By Thom Fladung, Hennes Communications
The Houston Texans have been one of the National Football League’s top underachievers this season.
A playoff team last season, the Texans hit midseason at 2-6, the head coach was fired after an 0-4 start, star defensive end J.J. Watt is expected to be traded after the season and star quarterback Deshaun Watson, on a Zoom call with reporters, offered that “this s—t sucks, honestly.”
Sounds like a tough gig for the team’s public relations person, right?
Well, the Texans’ latest inexplicable move was firing Amy Palcic, vice president of communications, initially offering an oblique explanation – and bringing widespread condemnation from the top sportswriters who cover the NFL.
NBC Sports’ Peter King tweeted: “This is a stunning move. Stunning. @almypalcic is one of the best media-relations people I’ve met in my 36 years covering the NFL. Top 5.”
Palcic, with the Texans since 2013, was the only woman in charge of an NFL team’s communications department – a team that won the 2017 Pete Rozelle Award for the league’s best public relations staff. Palcic also was director of communications for the Cleveland Browns from 1999-2009, helping the team’s re-entry into the league after the original franchise decamped to Baltimore.
“She’s an incredible person,” Watt said, “and I think she’s going to have another job in an absolute heartbeat. I think it’s a big loss for us.”
From a crisis communications standpoint, the Texans could have used some help with this announcement from someone like, well, Palcic.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news of Palcic’s firing on Twitter and the Texans said…nothing. Leaving Schefter to quote sources saying she was no longer “a cultural fit,” whatever that means – as many immediately pointed out.
And leaving Pro Football Talk and others to speculate that the firing actually was linked to politics and Palcic having celebrated Kamala Harris becoming vice president-elect.
After the first blast of critical coverage, Texans President Jamey Rootes sent a statement to The Associated Press saying, “It was definitely my call. I gave her the role a number of years ago and felt the need to make a change. Leadership is sometimes a very lonely role and from time to time you have to make a move that impacts people that you care about deeply. This was one of those unfortunate times.”
Fair enough. Firings are distinctly unpleasant – especially for those being fired but also frequently for those making the decision.
But leadership that doesn’t anticipate interest in and public reaction to a high-profile move and prepare its side of the story ahead of time is asking for trouble. As we tell clients, if you have bad news, break the news yourselves.
Watching Deshaun Watson scramble away from a blitz is fun. Watching an organization scramble to deal with bad news of its own making remains sadly frequent.
Thom Fladung is managing partner of Hennes Communications, a 33-year veteran of newspapers – including reporting on sports – and a fan of sports trivia. Like, for example, that Amy Palcic’s dad, Bob Palcic, was the expansion Browns first offensive line coach.