Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In which I take the occasion of Jeremy Kniffin’s departure to pay homage to a good friend & good PR person

This is for the next time Jeremy needs to know who sang this song. I am the music trivia champion! I'm number one! I'm number one!

In my long and storied (snort) career as a sportswriter, the teams I covered have more often than not been saddled with media relations directors whose specialty seemed to be making my life as miserable as possible. I won’t name all the lousy ones, both due to space considerations and the well-being of the aforementioned career (ha! I make me laugh).

I will say, though, that three of those atypically excellent media relations directors reside right now in the Swim Center at Hofstra. By nightfall tonight, only two will still call Hofstra home, and so I come here this morning to offer a tip of the cap and good wishes to Jeremy Kniffin, the longtime men’s basketball contact who, after almost 12 years at Hofstra, is leaving tomorrow to become the head SID at Pomona College in California.

While Jeremy arrived at Hofstra a few months before the Flying Dutchmen (who really were the Flying Dutchmen back then) won the first of back-to-back America East championships, I had few interactions with him prior to starting Defiantly Dutch in 2008. In the couple months before basketball season started, I realized I wanted to do more than just rant and rave from my couch—I wanted to try and interview Tom Pecora too.

Alas, I was conditioned to the behavior of PR people who thought the Internet was an evil fad that would just fade away and sporting entities that had zero interest in credentialing an online outlet that didn’t also double as one of its gatekeepers (if you don’t believe me, try requesting a pass to a Major League Baseball game as a writer for a website other than So it was with minimal expectations and bated breath that I sent an interview request to Jeremy shortly before the 2008-09 season opener.

Yet Jeremy almost immediately wrote me back and invited me to practice to conduct the first DD Q&A. There were a few Q&As that first year, including one Jeremy set up for me on the bus ride back home after the one-point loss to Old Dominion in the CAA quarterfinals. There were a whole helluva lot more Q&As the next two seasons as Defiantly Dutch turned into this wonderfully unwieldy beast.

Over that time, I came to appreciate the professionalism and friendship he displayed despite a demanding and often thankless job. While most professional sports teams as well as BCS schools are self-sustaining news machines who do their best to minimize coverage, mid-major SIDs can’t get enough publicity to satisfy their bosses. Last year, when Charles Jenkins was his own one-man self-sustaining news machine, was the aberration: Jeremy spent a whole lot of time working to get the Flying Dutchmen some publicity via a short feature story in the newspaper or a 90-second clip on television.

Despite all the inherent challenges as well as the long nights, early mornings and tedious bus rides involved in the year-round grind (Jeremy was also the men’s and women’s soccer contact in the fall and the softball contact in the spring) he never let any of it get to him or affect his work. Jeremy maintained the dry sense of humor necessary for such a gig and was incredibly efficient with his game notes and recaps—in his book “Cinderella,” your good friend and mine Mike Litos preserved forever just how quickly after the final buzzer Jeremy produced a recap and boxscore—while also remaining loyal to Hofstra and the ideals of media relations without ever approaching insufferable or sanctimonious.

If Jeremy knew any state secrets, they never exited his lips. Press row and press conferences were sacred places to Jeremy, and as long as you treated those places with the respect they deserved, Jeremy would treat you with respect right back.

He would even understand and forgive that the most well-meaning of people could make mistakes. I thought I was a pretty big shot back in April 2010, when I tracked down Halil Kanacevic via Facebook and interviewed him after he announced he was planning to transfer from Hofstra. Never did I think to contact Jeremy to let him know I’d interviewed Kanacevic—I was used to covering Major League Baseball, where you just ask a guy for his phone number or email address at the end of the season in case you need to contact him over the winter.

The morning the Kanacevic piece ran, I texted Jeremy asking him about something unrelated. He wrote back almost immediately, as usual, but with a gentle yet stern admonishment that the proper protocol would have been to give him a heads up that I was going to speak to Kanacevic so that he and his bosses could be aware of it instead of learning about it upon arriving at the office.

I felt awful—while I realized I wouldn’t get Kanacevic by requesting an interview via Jeremy (understandably so), I never, ever intended to put him into a potentially uncomfortable position with his superiors. Many PR people would consider such a breach of conduct irreversible and unforgiveable, especially those who immediately bestow upon newcomers a two-strike count—or, more accurately, a 2 9/10th strike count.

Jeremy, though, accepted my apology with no conditions or second thoughts. In fact, after about two texts, we were laughing about it. There were a lot of laughs in the countless emails and text messages we exchanged as well as in our similar amount of courtside and office conversations about hoops as well as ‘80s music (the video above is to remind Jeremy of Naked Eyes’ biggest hit). There were also some very funny Facebook wall posts, because Jeremy is a hilarious, third-person-typing-kind-of-guy on Facebook. It didn’t hurt that we’re both from Connecticut—and as such were the only ones on each other’s friends list who associated Brooklyn with a small town in eastern Connecticut—and think Heathers is the greatest movie ever made.

In typical Jeremy fashion, he’s exiting Hofstra and entering Pomona in a fashion that defines low-key professionalism. He starts at Pomona Friday. Most of us would take a week to begin a new job down the road and Jeremy is finishing one job, flying cross country and beginning his new one in a span of less than 48 hours.

Why? Because he’s basically starting the sports information department there from scratch and wants to get going as soon as possible. I hope Pomona College knows how lucky it is, and I hope Hofstra knows how lucky it was.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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