Michael Pehanich (BSJ, 2001) has worked in sports media for some of the top teams in the National Football League, including the Miami Dolphins, the Washington Football Team and now the Super Bowl LV champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the Buccaneers’ director of communications, he is the primary contact between the organization and the media, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his already demanding job was more even more challenging.
Why did you decide to study journalism and why WVU?
From an early age, sports had been very important to me. My athletic career was not going to continue past high school, but I knew I had to pursue a profession that kept me around athletics. I always loved newspapers and I enjoyed writing, so studying journalism was a natural fit and easy choice. I knew I wanted to go to a large school with major sports programs.
As the director of communications for the Buccaneers, what are your main responsibilities?
Our department is the liaison between our organization (ownership, management, coaches, players, staff, etc.) and the media and other external areas. We wear a lot of different hats, but I’d say the best way to put it is, if you have seen a player or coach on TV, heard them on the radio or read a quote from them in a story, there is a good chance we were involved. There are requirements that the league has in place, which make our players and coaches available to the media almost every day. There are also thousands of requests that we receive every year to speak with members of our organization. We try to put our people in the best position and shine positive light on what we are doing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way and there are challenging times. That’s when we switch from publicist to providing counsel, assisting with messaging, distributing information or whatever is needed. You have to be versatile and flexible.
Let’s talk Super Bowl and COVID-19. How do your responsibilities change; what challenges do you face during this time?
This entire season was so different. To start, there were limitations on the number of people allowed in our facility, in our locker room, on our plane and pretty much everywhere we went. So, our staff was a shell of itself. In a normal year, we would have five or six people from our department in our postgame locker room splitting the responsibilities. This year, we were permitted one, which in our case was me. Normally, we are required to open our locker room to the media for 45 minutes four days during the week and every player is required to be available at least once. Usually that format organically fulfilled a lot of requests. This year, everything was done virtually. That was a drastic change and proved challenging.
Specific to the Super Bowl and the lead-up to it, there were many long nights and early mornings. To put it in perspective, usually the two participating teams go to the host city for the week leading up to the game and the NFL has dozens of people to assist with the excessive number of media obligations that come with the Super Bowl. There is a designated “Media Night,” and most players or coaches have individual handlers who help them get around to all the different stations to fulfill the demands of media and league broadcast partners. This year, people outside of our “bubble” were not permitted to be around our team. However, the demand and obligations were still there. So with our communications staff down to three people, we asked other members of our organization for help on some of our heavier days. We had people from departments all over the organization – scouting, video, sports science, operations, player engagement, community relations – doing things they had never done before.
How has your Media College experience helped prepare you for your career?
One key thing I learned while studying at Reed was to always be aware of your surroundings. It was important to pay attention to detail so that you could tell a story. There are so many moving parts to our jobs, it’s vital to juggle and balance a number of different factors. I was very active on campus. I wrote for The Daily Athenaeum for three years, ultimately serving as sports editor my senior year. I was very involved in my fraternity, Sigma Chi, eventually serving as president. I served on a few other committees, but those two things were largely responsible for my growth as a person.
Advice for current students?
Get involved. WVU provides students so many ways to spread their wings. Join organizations, be active on campus, gain experience. There are so many activities where you can learn organization, accountability and leadership. Those three attributes can carry you a long way. If you want to follow my career path, I would recommend trying to get involved with WVU Athletics Communications. Listen to people. There have been many times in my life when I thought I knew everything. I still struggle with it at times. But a wise man once told me, there is always someone smarter than you. It’s the truth. I have had so many great mentors, bosses and co-workers. Learning from them all has made me a much better professional and person.