Media Day: What I Learned
Jeremy Hurtt’s Story
On Saturday, 06 August 2011, the University of Arkansas invited those of us unkempt and unloved enough to fill the Arkansas sports press contingent to the annual football Media Day. As a relative newcomer to the media game, this marked my first exposure to said Day of Media, and I took from it some interesting interviews, a few scattered keepsake photographs and far less water weight.
We arrived at the Miller Room deep in the bowels of Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s north side Broyles Athletic Complex at 7:45ish A.M. It would have been pre-7:45, the time granted to us for registration, had we not spent the morning trying to smooth out the side effect of attending this media day. Unlike the majority of the press, we actually had a show to do during the hours of the interviews, and I had no backup producer to execute the show while I wandered around the stadium struggling to find alphabetized player locations. Eventually, we made a decision just in time for me to shuttle off and get my recorder – we would skip the show, in the big-picture interest of making the contacts and performing the interviews this limited opportunity would provide. Aimee Miller, our social media goddess, accompanied me with a trusty camera and blonde hair.
From 7:45ish until 8:15, not much happened. I drank two glasses of orange juice, and Aimee went to get batteries for my recorder, as apparently I’m an idiot. At 8:15, Coach Petrino entered to address us common folk. I’ve always been impressed with this guy, assuming that “always” can be understood to mean “the 3 1/12 years I’ve been more than marginally aware who he is”. As Petrino began his prepared text, followed by answering the questions from what I’ve heard described as “the worst-dressed press corps in America” (I was particularly stylish in blue jeans, a polo and some boots I wore in Iraq), I was again struck at how deftly the man moves from specific where necessary to ambiguous where necessary, with condescension and exasperation seemingly always one dumb question away. And we’re the press…there will be dumb questions on this day.
Petrino eventually finishes his part of this dog and pony show, and the media members begin to collect their cameras, microphones, laptops and early-Saturday-morning willpower to move to the area where players and assistant coaches will be available for interviews.
This area was a large indoor turfed room with seats along the wall in a large U-shape, the players’ seats back-to-the-wall with names above them, again, in alphabetical order. This theoretically would allow for each player to hang out and have media members approach and interview them at their assigned spot. I immediately wondered how in the world we were going to all do interviews 18 inches from each other, but in the end, very few players stayed in those seats for long.
We had several minutes to wait for the players to make their way in from the team photo, so Aimee and I walked around and did some good touristing, because we’re such experienced and professional journalists. I got a good picture of a huge display of NFL helmets with Arkansas players listed from each franchise’s history. Truth be told, I basically used my preparation time to ogle a whole bunch of fancy displays that all spoke to one real message – these ain’t your uncle’s Razorbacks. These are new times.
The players finally came in for the interviews, and while the more seasoned writers and hosts began setting up interviews and finding the best shots for their subjects, Aimee and I stood in the middle of the room looking around for something to do or someone to ask some stuff. When I RSVP’d for this event, I was asked to list players I would like to interview. This thought eventually occurred to me, and I pulled out the list to see if anyone was available, close, and approachable-looking. At just about that perfect moment before I slipped out the side door and moved to Brazil under the assumed name Miguel San Hurttos, Razorback safety Tramain Thomas walked right into my narrowing field of vision, and finally I started interviewing football Hogs.
You’ll get more insight on the content of those interviews as this week progresses, but this here part right ahead is where we get to the real point of this rambling mess. I heard some interesting answers and got some valuable digital media on these players, but the takeaway from the day was in something bigger. Bigger picture. You know, like in the sitcom when the violins start playing, and someone is really sad they broke the vase and blamed it on the dog? That’s what this next thing is – it’s the moral of the story.
The Arkansas Razorback football players that I interviewed said “yes, sir”. They looked me in the eye. They consciously considered their posture, and purposefully patrolled their perception. They stayed on message. There was no “I” or “me”, unless it was “I just want to do what the coaches want”, or “it’s not about what’s best for me.” All in all, the kids I talked to were…adults. They acted like they knew where they were and what they were doing because they’ve been there before. There was a message discipline that was somewhat frustrating as an interviewer but somewhat refreshing as an army man. I had no issues. I had no complaints. I had no assistant coaches…crap! 3 hours had rolled by, and I just never got to the coaches.
But I had already performed 14 interviews, and filled out enough material for the purposes of our show – a week long look at the upcoming football season and all the factors which swim in its wake, as seen by the players who will live it. More than that, I got a sense of what this program has become in the thousand and some odd days since Mr. Petrino arrived in the Ozarks. This is big-boy football. This is a complex system, executed by physical freaks being tutored in the ways of becoming social and business freaks, perpetuated through sharp preparation, attention to detail and a constant and unwavering dedication to progress. Hard work is the default, and hard lines are the path. Bobby Petrino isn’t just building a football program in Northwest Arkansas…he’s building men – complete men – as well.
Media Day: Aimee Miller’s Take
“Get ready fast. I’m headed that way.” This was the text message I’d been waiting to receive for nearly twelve hours. The decision had been made. The Saturday edition of Steve Weimer Live would have to be missed in order for Jeremy Hurtt and I to attend Media Day on The Hill. Due to some scheduling issues, the show would be lacking a vital member if Jeremy were to accompany me: a producer. After the equivalent of a grueling conference room PowerPoint presentation was laid out in front of our host, Steve Weimer agreed that Jeremy and I must attend this star-studded event.
With a grin that even the Cheshire Cat could not mimic, I jumped out of my cozy bed. I had less than fifteen minutes to prepare myself for the most exciting day of my sports media life.
Jeremy pulls into my driveway on two wheels and I’m ready to go. Digital camera? Check. Digital voice recorder? Check. Batteries for both? Check. We’re ready to take on Media Day.
We arrive for registration at the oh-so-appropriately named Miller Room, located in the Broyles Complex, with some time to spare. Which turned out to be a very good thing. Though I’d opened up the recorder to check the size of the batteries it requires, I still had failed. It takes AAA batteries. Not AA. So there you have it, folks. Females are inferior when it comes to mechanics of any kind. That’s science.
Jeremy and I exchange looks. I’m quite sure he’s thinking of the easiest way to choke me out and get rid of my body. I’m thinking of the easiest way to disappear completely. After these split-second thoughts, I jump out of my seat, run to my car and speed off to the nearest gas station, where I proceed to spend entirely too much money on AAA batteries. I make it back with time to spare before Head Coach Bobby Petrino is due to address the media members.
As this fine group of Arkansas media members finishes up their continental breakfast and coffee, we all find our way to the chairs placed in front of the podium due to host Coach Petrino. The Director of Football Media Relations, Zack Higbee, comes out and briefs the crowd on what we’re about to experience. He then introduces Coach Petrino. Was I the only one that had to fight the urge to applaud? Are we supposed to stand up for the man? After all, he has such an air about him. A respectful air. A commanding presence. Just what do we do here? This is where my people-watching skills come in very handy. Nothing. We do nothing. We sit still and be quiet.
Once Coach Petrino began to speak, that was easy to do. Since the moment I had the pleasure of knowing the Razorbacks would no longer be running the ball up the middle with Coach Houston Nutt, I’ve been a big fan of Coach Bobby Petrino. The coach had plenty of positive things to say about the upcoming season and about his players and coaches. He graciously answered all questions from media members, including a couple of questions that were so painfully stupid, I blushed for the people that had asked them. It happens. And really, there is no one better at shooting down those questions than one Bobby Petrino.
Once the Q&A session with Petrino wrapped up, we were all then excused to head downstairs to the indoor practice facility, where we would find the assistant coaches and players. On the east side of Donald W. Reynolds Stadium, I saw the entire Razorback football team, lined up for their team photo. Jeremy and I quickly figured out that we had some time to kill before the players would be available for interviews.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to take a look around the facilities at this stadium, I suggest finding a legal way to do so. It really is quite impressive. The walls are covered in motivational photos of big plays from previous games, lists of All-American players, a pyramid of goals…and our favorite thing we found? A wall that showcases helmets from all of the NFL teams for which former Razorbacks have played. Pretty damn cool. A very nice addition to an incredible facility.
Well, we’ve window shopped. What now? Players are filtering in and we see other media members chatting with some players. How exactly do we do this? It took way too long for us to figure out that the player’s names, taped on the wall, above their chairs, were in alphabetical order. That should have been noticed rather instantly, you’d think. We picked up on that after about ten minutes. Once Jeremy and I figured that part out, the next step was to find a player that was on our list. A player that we had requested to interview. Enter, Tramain Thomas. Here we go! Jeremy starts the recorder and starts the interview process. Tramain was polite, thorough and positive about the team and the upcoming season. As Tramain and Jeremy converse, I saunter around the two of them with my trusty camera. Snapping photos when I can. Trying to catch them when their mouths are closed, making sure the lighting is appropriate and that there aren’t thirty seven people in the background. It was going well.
We found our way through our list. Jeremy had great questions for the players and they had great answers. They were all so polite and gracious. They all shook our hands, smiled brightly and minded their Ps & Qs. We were getting through our list and collecting tons of great audio and video for the show and website. And we were really enjoying ourselves in the process.
After speaking with Terrell Williams, we hear someone say Jeremy’s name. A cheery-faced Austin Tate says “Jeremy! I’ve got you on my list!”. Jeremy and I exchange smiles and we head over to Austin’s area. He’s eager to speak with us and we share his enthusiasm. Jeremy and Austin are both Harrison High School alumni. So they already had a common ground. Austin gave us one of the best clips of audio we got from the day. A bit about Tyler Wilson versus Ryan Mallett. You can hear his comparison of the two quarterbacks in our video here: http://steveweimerlive.com/2011/08/09/mediadayweek-tuesday-video-the-offense/
Austin’s enthusiasm to speak with us was the final bit of confirmation I needed to put my mind at ease that we had made the right decision. Media Day is the end-all be-all of Arkansas football. And in Arkansas, Razorback football is where it’s at. We all live it and breathe it. And some of us even claim to bleed Razorback Red.
With aching feet and a sweaty forehead after interviewing our last contestant, Greg Childs, I left Media Day with the same grin that the Cheshire Cat would have to envy. It was an experience I will not soon forget. I also took with me an air of confidence about this Razorback squad that only Coach Petrino can instill in fans, his players and media members alike.
Video: The Offense
Greg Childs, KNILE DAVIS, Dennis Johnson, Marquel Wade, Tyler Wilson, Austin Tate and Brandon Mitchell talk about the weapons the Razorbacks return on offense for 2011.