I went to CAA Media Day yesterday at the ESPNZone in the Inner Harbor Wednesday, and I had my first significant conversation with new Towson football coach Rob Ambrose while I was there. The conversation was mostly off the record, and detailed a lot of the “newer” aspects of being a head coach (specifically, the positives and negatives of social networking within college sports).
A few things struck me during my conversation with Ambrose.
The guy is going to be easily marketable for the University as a whole. He’s young, good-looking, smart and funny. He knows when to mix things up, and he knows when to say nothing more than the exact right thing. He understands the world of new media and social networking (including an actively updated Twitter account), and doesn’t feel the need to oversell himself. He can accomplish just as much without having to put on any sort of facade.
He’s going to make some people uncomfortable, some of who probably need to feel that way. In an athletic department like Towson’s, there is often little competition from outsiders to try to take currently held. At bigger Division 1 schools (Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, etc.); even those people who work in athletic department jobs that aren’t particularly “sexy” (trainer’s room, equipment management, marketing, etc) feel the pressure of knowing that many people want their jobs. But at a school like Towson, comfort levels can often set in amongst a staff that has been in place for a number of years and feels no threat to their own positions.
When a football team loses, it is usually the coach who pays the price. However, many members of an athletic department (and a University support staff) are often also responsible for the program’s failures. While I have no examples of this yet, I get the feeling that Ambrose will be the type of coach who makes sure every member of the athletic department is on their toes.
But two things Ambrose told me were even more striking. They were very similar statements, and might easily be passed of as clichés. But each statement holds equal truth.
“Perception IS reality.”
“The truth is not the truth.”
Those statements came in the context of a conversation we were having about the trouble young men are finding themselves in over pictures, comments, and status updates left on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Ambrose said he finds himself reminding young men that when it comes to questionable content, “Perception IS reality.” If someone THINKS you’re saying/doing something on a publicly accessible forum like Facebook, it really doesn’t matter if you actually weren’t. Two of Ambrose’s players, LB Alex Butt and TE John Godlasky confirmed to me that Ambrose has been spending his time with players driving this exact point home.
A day later, Ambrose’s comments still struck me. But they struck me because of the job Ambrose is embarking on.
The perception of Towson football here in this market is the reality he is going to have to try to reverse.
For most sports fans in Baltimore, Towson football is not even on the radar. The perception of the team is that they’re not good, and they’re certainly not important.
For Ambrose, the reality is that the team has never won more than 8 games at the FCS (formerly known as 1-AA) level. They’re coming off a season where they were just good enough (3-9) to get well-tenured, well-respected Coach Gordy Combs fired.
In this case, perception truly IS reality. And it is the type of reality that will make this job increasingly difficult. Ambrose needs to win to get attention from both the local sports fan and the local sports media. But winning likely will not just come with a team that has been picked to finish last in their own division. In the meantime, he will be forced to get creative in the way he reaches out to alumni, students, and prospective fans.
He has to sell a product that has just barely existed up until now.
He might well be the exact right man for the job. Talking to him, you can’t help but feel that he is. Towson is certainly banking on his passion as an alumnus to show in his leadership role.
Ambrose’s own perception may be the only reality that really ends up mattering. If Ambrose’s perception is that Towson can truly compete for National Championships (and I can only assume it is), he will have the opportunity to make that a reality. If his perception is to accomplish just enough here to get a high profile FBS coaching job, I imagine he can make that a reality at an even quicker pace.
The market is here. The facilities are right there on campus. Few coaches in America will have the same opportunity to change perception AND reality like Ambrose will have.
But it will absolutely take work.