There's an old public relations crisis management axiom that you should never turn a one-day story into a three-day story. Minnesota Duluth announced that they wouldn't be renewing the contract of women's hockey head coach Shannon Miller on December 15th, and, despite the respite of the holidays, they are still in the news nearly a month later.
On Thursday, Minnesota Duluth Chancellor Lendley Black added more fuel to the fire by publicly admitting Miller's firing was not entirely driven by financial considerations; a statement that seems true if only because it appears UMD is actively trying to become involved in an expensive lawsuit.
Black re-iterated those comments on Friday in a written statement after refusing an interview with a local Duluth TV station:
our request for an on-camera interview with UMD Chancellor Lendley Black was declined. Here's his statement. pic.twitter.com/rPWpchMDjM— Zach Schneider (@zschneiderNNC) January 9, 2015
This latest hornet's nest was stirred up when a University employee was quoted, on the record, in Inside Higher Ed that while financial considerations were a key factor, there were other factors, including the "direction of the program" that led to Miller's non-renewal. That's a disastrous statement for the school to make, essentially admitting they lied, both publicly and to Miller privately, about their reasons for letting Miller go.
Clearly that must have been the work of some low-level employee that didn't fully understand the massive PR ramifications that statement would have, right? Nope. It came from Chuck Tombarge, whose official title is chief public relations officer(!!!) and deputy chief of staff to the president. Or at least that's his title for now.
Shannon Miller, understandably, wasn't pleased by the comments. From the Duluth News-Tribune, here is how she opened her weekly press conference:
"I want to be clear and I want to be honest, in all the meetings I had with [Athletic Director] Josh (Berlo), and we talked about it five different times, the only reason I was given is financial. Strictly financial," Miller said. "Those were his words over and over again. It’s disappointing for me to read somebody from the institution, or a spokesperson, saying … we weren’t happy with the direction of the program. That’s disturbing to say the least that a spokesperson would say something like that and Josh wouldn’t have the courage to have that conversation with me if it is a concern."
Miller also stated that she has hired two attorneys, likely for a potential lawsuit against Minnesota Duluth.
The thing is, Minnesota Duluth actually had a fairly legitimate reason for not renewing Miller's contract. But they have presented it in the worst way possible. By changing their story, they've made it seem like they had something to hide, even if they didn't. And by not being upfront and honest with Miller from the beginning, they've likely put themselves in some legal trouble as well.
Even if Minnesota Duluth's motives were pure, one could argue--and one likely will in front of a judge at some point--that the decision to not renew Miller came as the result of some sort of personal bias or prejudice against Miller.
Regardless, this doesn't seem like a story that will be leaving the news any time soon.