In the song “Changes,” the refrain tells us, “That’s just the way it is, things will never be the same.” Not sure if Bruce Hornsby (his song was actually titled “The Way It Is”) or 2Pac said it best (I’m partial to 2Pac myself), but in the world of college athletics those words are true every year. As is the case in many jobs, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse (or, as a great philosopher once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last”) because every school is looking for new, innovative and better ways to do things.
Much of the success of the UW Athletic Department in recent years is due to this belief. Bo Ryan doesn’t just sit back, look at his rings and think, “Wow, we sure are pretty good. This is easy. We’ll just take a couple months off and come back in October and pick up where we left off.” He knows if he’s not hitting the recruiting trail, if his players aren’t trying to improve during the summer, there are 10 other teams in the Big Ten, looking to overthrow the champ, that are doing those things (I, on the other hand, look at my rings all the time and think, “Wow, we’re really good.”).
That thought process just doesn’t drive the wonderful coaches we have, but it trickles down to the support staff. With that in mind, our office, athletic communications, has undergone some changes this summer. You’ve probably noticed some of them already. Personally, after seven amazing years working with Coach Ryan and the men’s basketball team, I will be moving over to football to handle the day-to-day communications effort for that squad. I will also be working with the men’s and women’s golf teams.
Patrick Herb, who you have probably read on this site (and if you haven’t, you definitely should), will be taking my place with men’s basketball while also handling the men’s and women’s cross country teams. If you don’t know, Patrick is a UW graduate and former student employee in our office who worked in the Kansas City Chiefs PR office for the last seven years. Patrick will be taking over the men’s basketball blog as well, which is kind of like handing the keys of my car to my younger brother.
I like to think we were pretty progressive with the men’s basketball blog (I’m starting to sound like Will Leitch by referring to myself as “we”). It was the first blog on uwbadgers.com that we (the office, not me) really got behind and it was a testing board for a lot of the things we are doing now and want to do in the future. In the process, it cultivated a pretty loyal group of readers, from fans to parents to national media members.
If I was going to hand the reigns to someone, I couldn’t have picked a better person that Patrick. The reason he feels like a younger brother is because his two years as a student worker coincided with my two years as an intern at UW. He definitely helped me get acclimated to the Madison campus and surroundings while I like to think I helped him learn the SID business. He is unbelievably creative, extremely witty and very passionate about Badger athletics, which will make for a great combination. So, what I’m saying, is that there may finally be some competition for uwbadgers.com Blogger of the Year (just kidding).
I have great memories (and really cool rings) from my seven years with the men’s basketball team. The program really has a family atmosphere that is fostered by Coach Ryan. The players all get along really well and are very easy to like and get to know. The travel party is relatively small (about 30 on a given trip) and there are a number of road trips so it feels like you’re all living together during the season. I’ll definitely miss my roommate, Otto Puls, the butt of many men’s Insider blog jokes. Henry Perez-Guerra and Scott Hettenbach, the trainer and strength and conditioning coach, were also constant companions on road trips.
The assistant coaches have always been a tremendous help. Greg has been here from the start and helped me learn how Coach Ryan did things. Howard has a tremendous personality and a love for the Badgers that is almost unmatched. With his understated, dry sense of humor, Gary always keeps you on your toes (plus he’s a Springsteen guy). Joe Robinson does an amazing job as the director of operations and has an uncanny knack of anticipating situations that helped keep everyone on the same page. Matt Ryan definitely keeps everyone loose, players and staff alike. And, finally, two of the more unsung “heroes” of the basketball staff are Peg Cullen and Laura Strang, the administrative assistants. Through the years they helped in a myriad of ways (and now they’ll be bothering Patrick).
The nice thing is that while I’m stepping away from men’s basketball, I’m not leaving. I’ll definitely still see the coaches and players and be very involved at home games (especially when a certain ESPN sideline reporter is in town). I may even try to weasel my way onto some road trips or a tournament run.
While it was hard to make the switch over to football, I am extremely excited about the opportunities. As I said earlier (and if you’re still reading this, you’ve probably forgotten by now), the changes we’ve made in our department will enable us to concentrate on bringing the fans more cool stuff, mostly on the web. We are in the process right now of putting together a comprehensive plan for coverage of fall camp, when it starts on Aug. 4. I hope we are able to bring you inside the football team like we did with men’s basketball to showcase the personalities of the student-athletes.
The same thing I said about the men’s basketball players holds true for the football guys. They are easy to work with, have great personalities and have some tremendous stories to share. With more than 100 players, we’ll try to get to as many as possible. One difference I see between the two sports is that during a basketball game, the players only have on tank tops and shorts and the fans are closer to the action, so you get to see more of their personalities and almost create a connection with that person. In football, with the pads and especially the helmets, along with the less intimate feeling of a football stadium compared to a basketball arena, it’s easier to connect with the player, rather than the person (if that makes sense).
So my goal is to take you “Under the Helmet” or “On the Sidelines” or “Inside the Lockerroom” or whatever super-creative, catchy phrase we come up with so the fans can get to know our players and coaches, on and off the field. It’s great to know that Jonathan Casillas was our leading tackler last year. But I also want you to know that he was a product of the “Play it Smart” program in high school, a National Football Foundation initiative “designed to transform student-athletes’ passion for sport and intense dedication to their team into a force for greater good in their lives.”
Seeing as how I’m challenging my own uwbadgers.com record for number of words in a rambling blog post, I’ll end with this: if there is anything you want to see on the site, learn about the student-athletes or coaches, or any cool things you’ve seen elsewhere, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). I said it about 1,200 words ago, if you’re not constantly trying new things, you’re falling behind. So help us stay ahead of the game with any suggestions.