CSMA Master Class: FS West Masters the Coach’s Show
Since its inception, the College Sports Media Awards have recognized the best in the college-sports-production arena. As technology and production techniques improve, the ability to create high-quality video on any budget has proliferated significantly. At the College Sports Video Summit in June, 16 productions were honored for their contribution to sports video. Each Friday this summer, SVG is proud to offer an in-depth look at the personalities and programs that have raised the bar for what college sports video is capable of.
University of Southern California head football coach Lane Kiffin often comes off as stiff and somewhat lifeless when dealing with the media. Taking a page out of the Bill Belichick playbook, Kiffin plays his cards close to the chest, typically offering little for beat reporters to chew on.
Yet, with Kiffin as its centerpiece, FS West/Prime Ticket has found tremendous success over the past two seasons with its weekly program, Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly. The show’s production staff learned quickly: put a clicker in his hand and film on the screen, and Coach lights up.
“It’s pretty funny,” says Jesse Aron, an editor and producer on the show for the past two seasons. “For example, you may ask him ‘How did Matt Barkley play?’ in regular interviews. He’ll say, ‘He played well; he could do some things better, blah, blah, blah’ — a very short, terse answer. Then, all of a sudden, you put a play of Matt Barkley up on the screen: ‘This is what I love about Matt Barkley. He does this, and this. He needs to do this a little bit better.’ He just really gets into it.”
That enthusiasm and a fully integrated effort between the university and the network helped Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly take home the College Sports Media Award for Best Program Series in the Regional Sports Networks and Local Cable Providers division in just its second season.
A Steady Balance
Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly was born in 2010 following the arrival of Kiffin and new Athletic Director Pat Haden to Southern Cal. Previously, FS West admittedly didn’t have as much of a relationship with the university’s athletics department as it would have liked. Considering that the school is only two miles from the FS West studios, executives looked to change that.
FS West Executive Producer Tom Feuer and Coordinating Producer Shawn Kopelakis met with Haden and proposed the idea for a show and requested the access needed to get it done. Haden knew what he wanted in return.
“Pat was a really big believer in all of the Olympic sports and getting them out front by telling stories,” says Aron, who has since moved on to a job as a producer and editor for L.A.’s upcoming Time Warner Cable Sports Nets. “The initial conversations were all about how they can give us good access to their football team but they would also like us to cover some of the other sports. So the show really did spend a lot of time, in some way, shape, or form, every week on Olympic sports and athletes, whether it was just a wrap-up of the big events from that week or an in-depth profile on a certain athlete.”
Race Against the Clock
During a typical week, Aron and the show’s crew would go right to work following a Saturday football game in Los Angeles. He would do much of the prep work and select the highlights he wanted Coach Kiffin to analyze during the show. Then, on Monday, when Kiffin was knocking out a majority of his media responsibilities, he would join the FS West team to film the interview and film-room segments.
The turnaround time needs to be lightning fast.
“A huge part of any coach’s show is a tremendous crew,” says Aron. “The turnarounds are so tight on these. If there is a game Saturday, the show should really air on Monday or Tuesday if you want to look at the last game. Once you get into Wednesday or Thursday, you’re now more of a preview show than a recap show.”
The crew used a variety of Panasonic P2 cameras to shoot the show and edited the final program on Avid.
The Coach’s Show Dilemma
As any producer or sports information director will tell you, coach’s shows are tricky: they aren’t a whole lot of fun to produce or watch when the team stinks, they have a terribly short shelf life, and, without an engaging coach, they can be difficult to make compelling.
For Aron, however, the key to any successful coach’s show simply starts with access.
“The only way to get access is through trust,” he says. “Whether it’s the actual coach himself or the SID. The coach can’t be afraid to say the wrong thing or make a joke when we’re rolling and we’re right about to start. These guys can be so paranoid.”
The show’s team also took advantage of its many USC connections. Aron, show host Lindsay Rhodes, production assistant Jeremy Hall, commentator Petros Papadakis, and analyst John Jackson all attended USC.
“[Kiffin] knows we’re not out to get him and he always had final say,” says Aron. “On Sunday, I would go through the game, I’d pick seven plays, and, if he said he didn’t want to do these plays, then fine.”
Aron will also be the first to ackowledge that the show was much easier and more fun to produce last year, thanks to the Trojans’ successful 10-2 campaign.
“It certainly helped that they played well,” he laughs. “We were incredibly fortunate to be covering a good team at a good school.”
An additional challenge for producers of coach’s shows — especially those working for networks that are expected to maintain a level of journalistic integrity — is producing an interesting program that isn’t simply a public-relations plug.
“They can come off as just kissing the ass of the coach,” Aron admits.
The crew of USC Football Weekly attempted to counter that problem with a segment featuring Papadakis, a local sports-radio host and former Trojan running back, analyzing the game and the team from a more independent point of view.
“Petros was kind of our watchdog,” says Aron. “He has his radio show out here every day, so his opinions are out there. He’s not afraid to go on-air and say that he disagreed with a call Lane may have made. But again, the team did well, so there wasn’t much to criticize, but I think we were able to have more credibility because, while we did spend a lot of time praising the coach and the team, if there were mistakes or things that we found that they needed to get better at, we had an analyst that would say those things.”