Stephen Holmes: Who Are The Winners Of The BCU/Ed Reed Saga
By: Stephen Holmes
There are no winners.
Bethune-Cookman University, Ed Reed, students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, The Daytona Beach community, parents, athletes, recruits, and anyone else associated with this storied institution took a loss.
What was shaping up to be one of the most significant moments in the history of the institution has inexplicably morphed into one of its most shameful. It’s difficult to put into words how poorly this entire matter has been mismanaged. But if we’re honest, as of late, this is a bit on brand for my Beloved B-CU and that hurts to type.
On December 27th, B-CU announced that they have “Agreed in Principle” to hire Ed Reed as the new football coach. I will never look at the phrase “Agreed in Principle” the same way again.
Do you remember when I asked if Bethune Cookman was ready for Ed Reed? Well, it didn’t take long to get the answer. But in all fairness, we should’ve also asked if Ed Reed was ready to be a head coach? Both questions are equally fair because both B-CU and Ed Reed pissed-away an incredible opportunity to build something special here. Ed Reed was looking for his first coaching gig. Bethune-Cookman is looking to rebuild its football program. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for all parties involved.
What were we thinking? A gold-jacket wearing NFL great patrolling the sidelines at Bethune Cookman?
What could go wrong?
Let’s start here, it’s easy to point to B-CU’s Administration for botching this hire (and we’ll get to them), but Ed Reed is not without fault. If you know him, you understand how passionate he can be. Sometimes that passion can teeter on full-on rage and that rage can turn into a 30-minute Instagram live tirade. He publicly admonished his future employer in the middle of contract negotiations. According to his apology letter, Reed wished he handled that moment a lot differently, but by then, the damage was done and that’s on him. No matter how nebulous the internal situation is at B-CU, it was his response that forced the institution to reevaluate its decision to hire him. And let’s be clear, any self-respecting organization would’ve done the same. If we’re being honest, most other schools would’ve dismissed him that very day. The fact that B-CU’s administration let this episode fester for a week before addressing it reveals some of the deeper issues going on with the school none of which Ed Reed is to blame.
Speaking of Bethune-Cookman, we just witnessed what happens when an institution doesn’t participate in its own crisis management. As an alum, I have never been as embarrassed of my institution as I’ve been over these last few weeks. For an institution that has been around since 1904, we handled this like we like we just opened for business yesterday.
At no point since Ed Reed arrived in Daytona did we ever control the narrative. We never got in front of any messaging. For a full week and a half, Ed Reed was able to curate the story from his perspective while the school remained inexplicably silent on all fronts. This is unacceptable. For an institution that has dealt with so much, you’d think we’d understand how to mitigate internal matters that bleed into the public domain. We’ve been playing from behind since 2013 and it is infuriating to watch our institution be reactive instead of proactive.
To be honest, I am less upset that we’re moving on from Ed Reed and more discouraged at how we’ve handled ourselves yet again. Everyone is talking about Ed Reed but Ed Reed isn’t the story here. The story is about an institution that can’t do the little things right. For example, if Bethune Cookman truly cared about its public image, why was Ed Reed, who by his own admission, was never under contract, allowed to host a final press conference, on campus, standing behind a lectern that bared the official school seal? Again, he was able to shape the narrative to his benefit. Even if B-CU had a valid reason for the fallout, they allowed let Ed Reed speak first publicly. Get in front of the story, Public Relations: 101.
Here’s another small but telling example: Yesterday evening, Bethune-Cookman released an email that included a statement essentially confirming that they were parting ways with Reed. On its face, there’s nothing out of place here. But if you paid attention, you would’ve noticed that they had to resend the email because the original email header read “Bethune-Cookman University Presidential Search Update”.
Uh, Excuse me?
The school has been entrenched in a public relations nightmare for nearly two weeks and the first time we hear from the institution… they forget to change the email header? Astonishing.
Here’s another head scratcher: If Ed Reed wasn’t hired, why was he allowed in the office in the first place? Why was he holding team meetings and meet-ups on campus even though ink had not been put to paper? Why was Reed hosting recruits and their families on campus? None of these things are Ed Reeds fault. Ed Reed was only doing what B-CU’s leadership allowed him to do.
Better yet, how can we explain B-CU’s leadership making the decision to part ways with Reed while he was hosting recruits and families on campus? How does that even happen? Some one thought the optimal time to “fire” the coach was when he had dozens of recruits in town for a campus visit? The incompetence is breathtaking. Moreover, we have an AD who should’ve been active on campus managing the situation, but he was (checks notes) in Mississippi coaching the basketball team. Take from that what you wish.
But humor me for a moment, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. B-CU’s leadership has done okay when it comes to our academic and fiduciary matters. Let’s remember that we were on probation and now we’ve been reaffirmed. That’s good. They also restructured that near fatal dorm deal and navigated us back to safe waters. We can’t walk by that. They’re doing some things right and we can’t lose sight of that. But when it comes to handling ourselves in public, we’re flying blind ladies and gentlemen.
But I digress. Bethune Cookman is a wonderful institution. It’s not some dump. The grounds are well manicured despite what has been said online these past few days. The school sits a about a mile away from the worlds most famous beach. We’ve got some of the brightest students, some of the best staff and some of the finest people that actually want to be here. But for how long? How long are the students willingly to deal with an institution that continues to embarrass and ignore the very same students they’ve been charged with protecting? How long will the faculty and staff put up with non-disclosure agreements and less than ideal working terms and conditions? How long will the alumni put up with Cease-and-Desist orders and a lack of transparency from the administration and the government? How long will parents make the decision to send their kids here knowing they’re sending them into a $30,000 abyss of dysfunction? How long will it take us to get a new President?
These are all tough questions and there are no easy answers here, but one thing is for certain, we’re fed up. Dr. Bethune does not deserve this. The students do not deserve this. The alumni do not deserve this. We deserve an administration that is trustworthy, responsive, transparent, diligent, and more importantly, present. Not because these are aspirational ideals but because simply this is what we are demanding.