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UCLA's Tepid Response to Sondheimer Scandal Demonstrates Chianti Dan's Leadership Failure

While UCLA reels from the growing scandal surrounding resigned associate athletic director Michael Sondheimer amid allegations he used the internet to inappropriately contact children, Morgan Center finds itself flailing away with Chianti Dan busy vacationing in Italy, which demonstrates the complete failure of leadership UCLA athletics must continue to suffer through.

Why earn your $750K for crisis leadership when you can vacation in Italy instead?
Why earn your $750K for crisis leadership when you can vacation in Italy instead?
Victor Decolongon

As you probably know by now, UCLA has been hit hard with troubling allegations that former association athletic director Michael Sondheimer attempted to contact minors in an inappropriate manner over the internet. And yet, rather than taking the helm as his athletic department is hit with a major scandal, our feckless athletic director, Chianti Dan Guerrero, has fled to Italy for a vacation. Apparently Chianti Dan has never heard of the old saying that a captain should go down with the ship; rather it seems ol' Danny Boy thinks his privileged position means he's the first to get on a life raft.

While we have no information on the truth of the allegations leveled at Sondheimer (which are simply allegations, albeit extremely disturbing allegations), watching UCLA react to this story breaking has been pathetic, as once again the university demonstrates that there is no one capable of effective leadership in Westwood, especially not our incompetent buffoon of an athletic director. Anyone with any fraction of common sense, and certainly those of you who work in public relations, journalism, or similar fields, can attest that the best strategy to minimize damage to your brand by association with an individual implicated in a scandal is to be ahead of the news media on the story; in short, when your organization is hit with a scandal, even one not directly involving the organization, the best approach is to be aggressive in taking it on and shaping the narrative.

That approach is a hallmark of intelligent, strong leadership. UCLA's reactive (and lame) generic press release given to CBS2 yesterday demonstrates that Chianti Dan and his Morgan Center minions are incapable of that type of leadership. As the university's own statement makes clear, Chianti Dan must have been aware of Sondheimer's transgressions at least one month ago, when Sondheimer was placed on administrative leave on June 3, pending an investigation into the allegations he inappropriately contacted children online. CBS2 didn't break this story wide open until July 2, which gave Chianti Dan and his inept minions nearly a month to investigate the allegations and be proactive in shaping the narrative as it relates to the university.

Instead, what we saw was UCLA remaining quiet, almost as if Dan was hoping that somehow the media wouldn't catch on that a member of his senior management in the athletic department was alleged to have been involved in some serious criminal (and if true, perverted) activity outside of work. Apparently no one at Morgan Center has realized that nothing moves news faster than (1) a murder, (2) a sex scandal, and/or (3) a combination of the two. A proactive athletic department would have moved to immediately distance itself from Sondheimer, while respecting whatever contractual and legal obligations they would have to him as an employee, by releasing a statement ahead of a local news station breaking the story. UCLA could have been proactive, taken kudos for suspending an employee pending an investigation and stating that the university would be taking every step possible to support and cooperate with any law enforcement investigation.

Is that what Morgan Center did?

Of course not. Chianti Dan is in charge.

Instead, on the same day that Sondheimer resigned his position, Chianti Dan boarded a flight to Italy, bailing on his responsibilities as the leader of UCLA athletics, leaving the university and the athletic department rudderless when the allegations were broke by the local media. Even if you assume that somehow, despite being in charge of the athletic department, was unaware of the allegations against Sondheimer (despite his suspension beginning on June 3), now that the story has blown up, a strong leader would be back at the helm as soon as possible, taking the reins to address the issue and do whatever damage control is necessary to prevent harm to the university.

Instead, Chianti Dan is vacationing in Italy. Why are we not surprised?

From the commentary following yesterday's story, it seems that sadly, many Bruins weren't:

DG has known about this issue since June 3rd. UCLA took some action by putting the individual on leave. What is disappointing is that a good leader would anticipate that the LA Times and other media outlets would break this news and have an effective plan for managing any fall out towards UCLA or the AD. A really good leader would have a good relationship with the press and pre-emptively managed the inevitable. DG is not that leader.

So – now UCLA and the AD will be at the mercy of the press and public opinion with attempts to compare to Penn St. and other scandals. A good AD – as a leader – would be out in front of this. Regretfully, we don’t have that kind of leadership in our AD.

Or better yet:

The handling of this situation is appalling. If they knew enough by June 3rd dismiss Sondheimer, why wait for the press corps to catch wind and blow this up? As Taz suggests, you have to get out in front and own this mess.

"It is with extreme disappointment that I must announce UCLA Athletics has dismissed "fill in name" due to some allegations of improper conduct with a minor by way of internet communications. While we are not at liberty to say anything else about the matter until the official investigation and trials have concluded; I can say that we here at UCLA hold ourselves to such a standard that the mere appearance of impropriety of this nature compels us to act, and act swiftly. As Director of UCLA Athletics, I pledge to assist the authorities in their investigation and hereby instruct our IT department to make available any and all communications from "fill in name"’s account. I will now take your questions."

It's sad when UCLA fans are writing better press releases than the paid "professionals" at Morgan Center.

Look at how the New England Patriots have handled the Aaron Hernandez allegations; by immediately releasing him, indicating strong cooperation with the authorities, and even offering fans a chance to trade in their Hernandez jerseys for a new one, free of charge, the Pats have effectively minimized the negative association from Hernandez to their organization. That's effective public relations management.

But, as one astute Bruin pointed out, that isn't the case with UCLA's athletics management:

In stories like these, reality is 99% perception. UCLA should have a crisis management team working this story and presenting a united front with the company line being, "When we were informed of this situation we took immediate action".

UCLA has a poor history of crisis management. If you’re old enough to remember the handicap parking scandal you’ll know what I mean. It is imperative to get out in front of this story and for the university and AD to distance themselves from Sondheimer as quickly as possible and not let the media control the narrative.

But this is UCLA, so of course nothing will be allowed to interfere with Dan Guerrero’s vacation. And is it really fair to expect a man who makes nearly $1 million dollars a year to be good at his job?

Hard to say it much better than that.