It’s a case study for how NOT to do things.
For the second time in two years we’re a bowl-bound team without a coach. It must have some significance in the record books – somewhere.
Just yesterday, Gus Malzahn followed in his predecessor, Hugh Freeze‘s footsteps, and headed for the winning, but not-so-friendly-confines of the Southeast Conference leaving Arkansas State University behind in the wake of toxic Gus Bus fumes.
Replacing Malzahn may not be our most formidable challenge.
No, ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch and newly appointed Athletic Director Terry Mohajir are most capable of seizing the Red Wolves‘ momentum and recruiting a quality coach. We’re now an attractive place to coach a football team. With an almost flawless year of first-class hires, in and out of athletics, Welch has too much at stake not to pull another rabbit out of his hat. And he will.
Hiring a good coach isn’t the challenge that troubles me most.
It’s Welch’s and Mohajir’s noteworthy task to use the opportunity to bring some fresh faces with new ideas to the ASU athletic marketing department. The best thing Welch and Mohajir could do is place the entire ASU athletic marketing staff on the Gus Bus headed south, and drop them off somewhere in north Mississippi.
There’s just no polite way to say this. They are good people, I’m sure, but marketing rookies all the same.
It took the ASU marketing staff about two seconds last year to capitalize on Freeze’s name, much in the same way a junior high newspaper staff might.
Simply stated, our genius marketing plan was to brand ourselves with a coach’s name and “freeze out” everything. We froze out opponents. Froze ticket sales. It was a cool change for ASU athletics. The most obvious, easiest and most ridiculous marketing effort perhaps in all of college football.
One local magazine went so far as to feature Freeze on its pre-season cover pictured, where else, but in the deep freeze of a local ice company. The ultimate journalistic cliche’.
And there was the inevitable brisk awakening when Freeze took a cool deal with the University of Mississippi so quickly that his bowl-bound team was left behind.
Lesson learned? Nope.
Enter – deja vu all over again.
Along comes a guy named Gus.
We can only imagine the ASU marketing team’s first strategy session…
“What rhymes with Gus?” they must have said. “Bus! Hey! There’s that song about the Gus Bus!” And our new marketing strategy was born.
And so we put everybody on the Gus Bus, and once again, inevitably gave them a free ticket to LetDown’sville.
Over two years ASU invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a marketing plan grounded in these men’s names. The investment went South, literally, both times.
We experimented, and still flirt with the whole HOWL concept from time to time, but this is what I’ll never forget.
Early on in the adoption of the new Red Wolf mascot, within two weeks, in fact, I saw prominent billboards – one said Howl Yes! – the other, Howlelujah!
I didn’t know if we were Saints or Sinners.
Let’s hire some marketing pros who understand the value of long-term branding.
For related stories on Arkansas State’s Sun Belt Conference Championship, see this post and this post.