The football team travels to Sin City this week where they are sure to be met by a huge contingent of Cougar fans - because Cougar Nation is just that awesome. While all of you Vegas-bound, lucky you-know-whats can treat this as the wallet-draining vacation it is, make no mistake, it's all work for the members of the football program.
One of the main reasons the wonderful authors of this site asked me to come on board is because of my insight into the often-unnoticed inner-workings of the athletic department. In that vein, today's mission is to elucidate the chaotic excursions we call road trips.
Let me make one thing clear: Football road trips are a different monster than the basketball road trips of which I've been a part. However, I'm confident the basic fundamentals of the trips are similar enough that what I have to say rings true. So, without further ado...
What the general public often fails to realize about these trips is that the preparation begins months in advance. If you want to ensure the team a non-miserable traveling experience, it all comes down to having a good Ops guy. With the basketball team, these duties fell to Tim Marrion the past three seasons. (As a side note, I want to publicly congratulate Tim on earning the San Jose State assistant coaching position. He's going to be a phenomenal coach.) Now, back on track: Tim was responsible for planning and executing trips from the day the schedule was finalized until the team returned to Pullman. That's no easy task. From preparing flight and hotel arrangements for 25+ people to making restaurant reservations to finding gyms for practices, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle-and a lot of puzzles throughout the season.
As the trips get closer, there is an even greater amount of work that goes into them. From my standpoint as head manager, the nights leading up to road trips meant no social life, very little sleep and making schoolwork secondary. The night before every trip, the equipment manager's job is to pack up everything the team could possibly need throughout the entire hiatus from Pullman. For me that meant packing up a gear bag with extra spandex, socks, clipboards, play cards, jerseys, laundry detergent and a whole lot more. For the football team, their managers (of which four or five generally travel each week) are also in charge of packing up all the pads, helmets, shoes, headsets, and everything else that goes in that sweet new equipment truck.
In addition to packing extra equipment, the night before a trip also entails packing the players' carry-on bags consisting of their game jerseys, shooting shirts, practice gear, travel suits and occasionally other miscellaneous items, as to ensure nobody leaves the trip essentials behind. While I choose to believe our student-athletes are more than capable of packing their own gear, it is too much of a risk to leave it up to chance.
Almost all of the teams in the athletic department leave Pullman the day before the competition. While I believe the football team charters most of their trips, given how large their travel party is, the other teams tend to fly commercially. This means the buses typically leave Pullman fairly early in the morning en route to the Spokane airport. You know those horror stories every team complains about when it comes to traveling to Pullman? Yeah, well our teams get to experience them on every trip.
Once the team finally arrives at their destination, the rest of the day usually is fairly standard: check into the hotel, drop off the bags, leave for practice and then return to the hotel for dinner and study hall (often including proctored tests) before curfew. The astute reader will notice the inconspicuous absence of partying. Nothing. Under a good coaching staff (and WSU basketball does have a good coaching staff), it doesn't happen, so stop thinking it! While I'm aware it occasionally does happen with some collegiate teams, it's simply not the common occurrence people too often make it out to be.
As the players are confined to the hotel on these nights, most members of the staff (coaching and support) have other responsibilities. Road trips provide a great opportunity for some of the coaches to get out recruiting while the others watch more film and further prepare for the game. For our sports information director, Jessica Schmick, game-day-eves mean preparing all of the media information for the games. And for me (and now my apprentice and close friend, Devin Jones), well, those nights meant a lot of late night laundry runs. Fortunately, my naïveté often shielded me from fear and the realization I was walking down the dark alleys of such places as New York, Los Angeles and Oakland with giant gear bags on my back.
When game days arrived, game faces were the result. Wake up calls (led by yours truly and video coordinator Mike Simonson) rang 15 minutes prior to breakfast, followed by shooting and a walk-through of the scouting report at the arena. Four hours before each game, we returned to the hotel for a lovely catered meal featuring chicken strips and mashed potatoes (which somehow became my favorite meal). Players then began filing into our hotel room, where they got taped up by our top-notch athletic trainer Nick Gallotto-seriously, this guy is as good as they get. He's the incredibly stylish one that sat next to me on the end of the bench and always made me look bad. The bus would then leave the hotel in time for us to arrive at the arena an hour and a half before game time. Postgame processes are a story all to themselves, but for the sake of trying not to bore you anymore, I'll end the timeline there.
Now that the logistics of the trip are (superfluously) understood, let me stress something: Road trips were my single favorite part of working for the team. I know it may not seem that way given their business-like nature, but the camaraderie you build with others on the trip is one you cannot replicate in any way in Pullman, as great of a place as it is. Many of my greatest friendships in college were formed or enhanced while sitting in airports or at pre-game meals. Road trips were the most chaotic and stressful work-related experiences of my life, but I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
For all of you who are going to Vegas this weekend, go have a vacation you'll never forget (most likely by having a vacation you'll never remember). Just understand: There's an awful lot of hard work that goes into these trips from the team's perspective. So the next time you find yourself wanting to make assumptions about why a team didn't live up to its potential on the road, you can be sure it's not because of a lack of focus or responsibility.