten. If not, he might go down in history as the crazy-eyed coach and may last just a year in the media circus of NY.
(The Internet even created a spoof video that has gone viral in so many ways. See here .)
The Mistake(s)
1. Don’t forget your media training
Not everyone is comfortable talking to large audiences on camera. That’s A-OK. There will be times when you can select a more confident media spokesperson to fill the on-camera position, and there will be times, such as Coach Gase’s press conference, when you can’t. Whether they’re experienced on camera or new to the publicity fanfare, it is vital to train any spokesperson to speak in front of the media. Unfortunately, it looks as though the Jets may have skipped this key step.
Coach Gase was clearly uncomfortable. While we cannot expect every NFL coach to be an on-air personality, particularly in NY, there is a level of training that will take out some of those press-conference jitters. Knowing your key messages, understanding your audience and having prepared answers to questions will help build confidence on camera. One thing Coach Gase did get right: his suit! A professional outfit and good hygiene are always a must when on camera. The audience pays more attention to your appearance than what you actually say – unfortunately.
Read our take on the four key steps to consider before your next media interview.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Anybody can complete a training course, but that doesn’t mean they can apply the skills seamlessly in the moment. To ensure your spokesperson is ready for the camera, practice. Mock interviews allow your spokesperson to run through what they are going to say and figure out which wordings work and which should be eliminated.
Bring a video camera or use a cell phone to record the spokesperson in rehearsal. This allows the spokesperson to see what the media will see. Those moments when you cringe at your own words are telling of how not to look and what not to say during the real deal. This is extremely valuable as you can watch the spokesperson’s mannerisms and quirks, such as Coach Gase’s awkward stare. If the Jets had practiced with Coach Gase prior to his press conference reveal, they may have noticed this challenging trait staring them right in the face and been able to correct it before it went viral.
3. Have Your Spokesperson’s Back
While Twitter had its fun at Coach Gase’s expense, the Jets remained pretty quiet. There were a handful of tweets in the days following the press conference by the team showing photos of Gase on the first day of his new job. They shared videos and photos from the press conference exempt from the crazy eyes. The Jets also shared a video interview with Coach Gase in a Jets sweatshirt and ball cap, looking far more comfortable in front of the camera.
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In all honesty, this wasn’t a total fail for the Jets. They showed Coach Gase where he was comfortable, found clips and pictures where he isn’t making death stares and focused on Coach Gase’s determination to his new team.
The Jets posted material that made Coach Gase look good, which is exactly what he needed amid a social media fury. As it currently stands, it seems as if the Jets are choosing not to address the press conference #fail. We’re not saying they should add to Coach Gase’s humiliation, but with a carefully crafted tweet about the “manically driven” new coach, the Jets could show Coach Gase and the fans that they are not afraid of a few tweets.
J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!
The Lesson Learned:
Being on camera isn’t easy. With reporters and flashes in your face, it’s easy to lose your wits. As PR professionals, it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen. This isn’t Coach Gase’s first time coaching for the NFL, meaning he has been through many press conferences before. He doesn’t have first-time jitters as an excuse. But let’s not place total blame on Coach Gase’s gaze. His lack of preparedness could have used some serious media training. In this case, we would’ve suggested a simple media refresher or rehearsal session given his previous experience. With the support of a communications team, mock interviews, understanding the key messages and being aware of your own body language, the press conference could have gone a lot smoother.
This won’t be Coach Gase’s last press conference so there is room for improvement. And with the NFL Draft coming up and the team working to rebuild to make the playoffs next year, only time will tell if Coach Gase’s coaching skills are as strong as his eye contact.
Until next month. Go JETS! And go Seahawks!!
Aaron Blank
CEO + President
The Fearey Group
If you or your organization and its leadership team are in need of a media training session or rehearsal, contact us. Here’s a link to our pricing for a media training/rehearsal workshop.
For more information about The Fearey Group, check us out online at www.feareygroup.com.
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Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!