Video gurus ease coaches' workload

Originally Published: October 20, 2004
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- The clock pushes past 8 p.m. and the Switzer Center is empty. Bob Stoops, having just disposed of Texas, is at home with his wife and three kids. Freshman phenom Adrian Peterson, having already rushed for 225 yards, is resting in his dorm room. The day-to-day commotion of Sooner football has been replaced by silence.

Except on the second floor. There, a disco ball spins next to a spotlight, reflecting miniature beams of light throughout the dimly lit office. "Play that Funky Music" blasts from a computer-driven stereo system. And a pair of white guys in their 20s bounce around like they own the place.

"This is how we celebrate each win," explains Mike Nobler, one of the two men behind the music. "It's how we get groovin' before we get to work."

Oklahoma's video coordinators' office includes 23 VCRs.
Nobler and Brian Martin are Oklahoma's video gurus, the guys who both spend some 95 hours a week videotaping each game, uploading the video to a digital network and coordinating video exchange with opposing schools. When everybody else's work ends, their's begins.

"The dream is to hop into a car after the game and head home like everybody else," Martin said. "It isn't quite that way yet."

Their office is like a Best Buy warehouse: Twenty-three VCRs. Nine television monitors. Four DIRECTV Tuners. Three TiVos. Two DVD recorders. Six universal remote controls. And a disco ball.

But the long hours and tangled wires pay big dividends when the Sooners take the field each Saturday. Just ask linebacker Gayron Allen, who last week spent 10 hours watching Kansas State film, picking up tendencies on where a running play was headed based on where running back Darren Sproles lined up. Sproles was limited to 40 yards on 13 carries. Or ask assistant coach Kevin Wilson, who two weeks ago used a Denver Broncos highlight to show one of his tackles the perfect technique for a "reach block." That week Peterson escaped for his 225.

"The opportunities are almost endless," said Wilson, who watches film an estimated 30-35 hours a week. "You find a play here, a clip there, you put them all together and you can specifically manipulate it for what you're trying to teach. There's less wasted time."

It's a long way from the '70s and '80s, when players would watch choppy 16mm film on a projector and the film would come apart. Up until 2000, the team used videotapes, which Nobler and Martin hauled to each of nine Sooner video rooms. Today, everything is digital. Each OU coach has his own network-connected laptop, where he can instantly access any OU practice, OU game, or the games of upcoming opponents from his desk. There's also tape from various teams around the NFL, like the Indianapolis Colts offense and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Prior to the Texas game, the Sooners watched tape of last year's Kansas City Chiefs defense, run by Longhorn defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.

"You can't get everything, you can't learn everything, but the key is to be ready," Allen said. "And the more time you spend watching tape, the more ready you're going to be."

Coaches can also download games to their laptops and watch them away from the network. Less than two hours after the Texas game ended, co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables spent the bus ride back to Norman watching previously downloaded tape of Kansas State, their next opponent. Prior to last year's Sugar Bowl, when coaches were on the road recruiting for two weeks, they were able to watch tape of LSU.

"Instead of watching the in-flight movie, we're sitting there watching tape," Wilson said.

Brian Nobler
Mike Nobler (left) and Brian Martin spend 80 hours a week preparing the Sooners' videos.
The process works like this: Martin, Nobler and their staff of five student assistants videotape every game and practice from the sideline and end zone. Afterward, they immediately upload the tape to the Sooners' 2.7 terabyte XOS video system. They cut each play beginning to end, digitally label it offense, defense or kicking game and splice an end-zone view with the sideline view.

Early Sunday morning, after the tape is uploaded, the graduate assistants come in and digitally add the distance, formation, personnel, whether the play was a run or a pass and what the result was. On defense, they chart the defensive front, coverage and whether there was a stunt or blitz.

That information then becomes searchable.

"You can punch it right up," assistant head coach Bobby Jack Wright said. "You don't need to go through six or seven game tapes to find 10 different screens."

And then there's the exchange process. While Martin and Nobler are working Saturday night, a courier is waiting to carry a copy of the tape to a waiting commercial flight. That flight flies a copy of Saturday's edited game tape to the following Saturday's opponent. Last week's Kansas State tape, for example, was shipped Saturday night to this week's opponent, Kansas.

On Monday, an 11-day exchange occurs, meaning the Sooners trade tape with the following week's opponent. This week, OU sent copies of all its game tapes to Oklahoma State, its opponent on Oct. 30. The Cowboys did the same.

"And as soon as those tapes arrive, we're doing the same thing, uploading it to the system so the grad assistants can have at it and the coaches can access it on the network," said Martin, the Big XII's Video Coordinator of the Year.

It's all mandated by the Big 12, as are rules on format (SVHS), recording (each play must start with a view of the scoreboard) and camera angles (wide angle must have all 22 players on the screen; end-zone angle should cover the field end to end).

The average game runs 75-80 plays and can be edited down to roughly 40 minutes of action. Some run shorter (pre-Callahan Nebraska), some run longer (Texas Tech). When Nobler was an assistant at Illinois, Ron Turner instructed him to let the clips run longer so he could see how quickly each player got back in the huddle.

"Everybody has their own style," said Martin. "You get used to it."

Beyond that, each Tuesday, Martin and Nobler send a penalty tape of questionable calls to the Big 12 for review. And later in the week, they meet with Stoops to get his input on a weekly motivational clip that is shown before each Saturday's game.

It's all part of job that is unnoticed to the outside, but ultra-appreciated on the inside.

"The job those guys do is invaluable," Wright said. "It's kinda like cell phones -- I can't ever imagine what life would be like without it."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.

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