Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football

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9780345470140: Every Week a Season: A Journey Inside Big-Time College Football
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“Brian Curtis tells the stories behind the stories. He brings the meetings, practice sessions, recruiting calls and game day experience to light like never before. Fans who want to know what goes on behind the scenes will find out in this book.”
–RON ZOOK, head football coach, the University of Florida

In Every Week a Season, acclaimed sports reporter and author Brian Curtis takes readers on an unprecedented whirlwind tour of NCAA Division I football. It’s a world that breeds great drama, a world that millions watch but few understand. It is a multibillion-dollar business. It is an obsession.

To get to the beating heart of college football, Curtis embarked on a breakneck itinerary that took him where all red-blooded college football fans long to be: behind the scenes at nine big-time programs. In nine weeks, Curtis visited Colorado State University, the University of Georgia, Boston College, the University of Tennessee, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin, Louisiana State University, Florida State University, and Arizona State University. He braved the rain to watch Wisconsin pull off the upset of the year; he was at Neyland Stadium to see Tennessee manage a thrilling overtime victory; he was in Tallahassee to witness Florida State’s dramatic double overtime battle for the ACC title. As added bonuses, he was with Georgia when the team fought for the SEC Championship, and on the LSU sideline when the boys from Baton Rouge defeated Oklahoma to capture the BCS National Championship. At each stop, he brings us inside the game’s inner sanctum: in team meetings and scouting sessions; on the field and on the sidelines, during scrimmages, practices, and games; at pre-game traditions, meals, and religious services; in the locker room before the game and at half-time. Virtually nothing and no one was off-limits.

Along with the players, Curtis got to know the coaches–from the young guns to the legends–spending time with them in their offices and on the road. We see firsthand the challenges of running a major college football program–when called on, coaches must serve as CEOs, PR gurus, lawyers, politicians, and policemen. We also learn of the sacrifices made by wives and children that enable coaches to keep the numerous young athletes under their supervision focused, secure, and happy.

Brian Curtis gives a no-holds-barred insider’s account that will rank as one of the most honest and accurate books on big-time sports in America. Short of strapping on a helmet, you’ll never get closer to the game.

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About the Author:

BRIAN CURTIS is the author of The Men of March: Inside the Lives of College Basketball Coaches. Formerly a features reporter and analyst for FOX Sports Net, he has twice been nominated for Emmy awards. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

After Sonny

Colorado State University

#23 Colorado State vs. Colorado

Fort Collins, Colorado

August 24–30

In the first preseason AP college football poll, Colorado State (CSU) is ranked and Colorado (CU) is not as they prepare to meet in the season opener on August 30th. The game will be played at Invesco Field in Denver, in front of 76,000-plus passionate fans. In recent years, CSU has made the match-up a true rivalry, winning three of the last four games, after being an afterthought for many seasons. CSU returns all-conference quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt and tight end Joel Dreessen. Colorado is unstable at the quarterback position but returns a veteran team that finished first in the Big XII North Division in 2002. Both coaching staffs know that a loss can be devastating to their team’s postseason hopes, not to mention a year’s worth of frustration.

· · ·

“And on the seventh day, he rested.” Apparently, God is no football coach.

It is shortly after noon on Sunday, August 24, when the Colorado State coaching staff assembles in a room on the second floor of the McGraw Building. A wipe board dominates one side of the room. By the middle of the week, it will be filled with columns labeled Run Game, Drop Back Pass, Play Action/Screens—this week’s plan of attack. Above the board, in green and gold letters, is a slogan: “Communication—is the key to success.” Another board lists the names of committed recruits, and next to this list are posters. One is titled “CSU Rates” and numerically lists if a recruit is 1) a great player, 2) a legitimate player, 3) a suspect or rejected player. There are similar rating charts for Grades and Recruitability.

On this hot Sunday afternoon, the staff sits in the air-conditioned room, huddled around a table full of sodas and coffees.

“Okay, so where do we stand with the scout teams?” asks Sonny Lubick, looking at longtime assistant coach and friend Mick Delaney. Lubick’s large presence comes more from the strength of his conviction than his height. His skin is bronzed from many days in the sun and there are a few wrinkles etched into his face. He looks at his staff intently, expecting prompt and detailed responses.

Delaney explains that the scout teams could use a few walk-ons to play wide receiver, running back, and safety. The NCAA limits the number of walk-ons who can practice in preseason, but once classes begin coaches can open the doors. (Of course, most of the students who walk on are quickly disillusioned or lose confidence in their own ability to play at the Division I level.) An axiom in football is, “You are only as good as your scout team.” Having a disciplined, well-prepared scout team is essential in getting starters ready for opponents.

Attention soon turns to the first game of the season: rival Colorado. “This is probably the most even we have ever been headed into the game in Colorado State history,” Lubick states matter-of-factly, alluding to the level of talent at both schools. This is something he couldn’t necessarily say in a press conference. “We should casually get that message across to the players during practice this week.”

Lubick reminds his coaches to watch this week for penalties, poor positioning, and turnovers.

After three grueling weeks of preseason practice, it is pretty clear who the starters are, except for the punter, but all agree to give the candidates until Thursday to prove themselves. Athletic trainer Fred Oglesby walks in and hands every coach an injury report. Luckily, there is nothing major.

A final issue is special teams. Co-offensive coordinator John Benton expresses concern that so many key starters are lined up to cover kickoffs on special teams. Special teams and tight ends coach Darrell Funk, a newcomer to the CSU staff from Northern Illinois, counters that only six or seven starters are on the kickoff team. Lubick quickly interjects that the team’s top four safeties are on special teams. His philosophy is to always have the best players on special teams—starters or not.

The offensive and defensive coaches split up to begin to formulate a game plan for Colorado. This week is a bit unusual. First, it is CSU’s biggest game of the year. Second, it is being played at Invesco Field in Denver, the home of the Denver Broncos—a neutral site. Third, and perhaps most important in terms of preparation, it is the season’s first game. There is no game film to review from a win or loss the day before. No bad morale. No losing streaks. Plenty of time to prepare. In fact, the coaches have been reviewing Colorado film from last season and creating a game plan since spring practice. By the time game week rolls around in late August, much of the scouting, film watching, and game planning has already taken place. But this is football and these are football coaches, so it is done over and over again.

“I was so psyched to come in today, actually,” says co-offensive coordinator Dan Hammerschmidt, “to really get going.”

Hammerschmidt is joined in the offensive meeting by Delaney, Funk, and wide receivers coach Matt Lubick, the head coach’s son. Benton retreats to his office to work on a strategy for combating CU blitzes. Hammerschmidt asks about Dexter Wynn, a stunningly quick and athletic cornerback who had played a little with the offense in preseason. Because he is slowed by a hip injury, the coaches decide to limit Wynn to eight plays on offense in the upcoming practice.
· · ·

John Benton was a graduate assistant (GA) at CSU in the late 1980s and remembers drives to Boulder, an hour away. In those days, the only place in Colorado that could develop the game and practice film used by coaches was in Boulder, so every day at the end of practice he would race to the shop to get the film developed. Air Force and Colorado were using the same shop, so if he showed up after them, the wait could be hours. He would return to Fort Collins, mission completed, where the coaches would be waiting.

But the new millennium means computers, and the reliability, expediency, and accessibility of the new technology have changed the game for coaches. Now the standard system can spit out cut-up clips in a matter of seconds. Without much trouble, a coach can make a tape consisting only of plays from the 40-yard line on third down on the right hash at night on grass when his team is trailing. The computers can get that specific. The computers are hooked up to projection screens and the images are controlled by remote.

“Beware,” Lubick says, “we can’t get too reliant on technology. You still have to go out there and coach the team and relate to them.”

But Sundays are all about film. As the offensive staff watches clips of the Colorado defense from the 2002 season, including the loss to CSU, they search for tendencies and weaknesses. Perhaps there’s a short cornerback who could be a good match-up for a CSU receiver; maybe a defensive end is small compared to his line mates so CSU could run to his side; perhaps Colorado likes to play tight man-to-man on second down. Colorado State puts in a new offensive package for the game, learning a lesson from last season when TCU and New Mexico had success playing a combination of man-to-man and zone defenses against Colorado State. They want to get standout tight end Joel Dreessen the ball and get running back Marcus Houston outside.

“This is the first game, so we try to keep things simple,” Hammerschmidt acknowledges.

Benton adds, “We have had a long preparation for this game, so at this point we are just tweaking.”

A few feet away in the defensive coaches’ meeting room, they, too, are watching film. They’re reviewing clips of the Colorado offense at work in 2002 against Oklahoma, UCLA, and, yes, Colorado State. Although the words “Keep It Simple” are posted clearly above a wipe board at one end of the room, defensive strategies are anything but. Like their offensive counterparts, the staff looks for tendencies. Lubick is a defensive guy, focusing mainly on the secondary. He spends very little time with the offense, trusting Hammerschmidt and Benton to get it done and he makes no offensive calls during games, though he may occasionally chime in through his headset, “Are we doing okay, guys?” Joining Lubick in the meeting are defensive coordinator Steve Stanard, in his first year at CSU, defensive backs coach James Ward, and defensive line coaches Jesse Williams and Tom Ehlers.

“We need to watch for backs bumping our guys outside,” Lubick comments. “We should watch for trick plays like tight end or tackle eligible stuff.”

That comment leads to a lengthy discussion about how CSU would counter. Sitting in a strategy meeting is like landing in a foreign country with no comprehension of the language. Terms fly across the room: China, Boston, Black, Zeke, Zoro, Buzz, Under Pirate 57, Over 8. The coaches throw out terms as they talk about players watching the angle of the fullback’s first steps to determine if the play is a pass or a run or to call out switches so smoothly that, as Lubick points out, “It is as nice and smooth as an orchestra.”

Eventually, the staff has a preliminary game plan. One board lists the numerous offensive formations that Colorado runs under columns headed “21,” “22,” and “10.” These numbers represent the offensive personnel groups, with the first number indicating the number of backs and the second representing the number of tight ends. For each of these groups, the CSU coaches come up with a list of defensive plays that they believe will work best against the personnel groups. As the coaches debate, discuss, and decide, Lubick asks i...

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