The lobby of the Reunion Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas has undergone a significant renovation and the faces of the participants have changed, but the excitement of football in Texas never changes. It was never more evident than at the annual Big 12 Conference Football Media Day on Friday morning.
For head coach Mack Brown, senior linebacker D.D. Lewis and junior quarterback Chris Simms, it was a morning and charge of interviews with more than 350 members of the print and electronic media. Dressed in their burnt orange polo shirts, the three answered the same questions no fewer than say, 50 to 100 times.
Patiently, the three waltzed through a mass print media session and stopped at six stations with as many as 30 to 40 television cameras. Then there were the radio personalities.
Texas was the featured team, along with Texas Tech and Iowa State, in the morning session. Thursday had featured half of the schools, including Kansas State, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
It was the fourth go-round for Brown, whose arrival at the media event signals the official end of summer. For the few weeks prior to the media conference, Brown and his wife, Sally, escaped for the only time away from the office they'll get. When he was first a head coach, Brown didn't take a vacation and didn't give his assistants one either. Then a close adviser told him, "You'd better take one to recharge and better give your staff one. If you don't, you'll find folks taking one during the job. People need that time to renew."
So Brown, who will work non-stop from this morning's media day until the last week in June 2002, has found success in retreating, although to say he isn't calling staff about recruits and checking in daily on business matters would be wrong.
As an example of this week's schedule, Brown arrived in Dallas at 3 p.m., and immediately upon his arrival at the hotel, began going over notes with staff members. At 6 p.m., he went to a FOX Sports Net reception with conference attendees and followed that with an 8 p.m. dinner with the two players and his media relations staff. The time with the players was crucial, giving Brown a chance to catch up with what has been happening with his team in the three short weeks he had been away.
Friday began with breakfast at 8 a.m., and one hour later, the Longhorns contingent took center stage before more than 200 print media members at Union Station, adjacent to the Hyatt.
As Brown surveyed his notes that morning, it seemed a short three years since summer 1998, when he had gathered for the first time with the Big 12 media in late July. It was a litmus test of his profession that as he talked Friday morning, Brown has the second longest tenure of any coach in the Big 12 South, and with only three years under his belt at Texas, he has spent more time in the league than a majority of coaches currently working at Big 12 schools.
Media day also brought an end to summer for assistant coaches, even though they weren't in attendance. On Sunday, the staff will leave for the Texas High School Coaches Association annual meeting in Fort Worth. They'll spend three days visiting with nearly all of the 10,000 high school coaches who are expected to attend the conference.
On Tuesday, Brown will participate in another media conference - this one with the reporters covering the coaching school. While the Big 12 gathering reached primarily the major media markets in Texas and throughout the league, the coaching school group catches a lot of smaller Texas towns, where high school football on Friday nights is a religion and whose young, talented players often form a rich pool from which to recruit. One day later, the staff will be off for a retreat, where Brown and the coaches will go over the plans for the fall. When they return late Friday afternoon, it will be only three days before the freshmen report on Monday, Aug. 6.
For the coaches and the core staff - including trainers, managers, strength coaches, video specialists and the media relations staff - the start of practice means they have had their last "day off" until January. From now until then, a day will not pass without them doing something for Texas Longhorns football.
The media gathering Brown attended is the longest running event of its type in the country. In the days of the old Southwest Conference, the eight head coaches and sports information directors used to gather in Fort Worth in early August. At that time, only the print media came, since mobile video cameras for television was just a concept.
By the 1980s, the Southwest Conference, with the help of sponsorship from GTE for its Academic All-Conference team, held a huge luncheon at the Hyatt on Friday, with the interviews taking place around it. Media guides from the schools were featured, and the marketing divisions of the member schools brought posters and schedules to promote football.
The Big 12 chose not to do a public luncheon, and with 12 schools, the press conferences had to be spread over two days. However, it still serves the purpose - to put Big 12 football on the sports page of every major paper and on every television and radio station covering the two days. Media members accumulate lots of notes and tape, with some of them using the clips throughout the season.
At the end of the long day, Lewis stayed in the Metroplex with his wife and son, and Brown and Simms headed back to Austin. Simms then went through his final workout before taking a break next week to head home to New Jersey for a brief visit.
Before Brown could head home, he had one final meeting with a reporter from New York, who had flown to Austin to do a piece on the team. His day ended at the office, signing cards and notes and checking out plans for the coaches' manual which will be used at the retreat.
It was all in a long day's work. He sat in Dallas in the same seats occupied by Darrell Royal, Fred Akers, David McWilliams and John Mackovic. Those former coaches, like Brown, attended a media day long past.
All the Big 12 coaches and their players ended their work by Friday afternoon and headed to their respective homes to begin, just as Brown and his players will, the 2001 season. There were high hopes, and an amazing feeling of confidence. By the time the interviews were over, it would be easy to assume every team had a chance to win every game.
That is the beauty of July. Dave Campbell's bible fuels the fire, and the combination of the media day and high school coaching school stokes it into a pretty good grass fire. In five weeks, it will be a blazing inferno when the Longhorns host New Mexico State at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
That's the excitement you sense from Brown and his players, and that's the excitement of Texas football as the end of summer is signaled. Now comes the chance to get to work and see what fruits August bring.
As Brown and Simms walked off the plane into the Texas heat, with some rare rain clouds gathering, it was interesting to realize the date was July 27. The start of the season is only five weeks and a day away.