Author Archives: jlacombe2
The Epic Bizarreness of the Ed Kaihatsu First Midwest Bank Billboard and what it says about College Sports
The Ed Kaihatsu billboard is back up on Chicagoland expressways.
We’re referring to this Billboard, part of First Midwest Bank’s “Momentum Makers” campaign:
This billboard first made an appearance around Chicago last year, and now it’s back. We discussed it on the pod during the first go round, but the epic bizarreness of its existence deserves a more thorough examination.
You most likely do not know who Ed Kaihatsu is. More importantly, First Midwest Bank most likely does not know who Ed Kaihatsu is– other than that he is a part-time actor who was selected to be photographed for the “Momentum Makers” campaign.
Except, here’s the thing: Ed Kaihatsu actually IS a Momentum Maker: He’s one of the best assistant coaches in NCAA fencing history.
If you happen to be a member of the fencing community–as John’s wife Carly is–you are already nodding your head, but let’s clue everyone else in. Ed Kaihatsu was Northwestern’s assistant fencing coach from 1989 through 2014. This is a big deal, because Northwestern’s fencing program is really, really good.
Former Northwestern head coach Laurie Schiller famously won more than 1000 career matches, and Ed Kaihatsu rode shotgun for most of them. With Kaihatsu as either the top assistant or the Associate Head Coach, Northwestern finished in the Top 10 nationally for 15 consecutive seasons. During that stretch, the team was 512-76.
Consider this: The Northwestern Football Team has produced 12 All-Americans since 1970.
From 1998-2014, Kaihatsu personally coached FOURTEEN All-American Fencers–including, again, John’s wife Carly (All-American, Women’s Sabre, 2000). If we include all of the selections of fencers who made All-American more than once, Kaihatsu coached TWENTY-NINE All-Americans in 16 years.
How esteemed is Kaihatsu in collegiate fencing? How about this: In 2014, Kaihatsu won The Midwest Conference Coach Of The Year award AS AN ASSISTANT COACH. No assistant has ever won Coach of the Year in Big Ten Football or Basketball. It hadn’t happened in Midwest Conference Fencing, either, and it hasn’t happened again since.
The point, though, is not that Kaihatsu is a fantastic coach. The point is that his photo is plastered all over a major marketing campaign…and that photo was chosen for reasons that had NOTHING to do with any of the accolades we just listed off! First Midwest Bank just liked his face!
To put this in perspective, consider this face:
This is Bud Foster. Foster has been Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator since 1995. He has coached in a national championship game. He won the Broyles award in 2006 as the top assistant coach in college football. Like Kaihatsu, he has spurned outside opportunities to be a head coach at a top collegiate program.
If a bank put Foster’s face on a billboard, the average American would think nothing of it. Many casual sports fans, however, would think “I know that face…” Serious sports fans, college football fans, and anyone from the state of Virginia would immediately ask why Bud Foster’s face was on a random bank billboard. This…um…doesn’t appear to be happening with Kaihatsu.
Or how about this face:
This is Chris Dailey. Only diehard sports fans know her by name, but serious sports fans certainly recognize her face: She’s been Geno Auriemma’s #1 assistant on the UConn Women’s basketball team for 31 years. Still, despite Dailey’s unquestioned title as best assistant coach in college hoops, she’s basically anonymous in most of the America. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine her face popping up on a billboard and people thinking nothing of it.
Here’s the catch, though: If that billboard was displayed on Dailey’s home turf in CONNECTICUT, (as Kaihatsu’s billboard is displayed in Chicago) everything changes. Not only would everyone know exactly who Dailey was, everyone would assume she was paid a tidy sum to lend her celebrity to the advertising campaign. Again…that doesn’t seem to be happening with Kaihatsu.
Here’s a final exercise. Consider this face:
What if we told you that this face was displayed on billboards in North Carolina as part of a major BB&T Bank advertising campaign…but that this face was used only because the bank just happened to like the way it looked?
You’re most likely thinking, “This is a dumb example. Coach K is arguably the most famous head coach ever.”
Okay…but now, consider this face:
This man was Coach K’s top assistant as late as 2013. Like Kaihatsu, he was the #2 guy at a storied program led by a revered boss with more than 1000 wins. Now imagine seeing this face on billboards in Chicago.
You don’t have to imagine it, because Chris Collins’ face IS plastered on billboards around Chicago. We’re pretty sure HIS face wasn’t randomly selected.
Ultimately, of course, this whole situation underscores the giant chasm that exists between “Revenue Sports” and the rest of the NCAA. Only in a sport like fencing could Ed Kaihatsu appear on billboards, in a national ad campaign for Victorinox, and in films and tv shows, as anyone other than “Ed Kaihatsu. ” Heck, he even has an IMDB page.
For Kaihatsu, anonymity away from the fencing strip has clearly worked out well. We’re happy to shine a light (A) On what a renaissance man Kaihatsu is, and (B) On how damn good our fencing program is.
Still, this is one more weird example of the Haves vs the Have-Nots in College Sports. I mean, Tim freaking Beckman was once on billboards in Illinois, and it wasn’t because anyone liked the way his face looked.
We’re pretty sure Ed Kaihatsu is a better coach than Tim Beckman.
We’re pretty sure he’s a better FOOTBALL coach than Tim Beckman.
Two of the West Lot Pirates are Medill grads, which means we were taught the merits of good ol’ Shoe Leather Journalism. In the information age, classic muckraking should be easier than ever, so it’s sometimes frustrating for us when certain questions, or lines of questioning, go unasked.
Take, for example, the resignation (firing) of Hugh Freeze.
The standard media line at this point seems to be that Freeze was caught with his hand in the escort cookie jar. Everyone seems to be trying to find solid confirmation of the fact that Freeze was trying to buy himself a hooker in Tampa.
Um…what if that WASN’T what he was trying to do? What, if, say, he wasn’t actually IN TAMPA anytime between January 17th and February 3rd, 2016?
Why February 3? We’ll get to that.
Now, for us to have a 100% verifiable record of Freeze’s flight itinerary during this period, we’d have have copies of his flight records. However, we can get PRETTY DARN CLOSE to knowing exactly where he was, and when, through the magic of Twitter.
By searching @CoachHughFreeze tweets between 1/17/16 and 2/3/16, and cross referencing with recruiting sites, things come into focus surprisingly quickly:
–On 1/17/16, 5-star Ole Miss Signee Greg Little, of Allen, TX, tweets a living room photo with Freeze.
–On 1/18/16 Scout.com reports that Freeze is now in New Jersey, hoping to sway 5-star recruit Rashan Gary.
#OleMiss coaches visit the nation’s top recruit, Rashan Gary @RashanGary33, Monday.
— Yancy Porter (@YancyPorter) January 19, 2016
–On 1/19/16–the original reported day of the escort call–there is no official record of where Freeze was. HOWEVER… –On 1/20/16, Freeze’s tweets and replies strongly suggest that he has been spending time with good and decent church-folk of Washington DC. He specifically references plans to visit the Ebenezer Coffee Shop in DC that day.
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) January 21, 2016
–On 1/21/16–the day now stated as the date of the escort call–Freeze–WHO WOULD LATER SUGGEST TO YAHOO SPORTS HE WAS IN THE 813 (TAMPA) AREA CODE THAT DAY–Specifically tweets that he is at the HYATT ON NEW JERSEY AVE IN WASHINGTON, DC, and is about to the fly home to Oxford.
@ElizabethPage4 yes. At Hyatt on Mew Jersey. We leave in hour for Oxford
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) January 21, 2016
He later tweets that he has arrived in Oxford and is happy to be home.
Been a great week of recruiting but so glad to see my girls and be back in Oxford for the weekend. And LOVED the call I just got. #SIPBOYZ16
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) January 22, 2016
–From 1/21/16 through 1/24/16, numerous twitter accounts confirm that Freeze is in Oxford hosting recruits, and, eventually, getting his photo taken with Brad Paisley.
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) January 24, 2016
–On 1/25/16, recruit Mykel Jones tweets a living room picture with Freeze. Jones lives in Patterson, Louisiana.
OV to ole miss this weekend🔵🔴 pic.twitter.com/UYy8PEi29J
— Mykel Jones (@Ocho_Era8) January 25, 2016
–On 1/26/16, we’re not sure where Freeze is.
A NOTE: On 1/25/16, star Florida recruit Tre Nixon committed to Ole Miss. There is one article referring to the fact that, either that day or the day after, Freeze tweeted a photo of himself in a boat in Florida holding a “big fish”–referencing the Nixon commitment. HOWEVER, there is evidence that this is an old photo Freeze was using as early as 2014, and Nixon makes no mention at any time during his commitment about Freeze actually being in his home when he committed. FURTHERMORE, Nixon had literally JUST BEEN in Oxford the weekend before–i.e., the day before. Smart money points to him committing as soon as he arrived back at home. Finally, Nixon lives on the opposite side of the state from Tampa.
–On 1/27/16 Freeze tweets a shot of him flying along an unknown stretch of coastline, along with a presumable recruiting-related tweet about trying to land a “big fish”. “Aha!” one might say, combining this photo with the dark period on the previous day, “Here’s the trip to Florida I was waiting for!” EXCEPT: That day recruit Jonathan Kongbo III tweets a living room photo with Freeze. Kongbo Lives in Vancouver, Canada. This would seem to suggest that the coastline Freeze was tweeting out was in the Puget Sound area.
Going fishing for a big fish!! pic.twitter.com/JkTkYORBsF
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) January 27, 2016
–On 1/28/16, we don’t know where Freeze is, but we have a pretty good idea. It’s a Thursday, and the coming weekend is Ole Miss’ famed “Crootapalooza”, where they host 20+ recruits. We can be pretty sure Freeze flew back to Oxford that day.
–1/29/16-1/31/16 is Crootapalooza.
–On 2/1/16 and 2/2/16, we’re not sure where Freeze was. BUT
–2/3/16 is National Signing Day, 2016. Freeze was in Oxford that day.
SO LET’S Recap. It sure looks like Freeze went to Texas, then to New Jersey, then to DC, then home to Mississippi, then Louisiana, then Vancouver, then back to Mississippi. NOTABLY MISSING FROM THIS ITINERARY IS TAMPA, FLORIDA.(There remains the question of where Freeze was 1/25 and 1/26. We allow for the possibility that he could have ducked into Florida briefly and then crossed the continent to Vancouver. But there is zero evidence of this.)
Let’s revisit Freeze’s quote to Yahoo. He claims he WAS in Florida, but that, in an explanation that strains credulity, he misdialed an 813 number as 313, and, amazingly, ended up calling an escort service line with a Detroit Area code…that just happened to be actually an escort service actually OPERATING IN TAMPA. What a coincidence! This explanation is so dodgy that it would seem to damn Freeze as guilty. Case closed.
EXCEPT, AGAIN, when Freeze made that call, after 8pm, on 1/21/16, all evidence points to him being home in Oxford, after flying back from Washington, DC. There’s no evidence he was in Florida, or more importantly, EVEN PLANNING TO GO TO FLORIDA.
And here is where we arrive back at the start of this story: Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Freeze knew exactly who he was dialing that evening. If he wasn’t in Tampa, and wasn’t going to be in Tampa, then what was the point?
We have to be very careful here, because, to paraphrase Groundskeeper Willie, we don’t want to get sued. But a person, an inquisitive person, could easily harness the power of the internet and arrive, as we have, at an alternate theory for this phone call.
The ultimate point here is that we, a band of non-journalists, were able to cover a heck of a lot of ground here sitting by on our couches and searching twitter. We feel like we’ve raised some pretty interesting questions. Why are we the only ones asking these questions?
That, we can’t answer.
*NOTE: When we originally published this post, we said that Freeze had stayed at a Hyatt in New Jersey. Multiple readers pointed out that he actually stayed at a Hyatt in DC.)
(The links below provide the sourcing used in this story. Our “reporting” required about 15 minutes of effort)
For more, have a listen to the beginning of this week’s podcast: