Discover BCS National Championship Conference Call with play-by-play veteran Brent Musburger, analyst Kirk Herbstreit, Coordinating Producer Bill Bonnell & Director Derek Mobley
KERI POTTS: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for calling in. I know this is a crazy time for everyone, our announcers and all of you working. As you know, ESPN will televise the Discover BCS National Championship live from Miami Gardens, Florida, on Monday, January 7, at 8:30 Eastern on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio and ESPN 3D. Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit will work their sixth consecutive BCS National Championship game. They will be calling the telecast with reporters Heather Cox and Tom Rinaldi. And also for the second straight year, we will have ESPN’s Mike Tirico working ESPN Radio’s broadcast with Todd Blackledge and reporters Holly Rowe and Joe Schad. With us today also is the championship game producer Bill Bonnell and director Derek Mobley.
BILL BONNELL: My name is Bill Bonnell. I’m producing the championship game. There is not too much different than what we do every week. We do big shows every week on Saturday Night Football, and this is my fourth championship game, and the director Derek Mobley, his fifth, along with Brent and Herbie, who have done the last six. The extra resources that we do have, it’s not a huge variance. The resources that we do have, we make sure in these games, the National Championship, that we are covered on the boundaries and the goal lines and the back lines, that we have all the equipment that we need to cover the game right.
You know, we’ll be ready to cover Notre Dame’s up‑tempo offense. We had an up‑tempo offense a couple years ago with Oregon against Auburn. We’ll hold back a little bit on replays and make sure that we cover the game and don’t miss any of the action.
One of the things that gets lost in the discussion is audio. Our executive producer John Wildhack challenged us a couple weeks ago and said – we really have to up the audio this year, so we’re going to do a 5.1 surround sound, and we did a test last week at the Rose Bowl. So the audio will be a big upgrade this year, as well, as we go into the championship game.
That’s a quick little synopsis, and Keri, I’m sure everybody wants to talk to Brent and Herbie.
Q. You’ve done so many big events over the years. Any sense as far as how many years you’d like to go on doing this?
BRENT MUSBURGER: As long as they’ll have me. I don’t do retirement very well.
Q. And is there still the same charge doing big events as there’s been even much earlier in your career?
BRENT MUSBURGER: I’m always asked to look back, and I have a very difficult time because I always think that the best event that I am ever going to cover is the next one, so I’m looking at this one, and to answer your question, is absolutely.
Q. For Kirk, as you travel around the country, what is your sense of how much of the interest a lot of these games actually comes from people rooting against one of the teams even maybe more so than people rooting for some of these teams, and also, how do you think that plays into the interest in this particular game?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think you’re right. I think because the SEC has won six straight National Championships, I definitely feel that the SEC, as much as that region claims all 14 teams, when they get to this point, I think every other conference and every other fan base outside of those 14 teams is passionately rooting against Alabama.
And what’s interesting is in this case, Notre Dame is such a polarizing team, where everybody, no matter when you grew up, you either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn’t stand Notre Dame. So there are a lot of people out there that I think are going to have to make a tough decision on who to pull for, and I really believe that, again, outside of the SEC, most people, even if they aren’t big Notre Dame fans in this case, because of the six straight national titles, I think they’re going to be pulling with all their hearts to see Notre Dame end that streak.
And as far as the interest, any time you put those two letters, ND, in a National Championship game, I think the level of interest obviously is going to go up, and I think the fact that it’s been since 1988 since the last time they won a National Championship, I think it definitely raises the bar of your hype and the buzz of this National Championship compared to any of the other games that I’ve had the good fortune to call.
Q. Have you heard any people on sort of the other end saying, well, I don’t like either team, so I’m not going to watch, or do you think people just say that but they’ll still watch it?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think anybody that takes the time to make a comment like that, clearly they’ll be watching the game. They’ll, in fact, watch the four hours of pregame that we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.
Without a doubt, people are going to ‑‑ if you’re a college football fan or even if you’re a fringe college football fan, you’re going to watch. An example for me is Tiger Woods and golf. I could care less about golf on a weekly basis. But if Tiger Woods accidentally stumbles into a Sunday, I’m that guy that tunes in and watches golf on Sunday.
And I think if you’re a fringe college football fan and you have Notre Dame and Alabama playing on a Monday night, no matter what you feel about either team, no matter if you despise both these teams, you’re going to be tuned in watching this game.
Q. How would you guys characterize the accessibility and the forthcomingness of Brian Kelly and Nick Saban in contrast with the coaches that you deal with on a regular basis?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I would say that ‑‑ you’re around this, as well, and you understand a lot of times you get the boiled‑down quotes, you kind of have to decipher what the coach really meant when he steps to the podium, especially in a big game like this. I find it very refreshing to be able to deal with coaches who kind of tell you what they think.
Why is that? I think it just fits with their personality. I’ve known Nick Saban a long time, and I think he’s always been a guy that is pretty candid and tells you what he thinks, whether you’re on the air talking to him or off the air.
Brian Kelly, I remember talking to him all the way back in ’03 when he was just getting the Central Michigan job, and he just had that kind of personality. I think it’s a confidence that they both have in not just themselves, but I think it’s a confidence that they have in their programs.
I think that when you run into coaches who are very guarded and very careful, I think if anything that’s just a lack of experience and being able to have that, as we say, just kind of comfortable in your own skin. I think both of these guys definitely are that.
Q. Brent, can you speak to specifically when both coaches have spoken with you and Kirk and the production crew?
BRENT MUSBURGER: They’re not at all alike. Brian Kelly is the son of an Irish politician, and no one works a room any better than Brian Kelly. He loves to see you, loves to have your company in the room, and then pretends that he’s telling you everything that’s going to happen, and he always keeps something in the saddlebags. A very, very savvy coach.
With Nick Saban, kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve, and let me give you a comparison of the last two championships. When he was getting ready to play Texas in the Rose Bowl for the BCS Championship a few years back, we went into the room to talk to him, and I don’t know, we might have had a half dozen other people. I always like to have the producer and the director, the spotter, the statistician, I always like to have a support crew, and I could tell immediately that Saban was uneasy with so many people coming into the room. He had a video frozen of the Texas secondary, very, very good secondary ‑ several of those fellows are still playing Sunday football ‑ and he was kind of sitting there in his chair and he was kind of bobbing back and forth and sort of uneasy about the interview. And I knew that he was uptight about the Texas Longhorns.
Last year we went to see him at practice in the Superdome, and you would have thought he was getting ready for a September football game. He already knew that he could move the ball effectively on LSU, and more than that, he felt he could shut down the offense, which he did.
So Nick was very forthcoming about exactly what he was going to do in that game, and then when practice started, he goes to the defensive end of the field. I don’t think he took one look at the offense. He has always been a defensive guru since the day he worked with Coach Belichick up in Cleveland and then came to college football.
Both are very open about practice. Both like to have announcers come to practice, unlike Les Miles, who kicked us out last year for 30 minutes, then let us back in, and we looked at each other in the second half, and we said, Miles locked us out for this? Both very open coaches, very easy to deal with. You can reach them whenever you want to.
Q. What is the most compelling aspect of this match‑up from your points of view, and as broadcasters, do you have any special anticipation for this game because it’s two of the most storied programs in college football history?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think an interesting aspect of the game is just the hype of dealing with the long layoff, the hype about Alabama trying to win three of the last four National Championships with Nick Saban, the fact that they’re going up against Notre Dame, one of the most storied programs in college football with a new coach who’s reaching out to other coaches who have had to deal with a 44‑day layoff, about how to peak your team at the right time, the fact that it’s uncharted waters for Notre Dame’s program to have to deal with this, and then when they take the field just to see how they both handle themselves.
We witnessed a game last night, if you don’t show up mentally and physically prepared and in the right frame of mind, you can get embarrassed. And just because that was a Sugar Bowl not in the National Championship limelight doesn’t mean that that couldn’t potentially happen at a National Championship. I’m sure both those coaches watched that game last night and they both panicked a little bit just to make sure, hey, am I doing the right thing, because you just don’t know until your team goes out and starts to play.
So I think the anticipation of the hype of this particular match‑up and how these teams play early, especially in the game, I think is going to be an interesting aspect of how the game eventually plays out.
BRENT MUSBURGER: Well, I think the story here is definitely Notre Dame. I like to keep the preseason football magazines around, and I love to go back, and I pick things up from all the various publishers. No one, no one was mentioning that Notre Dame might make a run for the championship. That just was unspoken. In fact, one of the magazines said that if Coach Kelly didn’t have a better year and win more than eight games, he might be on the hot seat.
I don’t think any of us are shocked that Alabama is back here. We wondered if they could replace all of those talented first round draft choices from the defensive side, but after watching them against Michigan in their opener, I think we all knew the Crimson Tide were ready to roll again.
But I think going into this game, the Fighting Irish are the ones that have everyone’s attention across the entire football universe. When we get done on Monday night we may be walking away and talking about one of the greatest dynasties in the history of college football, and that would be the Alabama Crimson Tide. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but coming into this game, the Irish have set the table for this one.
Q. For Brent and Kirk, when you think back to where this whole spectacle was when you first started covering these games and started broadcasting, what has impressed you most about where the production level has been taken? If you could kind of pinpoint a couple things you really think have been ‑‑ this year they were talking about the audio that has been upgraded. When you think back to where we were with production value when we started, where have we come to now, and what’s impressed you?
BRENT MUSBURGER: You know, the championship game, love it or hate it, and obviously there’s probably more people who hate it than love it, the BCS formula made the championship game bigger and bigger than ever. We used to have a bowl system whereby one might be playing in one bowl and then two in the other, and then we would all vote afterwards to declare who was the national champion. But what has happened with the advent of the BCS in my opinion is that the championship game has grown to get up there to rival some of the NFL playoff games, whereas the other bowls have sort of dropped off because they lack some of the importance of the National Championship game.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen in a couple years when they go to four because in my opinion we’re just going to hear more people let’s go to eight, let’s go to 16. We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out.
In terms of technically having covered Super Bowls in the old days and having been around it, this game certainly approaches that when it comes to the technical aspect. Our crews do a great job, all the cameramen who set up everything, I know they’re going to work on a little surround sound for us this year, but when you go back to the pictures we’ve had of these games, and when you think of the controversies that can arise because instant replay has become such a vital part of football, you cannot remember one play in a BCS Championship game where the definitive replay came up late or it was not there at all. That is not true of Super Bowls. I have worked Super Bowls where the definitive angle did not come up, and that was way back in the day when things might have been changed in a game out on the West Coast. I think it was between the Giants and Denver.
So I think that technically things have progressed greatly in the coverage of the BCS Championship.
Q. Brent, just curious as someone who kind of was around the Midwest in the ’60s and ’70s and a couple of Notre Dame‑Alabama games, the one with Bob Thomas, just the historical perspective of what it means for these two teams to meet again in the title game.
BRENT MUSBURGER: Well, you’ve been watching the Big Ten here the last few years, and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are certainly the best football team in the Midwest right now, and we could not have said that for the last decade or so. But certainly they have stepped out above, and hats off to coach Brian Kelly who’s been able to do this. I go back with the Fighting Irish to the days when Ara Parseghian left my alma mater, left Northwestern, and went to South Bend and I was covering as a newspaper man, and I covered some of those great Irish teams of Parseghian and of course Terry Brennan and Johnny Latter and George Connor, I worked NFL games with George, and all of those legendary Notre Dame players I was familiar with back in Chicago.
So I’ve always appreciated Notre Dame, and I understand why people love going to school down there, and there’s nothing ‑‑ in fact, what I miss, of all the things I miss is the fact we don’t do any home games of Notre Dame. We did four Irish football games this year, but they were in East Lansing, Norman, Boston and Los Angeles. I would dearly love to get back. In 1988, the last time they won the National Championship, I did two games there. I did the Michigan game at night to open it up, and then later in the year the classic with the Miami in which there was a fistfight in the tunnel before the game, and it just continued through.
I love the mystique of Notre Dame, and I certainly understand what’s going on with Alabama and the fact that this could become one of the great dynasties of college football. If Nick Saban wins this one, this run by the Crimson Tide during the BCS era coming out of the toughest conference in the country, you’re going to have to pay big tribute to Nick and what he’s accomplished at Tuscaloosa.
Q. Brent, we’ve seen Notre Dame kind of had these blips before, especially in the third year where guys had a decent run and then kind of fell off with Willingham and then Charlie Weis. How is this going to be different? What’s your sense as far as what Brian Kelly is building there, and will he be able to sustain it beyond this year?
BRENT MUSBURGER: Well, I think Coach Kelly understood immediately that he had to have a tougher defense at Notre Dame. He wasn’t going to be able to go toe to toe with the Oklahomas and the USCs and now the Alabamas without a defense. And he certainly has got that.
Now, he got a big, big break when Manti Te’o decided to stay in school as a senior, because as Herbie knows, there’s nothing like that senior leadership. But when you look at those kids, Lewis‑Moore, Nix, Tuitt, Shembo, Fox, Te’o and Spond, that’s one of the better front sevens in the country. And I would think that last night with Louisville upsetting Florida that if nothing else it got Alabama’s attention, that hey, wait a minute, we might not be the only conference in the country that can play some defense, and they’ll find out that that front seven Monday night is very talented.
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I also agree that not just the defense, but we were around those teams with Bob Davie when he had a team that got in early part of the BCS era when they got into a BCS bowl game, I think it was against Oregon State, and you remember what happened in the Sugar Bowl when they went up against LSU. This just feels different, not just because they’re undefeated and because they’re in the National Championship, but I’m never one to really pay attention to the recruiting hype of five‑star recruits or why they’re ranked No. 1 or No. 2. I always like to wait to see players in their first year or two, see how they kind of make that adjustment to the college game and see how they’re maturing and developing.
I just really sense that, as Brent said earlier, with Brian Kelly’s background, I mean, if there’s anybody that’s ever been typecast to be the Notre Dame coach, it’s Brian Kelly, and I think it’s legitimate, his energy and his passion for the school and the way he’s recruiting. If you look at what they’re trying to do for the future, I think they’re going to use this fifth year as kind of a springboard into the future, and I really believe as long as Brian Kelly is the head coach, with what he has going on right now, if they will hold onto to staff, I think they’ve got something very unique going, and I think this has staying power. I don’t think this is a, hey, let’s make a run one year and then go away. I think Notre Dame football has a real opportunity here to be around and compete at a very high level for a long time.
Q. Kirk, there’s been a lot of recent focus and research on head injuries at all levels of football. Is there anything more than you think college football could do for college football safety and making sure the game stays popular?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think what has happened in the NFL, a lot of that is filtering down to the college game, and I really think that they’re doing everything they can to try to protect these players. I think that ‑‑ I really believe that a big part of this is the speed of the game. I’ve been calling games with Brent on Saturdays since 2006, I have been on the sidelines and watched games, and to feel that speed, and it’s such a different game when you’re standing down there. Last night, for example, watching Florida and Louisville run into each other within an arm’s length of seeing the speed of the game, it continues to change.
And so I think what Roger Goodell is starting, and some of the rules that annoy some of the fans and some of the players that are playing the game, I think that it’s the right idea, trying to protect the players in those collisions. But I don’t think there’s anything at this point as far as technology that I can think of that can continue to add to what we’re already doing. I think the awareness has been a big key to this, and I think because of the awareness out there, I think this next generation of players is going to be much more tuned into their safety than probably players that are currently playing the game at a high level.
Q. Kirk, when you think of how big this championship game has become, obviously the production value and kind of the TV production has become so much greater, when you think back to when you started doing games, what impresses you most about how far we’ve come? What’s kind of the coolest thing that ESPN is doing right now from the production side of things?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think that you’re always looking to kind of tweak things and try to continue to see if the production makes sense, and at the same time not getting out of control. I think Derek does probably as good a job as there is in television of being able to ‑‑ I don’t know how many cameras there are in this game compared to what we do in a regular season game, but giving the fan at home a lot of different looks and a lot of looks at kind of the controversial plays. I think Bill and his experience of being around a lot of big games and having him kind of manning the ship in the truck, I think Brent and I are in really good hands as far as the truck is concerned. Bill mentioned that at the outset of the call.
We have a guy like Bob Salmi who puts together some production elements that we use during the regular season that you see on some of the biggest broadcasts like Monday Night Football on ESPN, and I think that adds a lot, at least from a selfish perspective, to the analytical side of things and what we’re trying to do to try to bring ‑‑ you’re always thinking of the viewer and how can you make it better for the viewer, and I think that technology definitely adds a lot.
Q. For Bill and Derek, first of all, how many trucks, cameras and how many staffers do you guys dedicate to this?
BILL BONNELL: You know, we’re not sure exactly how many ‑‑ we’ve got to sit down and figure out how many cameras. But as I said at the outset of this thing, the extra resources that we have are not a huge variance. We make these games about covering the boundaries and the goal lines and adding equipment to make sure that we don’t miss any of the crucial things that happen on the field.
There’s almost about 500 people between us, GameDay and our 3D telecast, probably around 500 people or so.
One of the things, it’s funny, one of the things to me anyway that is an amazing piece of equipment, especially on big games like this, is the ‑‑ we have this thing called the Spider Cam, and Derek Mobley, our director, debuted this thing two years ago, and the thing was so good that they took it and put it on Monday Night Football, but we got it back for the Rose Bowl and the National Championship game. And this is an incredible piece of equipment called the Spider Cam that actually flies over the field. It’s a German technology, and it’s faster and more stable than any other sky ‑‑ the other equipment that we have is called Sky Cam, than any other system that flies over the field, so that things actually ‑‑ Derek can actually speak a little bit more to that. But it’s just an amazing piece of technology that actually gives you a really unique view of the game.
Q. Could I hear a little bit more about that?
DEREK MOBLEY: Yeah, it’s like any of the four‑point aerial systems that are out there, the Cable Cam, the Sky Cam and the Spider Cam, they all sort of do the same thing, but the way they get about it is a little different. As Bill said, this one is faster, more stable. It really gives you a unique ‑‑ you’re able to do more things with that camera. So we really like it.
BILL BONNELL: We debuted the equipment a couple years ago on Saturday Night Football, and it’s just an amazing piece of equipment.
Q. Do you know how many different replay angles you’re going to have?
BILL BONNELL: A lot. I have a lot of monitors in front of me with different names on them. We call the Spider Cam Jet. That’s our jet replay. We call our machines different names. There are a lot of monitors in front of me, probably about 30 or so.
I’ve been a replay director on several games, and eventually I became a producer. I love replays, so to me, what’s funny about it, what people don’t realize, is even though there’s 30 monitors you’re looking at, you react to where the ball goes. So wherever the ball goes, you know that that is going to be covered on certain angles which draw you to certain machines.
I think it’s easier to do big games than it is to do smaller games because the smaller games might not have shots or angles that you need to tell the story as much as big games do. So to me, the bigger the game is, the easier it is to do, I think, personally.
Q. I’m curious, when does the first camera get turned on on game day, and when is the last camera turned off on game day?
BILL BONNELL: Well, I don’t know. Herbie will probably be there at 2:00 in the morning with his Game Day crew. It’s actually an 8:00 pm game. Normally, like last week, we were a little earlier.
DEREK MOBLEY: I think we start live around 6:00 am. We do SportsCenter hits even before that.
BILL BONNELL: One of the things about ESPN is we have so many different platforms ‑‑ there’s Game Day, there’s SportsCenter, news, we cover this event like a blanket, so there’s going to be cameras on all the time. I would say probably like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and the next morning on Tuesday, everyone will probably get a couple hours’ sleep and then get back at it in the morning with the winning interview of the coach.
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