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Wednesday, 20 June 2012 04:36
New Orleans Hornets Weber met sports reality with Saints owner Benson
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hughweberWeber deserved better, but that's the reality of sports

There is a sad reality in the sporting world that is amply covered by a myriad of clichés. A new broom sweeps clean. The baby is thrown out with the bath water. We are going in a new direction. Thanks for the memories. Any one of those could have been said to Hugh Weber during his meeting with new Hornets owner Tom Benson on Monday, but the final result is that Weber will not be an active participant in the new Hornets, or whatever name Mistah Tahwm decides to call the team.

Weber’s termination was hardly because of his performance, because he was the on-site glue that almost single-handedly held things together after George Shinn sold the team to the NBA. Among his achievements, Weber orchestrated the “I’m In!” ticket drive that sold 10,000 season tickets last year.

Weber’s introduction to the Hornets in 2005 was met with some skepticism since he was the brother-in-law of owner George Shinn, and sports is full of failures who happen to be related to the owner. However, Weber had credentials in two critical areas. He was familiar with athletics as a track star at the University of Puget Sound where he won the 1989 NAIA District 1 3000-meter steeplechase. And he could sell. Weber earned the equivalent of a marketing PhD at the company considered the cradle of product marketing, Proctor & Gamble. He came to the Hornets directly from a vice president’s chair at Ventura Foods, where he pushed such products as Hidden Valley dressings and Smart Balance buttery spreads.

But he faced a different job with the Hornets, a small-market team that had just found its small market shrunken to a teacup by Hurricane Katrina. He plodded along quietly, often carrying the pail and shovel behind Shinn’s elephant, as he forged a positive reputation among the city’s business elite. His marketing and competitive savvy helped motivate a young and enthusiastic staff to outperform its product. When Shinn stepped in to help the University of New Orleans’ athletic program in 2009, Weber met with senior staff and department heads in an effort to donate some much-needed professional expertise and strategy that UNO could not afford on its own. It might have worked, too, if Chancellor Tim Ryan had not slammed the door in Shinn’s face, an unfortunate chapter which is outlined in my new book “Where the Water Kept Rising.”

Weber’s termination from the Hornets is reminiscent of another one Benson made on May 17, 1996 when he called in the Saints chief administrative officer and informed me that I was terminated. Benson had just returned from a week of contemplation at Manresa Retreat House in Convent, LA. The running joke was that Benson had an epiphany at Manresa, in which he was directed to return to New Orleans and shake things up.

If the decision to terminate Weber was preceded by a vision, it was probably one that told Benson he could save money by reducing the number of salaries at the top.


My new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at my website:

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