PULLMAN – Word can travel at light speed in a locker room full of 18- to 22-year-old football players and by the time the Cougars opened their 10th fall practice Tuesday afternoon, news that HBO was contemplating a trip to Pullman to film a college version of the popular “Hard Knocks” documentary series had reached just about every player – or every iPhone – on Washington State’s 114-man roster.
Indeed, WSU and its notoriously polarizing coach, Mike Leach, might be the subjects of a new HBO program modeled around the network’s popular “Hard Knocks” series, which has traveled through the NFL for 14 seasons and now could be experimenting with the college game.
“We’re talking to them, but we haven’t nailed anything down yet,” Leach said Tuesday after practice at Martin Stadium. “So we’ll see what happens.”
DevilsDigest.com reported Tuesday morning that HBO had chosen four college football programs to be highlighted in a show that will air later this football season. Two of the sport’s blue blood programs, Alabama and Penn State, have been targeted by HBO, along with a pair of Pac-12 schools, WSU and Arizona State, that have climbed onto the national radar in part by hiring two of the country’s most eccentric coaches.
The show is expected to include many of the same elements as “Hard Knocks” – the unfiltered, uncut reality show that follows one NFL team through training camp every season, offering behind-the-scenes footage and exclusive interviews. “Hard Knocks,” which has teamed with NFL Films, is centered around Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown and the Oakland Raiders this summer.
According to a Spokesman-Review source, HBO has already held preliminary discussions about bringing a repurposed, shortened version of the “Hard Knocks” show to WSU, though talks are ongoing and no contracts have been signed. The source did indicate there’s a strong chance the show would be headed to WSU at some point during the regular season.
Leach wouldn’t be opposed, recognizing the national publicity such a production could bring to his program. He also sees it as a double-edged sword.
“We want to share what we do with anybody and everybody, and we’re excited about opportunities like that,” Leach said. “The most important thing is the team and our preparation, and so we have to closely guard, or get full focus on that. That’s the most important thing and we can’t let anything get in the way of that.”
The current “Hard Knocks” series takes its viewers inside the professional lives of NFL players, and offers the occasional glimpse of their personal lives.
Asked if there’d be any aspect of his program he wouldn’t want a cameraperson to film, Leach said, “I don’t really have a specific,” before clarifying, “anything that distracts the team.”
The coach added: “If you really do something like that, they’re invisible, otherwise people get the Lance Ito syndrome and they start playing to the cameras. So they need to play one play at a time.”
Per DevilsDigest.com, HBO plans to visit ASU the week the Sun Devils host the Cougars in Tempe, on Oct. 12. The network’s decision to feature that game could be another hint of its plans to highlight WSU and Leach, who are coming off a historic 11-win season and landed at No. 21 in the preseason coaches’ poll.
Most WSU players have their own NFL aspirations and are plenty familiar with the popular “Hard Knocks” series – if not avid viewers.
“I watch Hard Knocks myself,” redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Gordon said, “so that’d be pretty cool.”
Gordon agreed it would bring a new level of exposure to a program that doesn’t get much of it, in relation to its peers in the Pac-12.
“At times we don’t get enough exposure, but we don’t mind it,” Gordon said. “We like being in the shadows, so us getting some big-time show like that, that’d be a little un-Coug like. So I don’t know, we’ll see what happens.”
WSU special teams coach Matt Brock also weighed in, citing both positive and negative ramifications.
“I think it helps our exposure from a recruiting standpoint and then the other part of it is, letting them in your doors,” he said. “There’s some things you want to keep in house, so there’s a give and take to all of it.”