Ollie's recent public relations plan reeks of hypocrisy

News item: Kevin Ollie, UConn's former men's basketball coach, has retained the services of a Hartford-based public relations firm to help his cause against his former employer.

Rebecca Brockway, who works for McDowell Jewett Communications, confirmed via e-mail last week that her company is working with Ollie, who has been appealing UConn's decision to fire him with cause, thus allowing the school to forgo paying him the more than $10 million left on his contract.

Day managing editor Tim Cotter forwarded an e-mail last week from McDowell Jewett, citing three recent pro-Ollie opinion pieces from state media outlets. The e-mail read, "In case you missed the recent editorials and columns discussing the unfair treatment of Coach Kevin Ollie by the University of Connecticut, they may be found below."

Imagine: A man who spent his days at UConn consistently dismissive of the state media has employed a public relations firm to use the media's words for his gain. Neither the first nor last time hypocrisy has emerged from the trash can like Oscar the Grouch. But people who have an interest in this case ought to know the truth.

Kevin Ollie doesn't give a damn about the state media.

Never did.

And using the media now for his gain hearkens the old lyric from Fats Waller: Shame, shame, everybody knows your name.

Straight up: Ollie's dealings with the men and women who covered his team at UConn faithfully featured the minimum weekly requirement. He was not rude. Just apathetic.

A beat writer said before a game last year that it took him about a half-hour to get a return phone call from Jay Wright the week of the Villanova game. The writer then paused and said, "I'd still be waiting for Kevin."

It was Ollie's choice. And really: He's under no obligation to do anything else but the minimum weekly requirement. I'd argue that by engaging with the media — mimicking Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma — you cultivate more interest in your program.

We hardly knew Ollie. It's very hard to tell good stories and engage the fan base working with limited information. As crowd sizes dwindled, Ollie should have been smart enough to open up more. Again: his choice.

But now? He's using a public relations firm to trumpet spin doctoring from the people he all but deemed irrelevant in his time at State U.

How distasteful.

Perhaps the gullible saps writing this pro-Ollie drivel are unaware of their protagonist's previous propensities. Perhaps, too, they might consider why Mr. Ollie would need a public relations firm to blast trumpets in the first place.

Pro-Ollie puff pieces seem particularly obtuse, dismissing his transgressions as minor. Au contraire.

I called an old friend of mine who works as an athletic director at a Division I school in the east. He began at another school, cultivating a deep background in NCAA compliance. I asked him about Ollie's misdeeds, which include shooting baskets with a recruit during an unofficial visit last September; arranging a video call between a potential recruit and Ray Allen, who is now considered a school booster by the NCAA; and Ollie arranging improper training sessions with a friend who is a personal trainer both on campus and during out of state trips that amounted to improper gifts.

"The violation involving the trainer and the expenses to travel to Atlanta is a serious one," my friend said. "I would fire a coach for that. Saint Mary's went on probation for five years for the same thing a few years ago."

Per the NCAA report, St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett "knew of impermissible offseason workouts by Saint Mary's players conducted by outside basketball trainers and conditioning coaches."

Hence, Ollie should consider himself fortunate to get a dime out of UConn, given that 1) the NCAA has placed a program on probation for a similar violation in the past; and 2) an administrator familiar with compliance believes the violation to be serious.

It is perfectly logical to wonder about UConn's motives with $10 million in the balance. But then, based on the evidence, how can anyone sans agenda deny Ollie's hands are dirty here, too?

Oh, well. I'm guessing this blather isn't going to make the public relations firm list of greatest hits. Somehow, we forge on.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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