The goal for HBO filmmakers this week at Tempe, Ariz. — and next week here at Pullman — will be to capture reality, not alter it.
If you ask Arizona State coach Herm Edwards, they might alter it nonetheless. But he’s rolling out the red carpet anyway.
The network’s new documentary series, “24/7 College Football,” is getting up close and personal with Edwards’ Sun Devils as they prepare for a Pac-12 game against Washington State at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Tempe (Pac-12 Network). As it happens, the HBO crew then is scheduled to travel to Pullman to film the Cougars readying for a home game Oct. 19 against Colorado.
Edwards is familiar with the routine, having coached for NFL teams featured on “Hard Knocks,” the behind-the-scenes HBO program upon which “24/7 College Football” is modeled.
Talking to reporters in Tempe last week, Edwards suggested TV cameras seemingly can cause some players to assume new identities. Normally reticent athletes can turn into hams.
“Players that don’t talk — all of a sudden they start talking, because it’s television,” he said. “They want to see themselves on television. I’ve been with pro players that hadn’t talked in three years. Those guys (the camera operators) show up and all of a sudden they had dances and they’re telling jokes.”
Edwards makes it clear he appreciates the spotlight these programs shine on individuals, teams and the sport in general.
“If you do it right, it takes the fan behind the curtain — (to see) how hard it is to be a football player, all the work,” he said. “All the work the coaches put in, the hours they spend. Sometimes, (fans) lose sight of all that. They see the product on Saturday or Sunday, whenever they watch a football game. Taking people behind the scenes is important because you’re talking about the game, you get to promote the game.”
At the same time, any film crew that can influence player behavior to the degree he saw in the NFL is capable of breaking a team’s focus on the game. That’s probably more true at the college level, where players are juggling other responsibilities and there’s no precedent of a major network (as opposed to, say, a conference network) producing such a series.
“For our staff too — these guys have never been through that,” Edwards said. “It’s never happened here. To be honest, it’s happened hardly anywhere in college football. This is new.”
The first hour-long episode aired last week, featuring the Florida Gators as they moved toward a 38-0 win against Towson. With essayistic narration by “Hard Knocks” narrator Liev Schreiber, it chronicles meetings, practices and private gatherings, even recording coach Dan Mullen’s cellphone conversation with his wife.
“Don’t say anything too risque,” he suggests to her, before adding it’s HBO, so maybe a little risque is OK.
Edwards’ apprehensions notwithstanding, a Florida official said the episode featuring the Gators turned out highly realistic.
“It was somewhat seamless, because I didn’t get a sense that anyone acted any differently with them around,” Steve McClain, associate athletic director for communications, said by phone Wednesday.
“Also, in today’s environment, the 18- to 21-year-old student-athlete has a little different perspective on exposure than maybe some athlete would have had 10 years ago. I think today’s generation is a little more used to having cameras around, of having everything kind of being out there, through social media or your in-house production team, or whether it be an occasional visit from ESPN or the SEC Network.”
The HBO crew spent last week at Penn State, which defeated Purdue 35-7 on Saturday and whose episode was scheduled to air Wednesday. The Washington State program will cap the four-part series and will be seen Oct. 23.
The ASU episode, to be aired next week, likely will focus on Edwards, the quirkily articulate 65-year-old coach who ended a nine-year run as an ESPN analyst to take charge of the Sun Devils last season. After going 7-6 in 2018, the Sun Devils are off to a 4-1 start this season and ranked 18th in the country.
Filmmakers probably will have some fun with “Mandrake,” the fierce mystical creature whom Edwards conjured up years ago as a motivational tool. These days, the creature is depicted on a T-shirt that serves as the Sun Devils’ Player of the Week award. Since the Devils’ most recent game, a satisfying 24-17 win Sept. 27 at California, the T-shirt has belonged to touted running back Eno Benjamin, who scored three touchdowns that day.
In at least one case, then, maybe Edwards will be right about players taking on new identities. Eno Benjamin will be Mandrake.
Dale on staff
The Cougars named former nickelback Hunter Dale as a graduate assistant who’ll work in defensive quality control. He was a senior on last year’s 11-2 team.
Dale Grummert may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2290.