When the phone is ringing and you know who it is, do you pick it up? …Even when you know the news might be bad news? It’s a great question and the following story is certainly a lesson we can all take something away from, as I did.
Let me explain.
On February 2nd, I found myself speaking with the Bruins head football coach Rick Neuheisel on the UCLA campus. I had travelled there with three other members of a non-profit broad I sit on: Tom Johnson, the Publisher of the Newport Beach Independent, restaurateur and UCLA alum John Ursini and wealth manager Greg Whelan (you can read Tom’s account of our visit here). We were on campus to speak with AD Dan Guerrero and other sports management folks at UCLA about a banquet honoring Neuseisel, but more about that tomorrow.
Neuheisel was in sound-bite mode as it was also national signing day for college football programs and he had an up and down day to say the least.
I am going to paraphrase the conversation a bit, but this is the story that Rick told us.
A nationally ranked high school recruit had committed to going to UCLA a while ago. The head coach thought this was a done deal, although nothing is really ‘done’ until the athlete signs the national letter of intent and faxes it back to the school.
National signing day is here and then Rick turns on the TV that morning only to see the same recruit wearing a UCS baseball cap on television. The same recruit said he was going to sign with the Trojans.
Stunned, Neuheisel was beside himself. He was beyond disappointed, as he told the four of us during an informal chat session before the coach was set to address more media.
“This is just not possible,” he said. ”It is just not happening. I needed a moment of silence.”
Now mind you, at this point, this young recruit is not the only player Neuheisel is counting on to help bring back a UCLA football program that went 4-8 last year. He had others he is also waiting on. This particular student athlete, however, was seen as already coming to UCLA until he appeared on TV.
Then Rick’s phone rings and it appears to be the student’s father calling the coach. He sees the name on the caller ID. He knows who it is and he doesn’t want to answer the cell phone.
It would have been easy to ignore the call. Let it go to voice mail. Deal with the ‘I’m sorrys’ later.
However, he answers it. This is what he learned.
The student athlete he saw on the TV earlier talking up USC and their football program had since changed his mind.
“Here is a guy who thought he was doing the right thing,” said Neuheisel. ”But in his heart of hearts he could not do it. I thanked him for coming to his senses (laughs by the group) and he faxed in his letter of intent to attend UCLA in the fall.”
By answering the phone, even when he didn’t want to UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel received the good news he thought was gone.
You always have to pick up the phone. You never know who or what awaits you on the other end of the line.
The conversation reinforced how college coaches must jump through hoops to sign prospective athletes and nothing ever seems like it is done. I told Rick during the conversation that he needed a stomach of steel to deal with things like this and he just laughed.
I thought about others who are in similar situations and quickly came to sports agents. Players hop from one agent another all the time, often seeking bigger and better deals, more attention or other intangibles.
Last thought on UCLA: The football coach announced during a meet the boosters session before UCLA and USC squared off for basketball later that day, that 81,000 people had applied to UCLA for the fall, one of the largest totals for any college in the nation.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Self Portrait of Charles Harris. I took this on the Pier overlooking Newport Beach this last weekend.