Fedora Goes Through The ESPN Car Wash
BRISTOL, Conn. --- It's Monday, July 29, and Carolina head football coach Larry Fedora is headed to Bristol, Connecticut, for a day at ESPN. They call it the 'car wash,' as Fedora will be ushered from one platform to the next ahead of college football season. In a matter of hours, Fedora will be featured on live television, Internet video, blogs and radio. Rinse, soap, scrub and rinse again.
Accompanying Fedora to Bristol are athletic director Bubba Cunningham, Bobby Hundley, assistant director of athletic communications, and one GoHeels.com columnist. The Worldwide Leader In Sports sneaks up on us. Bristol is not a terribly large city, but it's there that the ESPN empire resides. We've just passed Hidden Valley Miniature Golf, where you can golf from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for $5, when our driver says, "From here, it's all ESPN." And so it is.
We pass a satellite dish farm and some very large buildings before our driver turns right, past a small red sign that reads 'ESPN.' No sign of Jimmie Johnson in the parking lot. The security guard attempts to give us directions, but our driver knows where he's going.
We are dropped off at Building 4. The lobby looks like any other office building, except for the four televisions (each tuned to an ESPN network) and the tribute to Lou Gehrig on the far wall. Already gathered here are three other coaches and several ACC staff members. Virginia's Mike London has brought his son. We're told that Dave Doeren and David Cutcliffe have been delayed. A pair of interns, Dan Molloy and Madison Way (a rising UNC senior) are our hosts for the day. They hand us our visitor's badges, and after a welcome from senior talent producer Lisa Stokes, we're on our way.
Downstairs, we pass rows and rows of cubicles before we're shuffled in to what amounts to a large closet. Except it's not a closet. It's a digital media studio. Fedora is greeted by Cassidy Hubbarth, who hosts interviews for the ESPN College Football mobile app. We're told that the app has more than five million subscribers and this interview will be pushed to Tar Heel fans. Cunningham is told that some 100,000 Tar Heel fans subscribe to the service. At a desk in front of a green screen, Hubbarth sits with Fedora for an interview that lasts about three minutes. Later, an appropriate studio background will be added digitally.
From there, it's across the hall for an interview with college football bloggers Heather Dinich and Gene Wojciechowski. Dinich sets at a desk and types on a laptop. Wojciechowski prefers a legal pad, taking notes and nodding as he listens, as if he were a general practitioner.
Dinich brings up Carolina's losses on the offensive line, and Fedora compares left tackle James Hurst to Russell Okung, a Pro Bowl Seattle Seahawks tackle whom he coached at Oklahoma State.
Dinich asks Fedora to name a player with a great story, and that gives Fedora an opportunity to talk about A.J. Blue, the 'old man' of the team. Blue has overcome obstacles at every step along his path, from the murder of his brother to a year at Hargrave Military Academy, from a position change to a devastating knee injury. Now, Blue is penciled in as the starter of running back ("But it's all about production, and A.J. knows that," Fedora says). The head coach says that linebacker Kevin Reddick was the soul of the 2012 Tar Heels, and A.J. Blue, once Reddick's roommate at Hargrave, fills that role in 2013.
After the interview wraps up, we walk across the campus toward a building with a large ticker counting down to the beginning of the next X-Games. In front of the building, a landscaper is painting lines on a stretch of lawn for a miniature football field. We're shuffled into the building, past the ESPN Starbucks counter and to a dining area. There's Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson sitting down and enjoying a soft drink. Past him, Pitt's Paul Chryst is participating in an online chat. Fedora sits down with college football insider Travis Haney for an interview.
Next, it's downstairs to a SportsCenter set for an interview with Sam Ponder. As Fedora is fitted for a microphone, he and Ponder make small talk over her diamond ring (she married Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in December) and Vikings training camp. Filming begins, and the studio is eerily quiet. Fedora gets the questions about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and replacing Giovani Bernard and on the improvements of Bryn Renner. Ponder has solicited questions on Twitter, and she asks Fedora about his brand of hair gel. "You know what? It's my own personal blend. How about that?" he responds.
On the way out of the studio, Fedora smiles and shakes his head. "That's my one question?" he says, laughing. "About my hair gel?"
Now it's back upstairs for an ESPN.com chat. Fedora sits down with the ESPN.com 'Buzzmaster' and fields questions for about 15 minutes.
Then, it's a quick lunch of wraps and salad followed by chats with college football writers Brett McMurphy and Joe Schad. Fedora takes a moment to greet Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who himself is going through the car wash.
At 1:15, we walk through a set of double doors and past a wall celebrating World Cup champions toward the ESPN radio studios. Downstairs we go again, past the offices of Mike Golic, Mike Greenberg and Colin Cowherd. On our right, Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg wave as they sit down to record a college basketball podcast. We hang a right and are escorted into the cramped control room of SVP & Russillo.
Scott Van Pelt is on the air live, and during a commercial break, Fedora enters the studio. A Tar Heel helmet is strategically placed between Van Pelt and Fedora. Coming back from commercial, a producer rushes in to move a microphone in front of Fedora. What follows is an intelligent discussion on new uniforms, Tar Heels in the NFL Draft, and remaking Carolina football in year two under Fedora. The head coach says Jonathan Cooper will be missed at left guard. "When he goes to pull out there on a screen or pull downfield, he wasn't like a pig on ice, I mean, he's out there rolling guys up," he says of Cooper.
Our last stop is the College Football Live studio, where Fedora and N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren sit down with Joe Tessitore. "I came all the way here to talk to Dave?" Fedora jokes.
Despite the name of the show, the interview is taped for later airing. The set looks small in the cavernous room. Turn around, and you're looking at the Baseball Tonight set. On a small table under the Baseball Tonight desk are the shot sheets from Sunday's baseball highlights. Tessitore does a nice job discussing the N.C. State and Carolina program with two coaches that have one year of ACC experience between them.
Back at Building 4, we wait for our driver's return. Michael Smith bursts out of one door and into the parking lot. He returns a moment later with a sport coat. In seven minutes, he'll be on air hosting Numbers Never Lie.
The flight back to RDU is a little over an hour and a half. Upon arrival, Fedora has less than two hours before the Ladies Football Clinic at Kenan Stadium. It's an exhausting day, but the head coach rolls on, as good as new. After all, he's just been through the car wash.