July 30, 2009
By Rob Wilson, Seminoles.com
The ACC’s Annual Football Kickoff always serves to show jaded and skeptical national media just why the conference really is different than many others. One must realize that a reporter covering college football on a national scale or one working for a major newspaper generally slogs through a nearly endless string of these media opportunities where coaches and players are herded into one spot to talk about their teams and the upcoming season. He or she might go from the SEC cattle call in Birmingham to the ACC round table (this year in Greensboro) then to Chicago to hear the drone of the Big 10 schools, and then it’s on to. Well, you get the picture.
The stale nature of these events is one reason that Steve Spurrier’s admission of an omission on his all-conference ballot rose to the level of a national security issue. Reporters get so starved for news at most of these things that they latch on to anything different. Whether or not Nick Saban had a dinner roll or Rich Rodriquez tipped the bellman can end up being the source of a blog. But here is where the ACC stands apart. The league takes great care to foster true relationships between its member schools, the conference office, bowl partners, TV executives and just about everyone else. I don’t mean they pay lip service to it, the ACC office makes a conscious effort to make sure that coaches and administrators for each of the league schools are together as often as possible and in situations where relationships and even friendships can and do emerge. I have been told by many reporters that most of the preseason events at other conferences seem most focused on making sure that the players and coaches from school A don’t have to see the players and coaches from team B. The ACC makes sure that coach A and B not only meet, but might actually have to spend some time together.
The ACC’s determination to make sure the league keeps its members engaged pays off as well. Right here on Seminoles.com you can see video of Dekoda Watson interviewing and horsing around with Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. The same guy he will be trying to horse-collar – wait that’s illegal now – in just a few weeks. Coaches who will be trying to talk over each other to every recruit in the country over the next four months are forced (in some cases) to spend some time with a sweet tea or something stronger in their hand and talk to the other coaches. The ACC is famous for positioning coaches with prickly relationships in the same foursome or at the same dinner table to either help cool the temperature or force a clearing of the air.
ACC Football Kickoff has also produced its share of very entertaining moments. I remember when we took then sophomore Chris Weinke with us to the annual gathering, which was held at Lake Lanier just north of Atlanta. As we strode – well he strode, I shuffled – through the lobby new Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden was chatting away on a cell phone. His jaw dropped when he saw Weinke walking past and said “Rob, please tell me that’s your defensive end!”
The next year we took an outstanding offensive player who will remain nameless. Over the course of the day he became fast friends with the player that school X (I’m protecting here) brought. Apparently, the two found the nightlife at the remote resort somewhat lacking since ACC interns could not seem to find either one of them for breakfast the next morning. The powers that be shifted from concerned to panic when neither superstar had been seen and a room full of media was expecting them in 10 short minutes. An ACC intern just happened to be checking something in front of the hotel when a sports car roared to screeching halt, two guys jumped out, waved goodbye to other new friends – apparently – and looking somewhat tired raced into the hotel with a “what’s the big deal” look. It would have helped had the FSU player not been wearing the School X shirt and vice versa. Ah well.
The old timers tell of ACC coaches who would talk late into the night and deep into the bourbon with reporters. While those days have all but gone, it is nice to know that the ACC is determined to keep the league something different. And it shows.
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