What Can a College Football Coach Teach PR?

December 16th, 2008

Steve Shannon
I managed to catch one segment of the show 60 Minutes about Pete Carroll, the football coach of the University of Southern California.  The segment was a good analogy for readying public relations students for the real life-working world of PR.

In the interview, Carroll came straight out and said he wanted his team to be the one that practiced the best. The skeptical reporter then asked if he had heard correctly, “practiced the best, but not played the best?” Carroll replied yes, that’s correct, because if his team practiced the best, then they would play the best. The segment then went on to drive home Carroll’s point, showing him running practice. Rather than doing a series of controlled drills to deliver the overarching theory of the game plan to his players, the team practices as if they are actually playing the upcoming game. This includes simulated crowd noise, TV timeouts and the like, so that when Saturday arrives, the team will have already played the game, not just practiced bits and pieces of it in theory.

Based on the number of complaints about their preparedness I hear at the conferences I attend, Carroll’s type of practicing/learning must not take place for today’s PR grads. The conclusion I draw is that, unlike Carroll’s players, PR students must spend a lot of time learning PR theory and not enough time practicing their “blocking and tackling” skills. Writing, speaking, sociology, psychology, business, and government, to name a few, (note that none of these are specific to public relations) are all skills that could make them successful entry level PR pros. I’m sure any organization or PR agency would be eager to hire a grad strong in these areas versus those that have a knowledge base on PR from top to bottom. Other than writing, and maybe speaking, how many of those other areas are truly taught in each and every PR class?

Carroll’s young charges don’t have to understand or even know every nuance of the Trojan’s game plan, or even have to have a desire to be a coach some day. They just have to be the best at their part of the team when called upon. Isn’t that what organizations and agencies are really looking for when making entry-level PR hires? Some of those hires will learn and excel at PR, moving up the ranks (like some USC players going on to play in the NFL), and it won’t be the theory they learned at school that propels them there.

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