Football coaches protect their privacy on the football field with an iron fist. Doors are closed -- and for all practical purposes, locked -- for concern over the slightest detail leaking out and putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
Notre Dame and Brian Kelly have assessed the potential pitfalls and deemed them worth the risk compared to the benefits of becoming a collaborative business associate with Showtime, whose camera crew began on-field filming Thursday, Aug. 13, as the making of “A Season With Notre Dame Football” moved forward.
The first of a 12-part “docuseries” airs Tuesday, Sept. 8 – three days after the 2015 season-opener against Texas – and each Tuesday after a game this fall.
“The series chronicles the University of Notre Dame’s quest for a college football playoff national championship with weekly, all-access coverage,” the network said.
“We’re giving an inside look at Notre Dame’s star players in the locker room and the classroom as the series transports you beyond the field and into the lives of student-athletes throughout the season.”
Two previous attempts to document a football season – in 2001 under Bob Davie and 2003 under Tyrone Willingham – concluded prematurely. The process has been fine-tuned a bit since then, predominately by HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” a successful “reality sports documentary television series” produced by NFL Films and HBO, which first aired in 2001.
“Hard Knocks has been well-received for its spontaneous, open and sometimes incredibly blunt insights into what takes place on a football field and in the meeting rooms, which throughout the development of the game and significant television expansion generally remained sealed from the public eye.
But as Notre Dame and other major college football programs continue to probe for ways to increase their value and upgrade the competitive level of their brand, advances in technology and marketing continue to be smack dab in the wheelhouse of Notre Dame, spearheaded by University Vice President and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick.
Every Notre Dame home game has been broadcast by NBC since 1991. Notre Dame has worked with 3 Penny Films since the spring of 2013 with the “Strong and True” series. WatchND is the official YouTube channel of Notre Dame athletics.
The University has expanded its sports information presence with a constantly-expanding approach to its website – und.com – and the driving force behind its strong insurgence into the media markets -- Fighting Irish Digital Media. Notre Dame has gathered a broad national advertising team with its treasured business partner, Under Armour, as well as with Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Sprint and UPS, to name a few of the heavyweights.
Insight into the Notre Dame football program has never been greater, and Showtime’s upcoming docuseries will take it to another level.
“It’s kind of something that we’re used to here,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the video presence. “To have an opportunity to showcase our program and what we do and how we do it with the people from Showtime, we thought it was something we couldn’t pass on. That ultimately was why we went with opening up our program for them.”
But with cameras come the deterioration of privacy, and with that insurgence comes windows into the harsher side of college football, which displays the blunt reality of motivating a football team through rough language and what many oblivious to the inner-workings of the game might construe as demeaning behavior.
If you think Brian Kelly’s game-day demeanor can be a bit course, the practice environment from head coach through assistant coaches is hardly for the weak of heart, either.
In the first practice open to the media last week, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s tirade directed at offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey might have made legendary Irish taskmaster Joe Moore blush.
Thursday, Kelly undressed freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush with a verbal barrage. Near the end of the practice session, associate head coach/wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock tore into tight ends coach Scott Booker.
All common occurrences on every college football practice field throughout the country.
Notre Dame and Showtime have reached some level of common ground to guard against fully revealing what might be considered detrimental to the football program. But in the heat of battle, the Irish coaches won’t hold back, and the lure of “good television” will serve as a strong temptation to Showtime.
“We’re going to have great collaboration,” Kelly said. “Anytime you’re putting together a weekly show, you want to make sure you’re real and it’s not a public service announcement. We get that. Showtime and their production people will want something that is certainly indicative of what goes on here on a day-to-day basis.
“Having said that, we never want to embarrass any players, coaches or the University. I think we’re pretty clear on how we’ll collaborate on it.”
Kelly said Notre Dame football and those that participate in it would not be blindsided by the intrusive nature of the project. They are accustomed to it.
“The cons are distractions that you’ve got cameras around,” Kelly said. “But we’re used to it. We have cameras around. 3 Penny Films has been embedded with us for the last three years.”
At least to some degree, Kelly and his staff will have to devote time and attention to how they deal with the daily presence of Showtime. To an equal or even larger extent, the student-athletes will be under the microscope more frequently in a current world already jam-packed with pressure to excel.
Perhaps the greatest advantage afforded Notre Dame – in addition to the financial benefits of the business deal – is the potential to display the program and all its glories to a wider audience. CBS’ Showtime has 23 million subscribers, now five million less than Time Warner’s HBO.
That wider audience includes top prep football prospects, which can only enhance Notre Dame’s presence and sales pitch within the lifeblood of a football program competing for national titles -- the recruiting trail.
“We’re definitely going to be able to tell our story each week during the year,” said a smiling Kelly. “We’re going to talk a lot about why we think 17-year-olds should come to Notre Dame.”