USC coaches working on makeovers of image

November 11, 1990|By Beth Ann Krier | Beth Ann Krier,Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- President Bush has media adviser Roger Ailes as his personal spin doctor. And now USC coaches have Dinah Day.

An image and communications consultant who lectures on everything from how to answer hostile press inquiries to "how to deal with people who make your armpits sweat," Day spent one day last week making over the coaches from head to toe.

Evidently, it's no longer enough to be just a coach, mentor and role model; the USC athletic staff is being urged to join the MTV age.

Even the color of coach Mike Bailey's socks and the length of his mustache came up for review.

"For you, I'd make it a little shorter. You'll look a little down if your mustache curls down over your lip," Day, 45, told the assistant track and field coach.

Day recommended that he add a pocket square to his suit for a more executive look (and stuffed a white Kleenex in his pocket to demonstrate the effect). She also wanted him to ditch his watchband for a classier, leather one. And get some darker socks.

"Details make the difference," she insisted.

Bailey, who appeared to welcome, if not enjoy, the critique, wanted to know what Day thought of the once-chic, unshaven, Don Johnson "scruff look."

Replied Day, "Not much."

A former sportscaster for the ESPN cable network who is a squash enthusiast and triathlon competitor, Day was invited to repackage the coaches' public and private personas -- including their attitudes, wardrobes, breathing patterns, voice tones and grooming practices. An image and communications consultant for the last five years, she is based in New York and works with individual and corporate clients.

This was not the first time she has tackled image issues for coaches. Earlier this year, for example, Day did a presentation for about 400 high school and college basketball coaches attending a convention of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association in Knoxville, Tenn.

High-profile college coaches have been known to go through private media training. But neither Day nor Barbara Hedges, the athletic department official who hired Day, know of other colleges that provide group training.

Both women emphasized that the coaches attending the USC workshop did not have particularly negative image problems they needed to improve. (The coaches represented all campus teams except football, baseball and men's basketball, whose coaches do not report to Hedges, one of two senior associate athletic directors.)

Rather, said Hedges, Day's advice was sought to give the school's athletic program an edge. Hedges wants her coaches to look and sound their best during media interviews, recruiting sessions and addresses to alumni and the public.

If anything, she figured, the training sessions made the coaches realize "they're going to have to be much more careful from a media and TV standpoint."

Indeed, in one session, the coaches learned a few tips for handling pesky reporters who try to bait them into saying things they later wish they hadn't.

Day counseled the coaches to prepare themselves with interesting answers to the sort of tough questions reporters are likely to ask. And she advised them to practice their repartee live, preferably with a video camera, so they can view the tape and make corrections, just as most of them do with their players' performances.

All the coaches were videotaped talking about their lives and their opinion of their appearances. A few were also videotaped while they fielded hostile interview questions. The latter brought up a spirited discussion on how to satisfy journalists' needs for colorful quotes and provocative sound bites -- without necessarily trashing their opponents or themselves in the process.

Some of the coaches shared their unique methods for coping.

"Reporters don't want to listen as slow as I talk," said Lisa Love, head coach for women's volleyball, noting that her speech speed can work to her advantage. "I sometimes don't have to give interviews."

"In sports, the one thing you don't want to do is come off too cocky," head tennis coach Dick Leach warned.

But Day found Leach's interview style a bit too considerate, responsible, appropriate and polite. "It might be good to spend a half-day being inconsiderate, irresponsible, inappropriate and impolite," she suggested.

Leach's comeback was instant and directed to his boss: "Did you hear that, Barbara?"

Then he acknowledged that he had intentionally become extremely cautious about what he says to reporters. "I've been misquoted and hurt very badly by several newspapers. . . . I don't want to be a part of their show time. . . . There are topics you can't win on. It's best to say nothing [about] them."

By the end of the day, each coach had had a moment of truth before the camera. They had all learned a self-hypnotic technique for instant attitude adjustment. And a number of the female coaches had undergone improvised makeovers. Day judged some of them to be too plain and athletic looking. So she quickly redid their hairstyles, applied makeup, temporarily shortened their skirts and added accessories to their wardrobes, usually taking her own off and putting them on her subjects to make her visual points.

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