Column: #FireMooneyMafia Goes Too Far With Billboard

By Kevin Sweeney

For better or for worse, the social media era in sports gives fans a voice they never had before. Look no further than the mob (let’s call it what it was) that stopped Tennessee’s football program from hiring Greg Schiano as head coach last winter.

Check Twitter after an embattled coach loses a big game, and you’ll see the replies to a beat writer’s tweet or the official team account saying that the coach needs to be fired (sometimes in far less kind terms than that). If you are active in the world of Atlantic Ten basketball Twitter, chances are you’ve seen the @FireMooneyMafia account spinning virtually any Tweet into something about Chris Mooney.

The account’s bio calls itself “a group of passionate of Richmond Spiders basketball #realfans who demand accountability for our program.” For the most part, the account is harmless, and like accounts made by many fanbases. Fans have the right to voice their opinion about the program they love and oftentimes invest in financially.

But today, the folks behind the account crossed the line, posting a billboard that says “Save Richmond Basketball. FireMooney”.

A story by Noah Goldberg on reports the Fire Mooney Mafia account took credit for the billboard, saying it was funded by “followers and fans and acquaintances we know who have shared our frustrations”.

Does Mooney deserve to be fired? Perhaps. For a coach as handsomely compensated as Mooney is, his program has struggled mightily over the last two seasons to a 23-35 record. The Spiders have won 20 or more games just twice in the last eight seasons and haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since the program’s Sweet 16 run in 2011. The Richmond program is second fiddle to VCU in that city, but it’s a good job where you can win big, and Mooney hasn’t lived up to expectations of late.

To me, this billboard crosses the line. It is simply wrong to post a billboard saying a coach should should be fired. Yes, coaches sign up for scrutiny when they take cushy gigs like this. But this crosses the line from scrutiny to straight-up disrespect. Mooney has a wife and two kids. Should they have to drive around town and see giant sign saying their husband/father should be canned? Should the players who are still fighting every game despite a rough record have to see a sign that basically says they don’t care about this team?

The billboard can only hurt the situation. Athletic Director John Hardt is obviously aware of the program’s struggles, and no AD will simply concede to a billboard in making a hiring and firing decision. In addition, the billboard will do nothing other than hurt the program regardless of whether Mooney is retained. If Mooney is kept, every opposing coach will have plenty of negative recruiting material against the Spider program. If he’s fired, prospective coaches may be less interested in the job as a result of a public move like this.

It might even fire up the current Richmond roster and help them finish strong, which could ensure Mooney is retained. Goldberg reports that the players are “furious” about the billboard.

I’m all for fans using their voice to impact the program they love, and in many cases I believe athletic directors have to do a better job communicating with their fans about the decisions they make. But this billboard does far more harm than good, and the #FireMooneyMafia should take it down.


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