In Focus: Sports Information Department
This story commissioned by Capital One Bank:
LSU Head Coach Les Miles has become a pseudo-star outside of the gridiron through his appearances on numerous ESPN commercials and hilarious sound bites that illustrate his personal side.
As LSU football has developed into the one of the nation's most storied programs, the media's fascination for Coach Miles and his team has simultaneously increased. Coupled with the SEC's TV draw, almost all of the Tigers' games are covered by the national media.
The coordination between the athletic department and the media is controlled by LSU's Sports Information Department.
Associate Athletics Director and Head Sports Information Director Michael Bonnette primarily handles the football program's media relations and Coach Miles' game day media requirements. The sideline reporters typically interview Coach Miles prior to the game, at halftime and postgame.
"Les is the face of LSU football," Bonnette said. "What we try to do is have all of those interviews arranged early in the week so that there are no surprises on game day. He understands the importance of it. It is something that is well planned out and not dropped on his lap. He knows about it ahead of time."
Bonnette emphasizes that creating and maintaining a routine for Coach Miles is paramount to in-game interviews running smoothly. At halftime, Bonnette catches the attention of the police officers who escort Coach Miles off of the field and bring him over to the sideline reporter.
"The good thing is that I have a good relationship with the national media," Bonnette said. "Les knows that at the halftime of every game, he is going to talk to TV and then radio, and then he is going into the locker room. I've been doing this job for a number of years. Coaches like routines. No surprises. Try and let him know ahead of time. If you can do that, typically you can pull things off."
The chaos surrounding the game can create scenarios where halftime interviews become challenging. A change of momentum or a last second score can switch the focus of the interview from one sideline to the other.
"You have to give Les a lot of credit. Depending on how the game is going, you have to collect your thoughts in a quick fashion," Bonnette said. "Really, there is no time to prepare. You speak in general terms, but you're also talking to millions of people right after a crucial play or something that happened in the first half."
Behind the scenes, Bonnette is complemented by Associate Sports Information Directors Bill Martin and Jake Terry and a student staff. Senior Associate Sports Information Director Kent Lowe handles the game day credentials.
Lowe is responsible for sifting through the TV, newspaper reporters, radio and photographer requests throughout the week, and uses Sports Systems to help manage the process. In addition, Lowe attempts to solve any problems inside the press box.
"Sports Systems has a system that is set up for our games where people can request an entire season, an individual game, parking or a press box seat," Lowe said. "It gives you reports of what people have requested for that game. I will take those, and I have to make the approvals or denials with assistance from Michael. We will distribute our parking based on the allotment that we have for media, and then we will do the passes. The media picks up the passes on game day."
Prior to the game, the staff is responsible for setting up the press box, stat computers and the opposing postgame interview room. During halftime, the staff sets up the LSU press conference in the team meeting room.
As soon as the game ends, the sports information staff goes out to the field to make sure the student-athletes refrain from postgame interviews.
"The last thing that we want is to have an emotional loss or something controversial happens, and a player gets a microphone stuck in their face and they say something without thinking," Bonnette said. "We like to give them a chance to go to the locker room, have the coach speak to them and give them the message that we want to relay to our fans and to the media."
Following each contest, Coach Miles addresses his team, takes a 10-minute break and then speaks with the media. During that break, Bonnette will go over stats, highlights and possible questions with Coach Miles before he takes the podium for his press conference.
"Like we always try to do in a press conference, we try to get him to say as much as he can up front," Bonnette said. "We want him to answer some of those tough questions with his opening statement so that you don't have to answer those questions or maybe you answer them before they get asked."
Bonnette credits Coach Miles for allowing the media, and in turn the fans, an opportunity to see his human side.
"If you go back and look at his press conferences from when he first got here, he has really improved by leaps and bounds," Bonnette said. "He controls the room. He is not afraid to laugh and have fun. After all, it is a game. He understands that if you play hard and do the right things, then you should be able to enjoy victory. That comes off in his postgame press conferences."