PULLMAN – The film room in the Washington State football offices has all the trappings of a command center. With a conference table dominating most of the room, the little available space is stacked high with boxes of water bottles, sodas and energy bars.
Everything is in the shadow of a projector screen that consumes one wall of the intimate space, the only wall not covered in notes, depth charts, lists and reminders, all written in a language foreign to outsiders.
It would be the perfect place from which to conduct a siege resistance. Or a film session.
The life of a football coach can be measured in an endless cycle of tape. Game tape, practice tape, opponent’s tape, they all record the minutiae – lost upon the casual observer – that hold the key to a successful snap, game or season.
“You get tired of it, but the first thing after practice we come in to see how it unfolded,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Usually there is plenty of good, but there are a lot of things you have to address. It’s such a significant part of it that it’s pretty difficult to coach if you’re not into watching film. That’s just part of the deal.”
Prior to spring practice, Leach and his staff watched film of the previous season. The film has been edited as finely as possible so the staff can find exactly what it’s looking for.
The 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA are ultimately simply a chance to create more film, film that reveals who is improving and who is coasting, whose technique is getting better and who is merely trying to cheat the drill.
It is a dizzying process that the entire offensive or defensive staff partakes in together, full of constant rewinds and fast forwards to see whose hands are up like they should be and which offensive linemen are not staying square in front of the quarterback.
It is meticulous. “Yeah, he got yards but …” is a common refrain, particularly if a receiver does not turn in the direction dictated by the pass after a catch.
Practice runs until 5 p.m. or a little after. On a good day, the coaches won’t put it to bed until 9:30; most days it is closer to midnight. Then they’ll spend another two hours or more the next day going over the film with the players in meetings.
Not that all that film-watching is without breaks, of course.
“If a recruit calls, something like that we stop the film, talk to the recruit and what’s good about that is we’re watching film about the time they’re getting home from school,” Leach said. “And then the other thing is instead of just one guy we’ve got everybody here to talk to him.”
During today’s spring game the Cougars will play in front of a crowd for the first time since last season. The coaches have tried to make the Crimson and Gray rosters as evenly talented as possible.
The event, televised on the Pac-12 Networks, will have four 15-minute quarters, just like a game. The final two periods will have a running clock to ensure there is enough time afterward for autographs.
“I would say the spring game is more about the fans and just giving back to them,” linebacker Darryl Monroe said. “It’s more just a fun game because no team across the nation ever really shows what they’ve got in the playbook or anything, so it’s all about the fans and entertaining them.”
But it is also one more chance for the athletes to improve and compete for playing time next season. And one more chance for the coaches to capture it on film.
Because in the midst of a quiet recruiting period, and with no more practices after Tuesday, the coaches will be back in their bunker, with the lights off and the projector rolling.