Behind the Scenes of Cougar Football;

Tendency is a key word when game planning for an opponent. A great defensive coordinator (or DC) can almost predict what play an offensive coordinator (OC) will call during a game based on game tendencies. These tendencies are mainly determined by down, distance and game situation.

An OC has favorite plays he will call based on perceived strengths and weakness of the opponent that are dissected via video breakdown.   

Conversely, a good offensive coordinator tries to break these tendencies as often as he can. Former Oakland Raider and Tampa Bay Bucs head coach and famed offensive guru Jon Gruden tried to break his offensive tendencies in his first fifteen plays, which were often scripted, in order to throw off the opposing DC. This cat and mouse game wouldn’t work without extensive scouting by the assistant coaches each and every week, via each team’s video department.

The Cougars video department, or ‘Cougar Video,’ is headed by Grantscott Greene. He’s been the ‘Director of Video Operations’ since 2002 when he was promoted from assistant coordinator (he was hired in 2000). The previous two years he was the video coordinator at Texas State. The Tacoma Park, Maryland native graduated from the University of Maryland in 1998, serving on their video staff for three years. Asked how he got into video, “I was looking for an internship and a friend of mine worked in the football office (at Maryland),” Grant said. “She told me they used professional cameras to tape practices and games and that intrigued me. Before that I had no idea this profession even existed. It just looked like a cool job that paid pretty well. I thought all you do is just sit here and watch football all day which combined things I liked.” Of course that’s breaking his job description down in its most basic terms. In reality, his job entails much more than just ‘watching’ football. In addition to supervising the taping and editing of all football practices and games as well as “cut ups” for the coaches. Greene’s other responsibilities (on top of managing the overall operations of the entire video department), include budget preparation and management of the operations and production of video boards at all athletics events. During home football games, Greene serves as the game day producer. And of course he (and his staff of two full time assistants, two interns and ten student assistants) also service all of the other Cougars ten athletic sports as well as any media requests. In reiterating Greene’s (and his staffs) importance to the program, during our interview offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt walked in (as he was requesting a Texas Tech cutup), and after explaining Coogfans ‘Behind the Scenes’ articles the coach said, “I’ve only been here a few months, but Grant, Doc (head trainer Mike O’Shea), and Jay (head of equipment operations Jay Takach) run the show around here. Don’t let them fool you. We work for them.”

Thanks to the advent of digital technology, his job is much easier today than it was say ‘back in the day’ (where I served on ‘Cougar Video’ as a student assistant from June of 1996 through May of 99), only because everything is much more proficient in terms of getting the coaches what they need, which we’ll get into later. During each game, assistant Video Director - Whitney Anderson, and a student actually shoot the game. What the coaches watch on video is drastically different than what we, as fans, watch on television. One camera is perched in the seats facing the end zone to shoot the ‘end zone tight’ shot, while the other camera will be on top of the press box shooting the ‘side line wide’ shot. The EZ tight basically shoots from offensive tackle to tackle or defensive end (who is usually lined up wider). This shot exposes both lines and what they are doing on each play. Both line coaches, the quarter backs, running backs and linebackers coach study these videos intently. The ‘side line wide’ shot gets all 22 players from beginning to end, and all of the coaches watch this. When the coaches watch a master copy of an entire game, what they see are both shots, back to back of the same exact play.

“Game editing is broken down by quarter,” explains assistant Jessica Lloyd, “After each quarter, the video cards are pulled from the back of the camera and handed to me, where I’ll enter them into our laptop. After the game we’ll bring the laptop back here (to the video office in the Athletics/Alumni Center) where it is hooked up and uploaded to the system. About 30 minutes after the game it’s in the system.” That system is via Xos Digital, which is used by over 900 leagues, conferences and teams after being founded by Dan Alton in 1999, after the NBA’s Orlando Magic asked him for a method to acquire, manage and distribute multimedia information within its operations. After the game is uploaded to the main server, opposing teams (with permissions) are allowed to access it. The games are accessible due to a program called “Dragonfly” which, according to Grant, “allows us to exchange video with anyone in America. We also use it for basketball, soccer and some other sports. All of the teams in the NFL can access it as well.” In repeating the theme of ‘efficiency,’ game exchanges are much easier today than they were in my day, where I remember waking up many a Sunday around 6 A.M. to drive to Hobby Airport in dropping off a VHS copy of the previous Saturday night’s game to a pre-arranged flight, while also picking up a copy of our upcoming opponents Saturday night game. Grant laughed as I reminisced, “Yeah, after 9/11 we (video profession) had to find ways around that. Gone are the days of just dropping off and picking up boxes at airports.” After a road game “We work on the plane so when we get home it’s done,” according to Grant. Jessica adds, “We just hook the laptop up to the system to upload the game after we get home. Then we’ll download the opponents’ game. The coaches will have everything they need by Sunday morning.” As for the set up for a road game, Grant says, “We set up at the team hotel the evening before. We take a few projectors, and a bunch of different laptops. We have meeting rooms set up for offense, defense and special teams that have their own lap tops that are connected to the projectors (for last minute team meetings).”

Sunday mornings the staff continues its preparations for the next week’s opponent according to Grant, “We’re almost done with Texas State’s cutups from last year (this interview took place in the middle of June). After we download all of their games, the GA’s (graduate assistants) break them all down. The computer automatically filters the data into pre-made cutups for the coaches. Back in the day each cut up was put on an individual tape. Today they are just files with all of the data.” He went on to give an example, “If Coach Bryant says I need another game added to these cutups as there isn’t enough data, after the GA’s add in the game info, the computer automatically updates the cut ups, and the coaches now have access to them. The pre made filters which we create, are determined by the information the coaches want. They’re also sorted by formation our opponents run the most. So for example, via the system, we know that on 3rd & long (+6), Texas State will come out in ‘Duece Show Gun Near,’ which is a pass play. You have the formation, down and distance, and play the opponent is most likely to run in any given situation. And of course each coach is different in what they want so you have to be able to adapt in this business and not get stuck in your ways.”  Basically what he means is each coaching staff is different and each year new filters are taken off and created for the system.

Just in case you haven’t figured it out by now, a cut up is a major tool in which coaches use in determining an opponents strengths and weaknesses. Cut ups are a specific situation inside of a game (of an opponent’s offense, defense or special teams) that the video staff groups together for a specific amount of the opposing teams’ games. As the season gets further, more cut ups are available to edit. However, before the cut ups are made, the GA’s will break down each game in all three phases and log all of the plays into the system. After logging the plays into the system with the correct terminology, the video staff creates the situational cut ups for the opponents’ games. They will then load the cut ups and video of the game onto the server so when the coaches are ready to begin breaking down the opponents’ games (and start forming a game plan), the cut ups and game video will be waiting for them on the server. Coaches can also take download the video to take home, but they cannot access the main server from outside of the football offices. The coaches have laptops in their offices (and in all the position meeting rooms), which are hooked up to the internal server and all that is required to access them are a login and password. Video can also be put on any format. The players will often receive DVD’s of games or practices and they can also watch on their iPads as well. When coach Nesbitt walked into our interview, Grant was preparing a cut up for him in a Windows media file.

Video today, according to Grant, “allows you to maximize your time in being efficient as technology allows, even in terms of practice. You pull off what you want of every drill. Back in the day a practice might get put on an entire tape and the coaches would have to fast forward and rewind to get where they want, and every drill was put on an individual tape which was getting expensive. Today it’s just transferring files so when the coaches come off the field everything is done. We pull the clips off the video card (on the back of each camera), name it whatever the drill is and upload it to the server so coaches have access to it. Back then coaches watched everything in S-VHS but the cameras shot in DC Pro (which had to be transferred over). Today we shoot in P2 format and the cameras are Panasonic.” For the record, each of the ten video cameras that Grant is responsible for cost around eleven thousand dollars.

Practice

Despite Allen Iverson’s chagrins, yes we are talkin’ bout practice. The students come in around 2 p.m. to get ready for each day’s 4:45 practice. Jessica is outside responsible for making sure the students are where they need to be. Whitney also starts outside but comes inside to help Grant, as he is responsible for taking each video card (pulled off of the back of each camera) inside to get to Grant, who uploads each drill to the server. By the time the players and coaches get back inside after practice, everything is done. For each practice, five cameras are outside, two per field and one roaming on the ground. Three scissor lifts are used, one behind the end zone on each field (used to shoot the EZ tight shot), and one lift is in the middle of both fields – where two cameras shoot the ‘side line wide’ shot for each field. About an hour before practice the students get everything together to get on the field; cameras, tripods, batteries, video cards, rain gear, water and the like. An hour is needed to acclimate the cameras to the Houston humidity. They also perform daily safety checks on the scissor lifts in checking such things as tire pressure and making sure hydraulic fluid is good. Scissor lift safety is a major concern after the Declan Sullivan tragedy, in which the Notre Dame student videographer died after his lift was pushed over during heavy winds (over 50 miles an hour) in mid October of the 2010 season. This was a senseless tragedy that could have been avoided had Irish head coach Brian Kelly decided to move practice indoors. Sullivan even posted a tweet before practice began, “Gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Well today will be fun at work. I guess I’ve lived long enough.” He was pronounced dead a few hours later at the age of 20. This hits very close to home to me having worked in the field. Luckily for me (and our staff) we had people who truly cared for us, in Grant’s predecessor – Bryan Bray (who now works at Baylor) and of course head Coach Kim Helton and his coaching staff. On a side note, I also worked with some fine people, among them; Sam Cromley (whom is now working in the video department for the Dallas Cowboys), and Christina Hooley (currently working video at the University of Central Florida). Today the students are required to wear harnesses, but it is still on coaches and head video coordinators on when students should or should not be required to shoot in volatile weather conditions. UH also has a very nice indoor complex to practice in, which they take advantage of often. Grant echoed these concerns when he said, “We take safety seriously around here, from Mack on down.” The video staff is also responsible for the music that the players hear while practicing (to simulate crowd noise). They are responsible for the speakers and a portable DJ station. Student assistants that will work with football this year include; Landon Jullien, Mark Lazenby, Derrick Lockridge, Kevin Rhodes and Ernie Rodriquez. The qualifications for being a student assistant for ‘Cougar Video,’ “they need to be committed to being a hard learner and quick learner while working the required hours,” according to Grant. He also likes hiring them young so he can (in his words) train them up and keep them awhile.

‘Cougar Video’ is broken down into two sides – coaches’ video (led by Anderson and assisted by Lloyd), and production. The production side (headed by Laura Hubel and assisted by Kyle Boberg) handles all media requests and they also create the highlights seen on the video boards at the Rob and Hofheinz.  The ‘motivationals’ the players watch every Friday night at the team hotel are created by both sides, according to Grant, “Although production creates them, the only crossover we have is for the motivationals for football. Coach Sumlin thought about those a lot and took a personal responsibility for them. We have a staff meeting every day for football to come up with ideas, and the players and coaches talk about it and give us ideas all week too. By the time they need to be made, we already know what to do because we’ve talked about them all week.”

During the season Greene will get in around 8 A.M during the week. Sunday’s are staggered with Lloyd coming in the morning and Grant in the afternoon. He summarizes his job by saying, “During the day we’re here to assist coaches in getting them game and practice film. We could be working on next week’s opponent during the day because we’re usually done, (on our end), on that week’s opponent by Sunday. Coaches use that throughout the week while we start on the next few opponents – putting all their games in, having the GA’s break them down and starting to run cut ups, while also coming up with the ideas for the motivational highlights, all while servicing every other sport so something is always going on.” In next week’s ‘Behind the Scenes’ look at Cougar football we’ll examine the strength and conditioning program (led by Brian Odom) and it’s relationship with the training staff (Michael O’Shea) and team nutritionist Tara Boening.


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