Project Description

Lack of institutional control – employment practices. The coach of a major NCAA Division 1 sport at a Michigan public research university had created an abusive, intimidating environment for the team’s players and staff on multiple levels. The coach rejected an offer to resign by the University’s Board of Directors and had retained an employment practices attorney.

At the same time, the coach’s spouse, a high-level executive of the University, was engaged in egregious personal behavior that compromised and infringed upon university guidelines and good order.

The University was also engaged in raising funds from donors for new facilities, including much needed on campus housing for its medical school.

These complex matters, if they had been left unresolved and become wider known to internal and public audiences, threatened the University’s public reputation, its attraction of student athletes and students in general, and its ability to secure donations; may have prompted state-level inquiries; and may have led to formal investigation and the imposition of sanctions by the NCAA college sports governing body.


Marx Layne & Co. worked closely and confidentially with the University’s Board of Directors, its legal counsel and other stakeholders to quickly assess all reputation management issues; lay out possible courses of actions and in-depth key messages and media speaking points for each; identified key audiences, including essential stakeholders and public officials; and conducted media training for prospective University spokespersons. No matter what decision the Board of Directors ultimately made, they would have the necessary tools to communicate professionally and consistently to specific audiences, internal and external.


Based on the recommendations of Marx Layne & Co. working in concert with the University’s legal counsel, the Board of Directors fired the Division 1 sport coach; and insisted that the coach’s long-tenured spouse formally retire from the University. Neither contested these employment actions. Key stakeholders were pleased with the Board’s ability to quickly and quietly resolve these issues.

Through a well-thought out, yet timely and decisive, approach to these inter-related crises, the University was able to avoid scandalous, likely quite damaging media exposure; and possible educational and athlete program sanctions. This case study demonstrates the importance of working with a public relations and crisis management firm with rich experience in the areas of higher education and employment practices, along with the ability counsel large entities on sensitive issues that can have wide-ranging impacts.

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