Inside Vision: Introductory Press Conferences

Play with pace. Build a culture. Save the world.

Note: This piece was originally sent to Hoop Vision Weekly subscribers on April 26th, 2019.

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Today, some detail on the two recent Hoop Vision videos that have gone viral on Twitter and have trickled onto other platforms. These haven’t just gotten big in the college basketball nerd-o-sphere, but have actually really blown up across the sports world, and have attracted some significant attention from people in a few business disciplines, too.

Without further ado, the debut of Inside Vision, with a telling of how introductory press conferences drove one of Hoop Vision’s biggest weeks this year in terms of buzz, conversation and video views…

While spinning my wheels and frying my brain attempting to figure out what Hoop Vision content will look like in the off-season, I began a wonderful procrastination practice — watching coaches’ introductory press conferences — and stumbled upon our most viral content yet.

So taking one half-step back: I have a weird habit of listening to press conferences in the background while working on stuff, and decided to dig deeper.

The first thing I listened for was how "technical" the coach was in his presser when talking about style of play. Was he fluff or specific? Does it even really matter? In my eyes, fluff is fine in the press conference as long as the coach knows his stuff behind closed doors (and can speak on it at an expert level behind said doors). A press conference is meant to vindicate administrators and boosters who vouched for the hire, and gain some goodwill with a restless fanbase.

But as I kept an ear open listening for technical terms, I noticed something, and had the instant realization: “It’s true! It’s all true!!”

Half-step back again. Some more context...

Within coaching and grassroots basketball circles — and by “circles” we mean either group texts or literal circles of people chatting in the lobby at Final Four — there is a constant joke that is half-serious: whenever any coach or program is recruiting a player, or interviewing for a job, or being introduced at a press conference, they ALL say how they love to PLAY FAST.

Other acceptable synonyms for “play fast” -- play with pace, push the pace, play with tempo, control the tempo, get out and run...you get the idea.

The end result? If you missed the “play fast” supercut, here it is in all its glory:

Naturally, many users began pointing out that Virginia — the slowest team in the country — won the national title...so why are all these coaches still doubling down on pace as the key to unlocking a program’s potential?

Well, going all the way back to his introduction at Virginia 10 years ago, even Tony Bennett succumbed to the "play fast" presser curse, albeit only for a few words...

"You have to be able to play in the halfcourt offensively, and you have to be able to run opportunistically and get out and go..."

Still, Bennett's philosophy was clear: the game is about about execution and creating a system that maximizes talent and puts players in the best position.

"You look at your personnel and adjust...the way I look at it, you better play in a way that lets you compete with the best."


So that pace stuff was all good and fun, but we weren’t done yet. 

Just as pace/tempo is a wildly overused cliché in college hoops, “culture” might be an even worse culprit.

Then, in true Hoop Vision form, we got nerdy with it and imported the transcripts from 32 introductory pressers into R for some text mining, which is how the “Culture Leaderboard” came to be:

Overall, the response for the culture video was surprisingly polarizing.

The tweet and video were intended to be a somewhat sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek piece of content — and most took it as such. But, somewhat surprisingly, there were A LOT of people in the coaching and business communities who came out and praised the culture-speak.

Look - in the grand scheme of things, nitpicking the words a coach uses at a press conference does not really matter and we’d be hard-pressed to find a correlation between the language used at press conferences and success on the job. And in reality, what else are coaches supposed to say at these things? The setting is designed to encourage platitudes; the fun part of consolidating all of the culture talk into one video is that it shows there is a CLEAR playbook when it comes to these introductory pressers. 

I’ve had several conversations with coaches about culture in the past, and even more since releasing the video. Taking all those conversations in aggregate, the general sentiments that emerge:

  • Of course culture is important in a program or team - or at least the things that coaches are implying when they use the word culture are important. The problem is the word has essentially been stripped of any substantial meaning.

  • You don’t establish a culture by talking about it and preaching it. Actions > Words. Certainly not by speaking about it in a press conference, but the more nuanced discussion is how you establish it at all. There is a large section of coaches bought into the inspirational quotes and motivational speeches side of building culture. And I’m sure reminding and identifying your team of your core beliefs does have some value. But the sentiment from some of the coaches I talked to was that at the end of the day talk is significantly cheaper than actions.

  • The last part I want to note about “culture” is really just my opinion. And it’s that causality is really hard to determine. In my opinion, winning leads to good culture as much as good culture leads to winning. When you’re involved in a college program that’s winning, it makes everyone around you a hell of a lot more likeable. It’s almost a chicken-or-egg situation and there’s a lot more nuance involved than the normal coach-speak version.

Look out for more on the “culture” issue during the offseason — perhaps we’ll even bring some of these conversations back into the mix as a future episode of the Solving Basketball podcast.So now that we’ve taken all these steps forward and half-steps back, let’s go all the way back to the point of this whole crazy exercise…


Which coaches spoke in the most technical and specific terms in this year’s introductory press conferences?

Starting with the MOST “technical” presser, the crown lies heavy on the head of new Cal Poly coach John Smith, who laid out the most specific parameters of any new coach.

Staying in California, I tweeted about Mick Cronin and his complete lack of technical language during his introduction as the new UCLA head coach, but Cronin may have met his match in new Elon head coach Mike Schrage.

Schrage used the word “family” a nation-leading 12 times during his presser, and made no real mention of the style of play he intends to bring to Elon and the school’s sparkling new Schar Center athletic facility.


BONUS SECTION

You may have seen the cloud of most-used words (below) on Twitter.

If you just can't get enough, click/tap here for a more extensive list of the 200 most-used words in this year's introductory press conferences — one tab is in order of frequency, and the other is sorted alphabetically.

(Please credit if you use this data for any public-facing analysis purposes).