Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Red & Purple Interview: Linfield's SID Kelly Bird

Welcome to the third installment of the Red & Purple Interview. Being a Sports Information Director can be a rough occupation but Linfield has been blessed over the past 18 years to have one of the best in the business in Kelly Bird. Kelly was gracious enough during his busy spring season to chat about life as an SID and how his position has changed over the years. Next time you run into Kelly at a Linfield game be sure to thank the man for his years of dedication to the 'Cats.

(Wildcat11) Thank you very much Kelly for joining us here at the ADvantage Catdome. An SID's job is never done so we'll disperse with the small talk and start to fire the questions at you.

How has the job changed for you over the years at Linfield? Has technology made the job easier for you or has it increased your workload?

(Kelly Bird) When I started at Linfield in 1989, the internet was just a pipe dream and game statistics and records were compiled with pencil and paper. Results and box scores telephoned to the newspapers after each event. That was very painstaking. Then came the advent of the fax machine, which allowed SIDs to get the news out faster and get home a little sooner. But faxing was still a lengthy process, taking up to an hour after each football game to fax 15 pages of football stats to 10 different outlets.

Today, every one of our press boxes has internet capability, making it possible to get the news out nearly instantly after an event concludes. Technology is great, enabling us sports information professionals to compile stats and update records faster and with greater depth than ever before. The downside is people have grown to expect information instantly, too, and when you can’t provide it right away due to technical problems, or lack of connectivity, it can appear as though you’re not getting the job done. And nowadays, I have to keep three laptops operational for those times when Linfield hosts soccer/football/volleyball or baseball/softball/track simultaneously. As I write this, I’m down at Tokatee Golf Club, compiling results at the NWC men’s golf championships, then sending them out over a wireless connection shortly after the event’s conclusion.

The addition of the Daktronics video board at Maxwell Field in 2004 also changed my job dramatically. I’m responsible for programming the board, forcing me to learn a whole new skill set.

(WC11) Are the student athletes/parents still the same when you first took the job at Linfield or have you noticed a shift in how athletes/parents interact with you since you first started at Linfield?

(KB) My first 10 years, I had very little interaction with parents, but today’s electronic world has changed that. Folks are a lot more likely to drop me an email either praising or pointing out some inaccuracy (we try not to have too many of those!). With electronic stats available on the internet immediately following every game, student-athletes today seem a lot more cognizant of their statistics, and seem to check them pretty regularly. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. I believe sports participants should just play the game and not pay attention to what the stats are. There have been times when players or parents have openly stated that their chances for all-league recognition could be harmed if the stats aren’t the way they think they should be. My opinion is that if a player is truly outstanding, that fact will bear itself out, irregardless of what the stats say. Coaches, who do the voting on a majority of all-star teams, know good players when they see them.

(WC11) That is a great point! Other coaches will scout your team, watch film, and play you on the field. They know who is a stand out and who just fills a stat line.

You go to a Division I game and those sports information departments can look like small armies but the small college SID’s are pretty much a one-person show. Do you think that being a small college SID is more difficult that being a large school SID? What are some of the major obstacles that a small college SID faces? Also, if you had an unlimited budget for your department what changes or additions would you integrate into your work?

(KB) In many ways, being a small-school SID is more challenging. But the good thing is, there is likely less political bureaucracy and greater anonymity. I cover 19 varsity sports, create publications for each sport, maintain the athletics Web site, plus handle additional duties with the college’s Hall of Fame and Integrated Marketing committees. I help coordinate advertising sales in the spring and summer months, and help coaches prepare special recognition awards, such as for senior day. I enjoy the variety of working with many different sports, but when I do have a chance to really focus on one team, such as during the football or softball playoffs, that’s been very rewarding, as well. Limited budgets have always been a concern for small-school SIDs, but I’ve been supported pretty well by our administration at Linfield. Our working facilities (press box areas) have steadily improved, and I have good equipment (computers, camera) to do a great job for the college. If funding were unlimited, I would like to add a full-time staff assistant, someone who could help balance the workload. Equipment-wise, I’d like to always be using the latest and fastest desktop and notebook computers. Desktop publishing has become such an important part of what SIDs do. And I’d always like to try to improve skills through professional development training, such as advanced classes in Photoshop, or video production.

(WC11) Linfield's athletic site ( is a great small college athletic web site. Recently the site hit the 1,000,000 visitor mark. What is the process of putting together a college athletic web site? Where do you see the site evolving over the years?

(KB) I’ve always felt that a quality Web site not only has to look good, it has to offer ample news and information. And a regularly updated site gives the impression that the programmers care about their product. Fresh content gives readers a reason to return again and again. At Linfield, students and I collaborated on the athletics site in the late ‘90s. About five years ago, one particularly brilliant computer science student helped convert our site to a full blown database (he didn’t care much for sports, but is probably a millionaire Web designer/programmer somewhere now). The conversion from static pages to dynamically generated content made the site easier to program and less daunting to track all the information. We developed the current look and layout based on what I felt were the needs of both our readers and our programmer (me).

Having grown up a Sports Illustrated subscriber, I’ve always enjoyed compelling sports photography and the Linfield athletics site reflects that interest. The Linfield site offers more action photography than just about any Division III site you’ll find, which I think helps set Linfield apart of the rest of the crowd. Taking photos at sports events is an aspect of sports information I really enjoy and helps communicate the good stories we have to tell. I think our athletes get a kick of seeing photos of themselves in action and the parents and fans love it, too. Even though we have a lot of great photos to look at, I’ve always strived to keep the news (written) content strong. The next frontier is certainly interactive content, such as live statistical feeds, or video clips or entire events broadcast as a video stream.

(WC11) Not many people realize all the work you put into in regards to helping game day come off smooth. Can you tell us the gory details of what a typical game day at Linfield is like for you and is there more or less work when Linfield hosts a football playoff game?

(KB) Most SIDs, including myself, have eight-day work weeks. That’s because nearly every day of the week has some kind of competition going in, especially in the spring. Football game days are always a lot of work. Typically, I’m one of the first people to arrive at Maxwell Field on game-day, and definitely the last to go home. I arrive 3-4 hours ahead of kickoff. There are so many things to set up, turn on, double check, and prepare for. Such as: Are there enough cold drinks for the media? Is the video display board programmed with all the graphics it needs? Does the video operator and camera people know the schedule and what spots they need to hit and when? Do the home and visiting radio crews have everything they need to do their job? Are the prizes for the promotional giveaways ready? Is the stat crew briefed and ready to go? Have the cheerleaders sent their music up to the press box to be programmed into our sound system? You see, there’s so much to remember, I pity the person who has to take over for me one day. Playoff games are even more challenging, due to countless NCAA requirements, such as a special media interview room, special PA announcements, and extra media members cramming into the press box

(WC11) In your 18 years of being the SID at Linfield do you a favorite moment or year that still stands out in your mind and why?

(KB) No question, I’ve witnessed a LOT of great team and individual performances over that time. Try these: Brett Elliott’s seven touchdown tosses vs. Occidental (twice, 2004 & ‘05); a national championship football victory (2004) and defeat (1992); the Linfield softball team staving off playoff elimination six times to reach the NCAA finals (2006), Linfield’s men’s basketball rallying from eight points down in the final 30 seconds to win a game in Phoenix in 2000; Maxwell Field’s goalposts getting torn down amidst a frenzy on the field when the ‘Cats beat Willamette to clinch winning football season No. 43; Linfield’s women’s soccer team beating nationally ranked Puget Sound when a corner kick was steered into the goal by a sudden gust of wind (2001).

Now to the more bizarre: Matt Dyment’s marriage proposal in the midst of a basketball timeout (1999); Clark Smeltzer’s infamous sideline tackle during the 1989 football game vs. Pacific; having my car stolen in Vancouver, Canada, after a football game at Simon Fraser (1990); Linfield’s men playing a soccer game in the snow (2004); Jay Locey’s departure from Linfield being revealed to all of us (including his own children) by the Portland Tribune; baseball pitcher Brett Hartlaub snapping his arm (and ending his career) on a pitch in 2000; the “Mishap in the Mud” from 2000 when Central of Iowa stole a win over a very talented Wildcats team at Maxwell Field; Coach Larry Doty angrily picking up the PA microphone and apologizing to the fans at Wilson Gym for his team’s poor play in the first half of a men’s basketball game in 2002.

(WC11) Those are some incredible moments and bring back some great memories. Now let's shift gears and talk about the football media guides. What is the process of putting together one of these guides? Can you give us the thought process in how you come up with the themes from year to year? I mean, is it that you have ideas sitting on the back burner or is it more of a feeling out process of that year’s team?

(KB) With 78 pages to fill, producing the football guide each year is akin to running a marathon rather than a sprint. It takes about four months of production time to arrive at the finished product, which we target for delivery just prior to the first game of the season. Some wonder why we can’t get the guide published sooner, but I remind them that the Linfield football guide has a full numerical roster that isn’t finalized until about seven days before the first game. The section dealing with the team personnel (roster, depth chart, player bios) is last part to finish up before the guide goes on the printing press. But the whole process starts usually in May when we begin updating the records/stats/all-stars portion. The next big hurdle involves gathering information from each of our nine opponents.

Developing the theme is something I usually start thinking about in early June. I typically write down 4-5 ideas, bounce them off a few friends as a way to test market the ideas, then select one and build around it. I then select action shots of returning senior all-stars to display on the cover. Ideally, we want the most exciting pictures to grace the covers and I always use a completely different font and color scheme from year to year. I always want to give the people paying $7 for a Linfield football guide their money’s worth. Pulling all the different pieces of the guide together on tight deadlines in August can be pretty nerve-wracking but it’s also very satisfying to see fans enjoying the finished product in the stands before kickoff.

(WC11) Have you ever tallied up how many hours it takes to put together one of the football media guides? Before you even answer I know it’s a large commitment from you but when you rake in the awards does that make the time worth it?

(KB) I’ve never tallied the hours and probably never will. The awards are nice but not the main reason for striving to be the best. Colleagues from other schools recognize the effort that goes into producing an excellent publication, as do fans, parents, coaches and players. If anything, it helps raise awareness of my position on campus. And it’s rewarding to know that my work helps attract future student-athletes to our campus.

(WC11) Also, if you were going to rank your top three covers what would they be and of course, tell us why?

(KB) My personal favorites are 2003’s “Wildcats Reloaded”, 2005’s “Pedal to the Metal” and 2002’s “Leave No Doubt.” “Reloaded” spotlight great action and mirrored the look of the movie “Matrix Reloaded” just as it was being released. The 2005 team scored so many points and rolled up so many yards, the “Pedal to the Metal” theme really clicked. I didn’t dream up the “Leave No Doubt” mantra, but I jumped on it when Luke Buchheit shared it with me prior to what was a very exciting 2002 season that featured David Russell’s coming of age and the double-overtime thriller at home with Southern Oregon. The 2006 cover “Blueprint for Success” won the “Best Cover” award, so that one is pretty special, too.

(WC11) Thank you so much for all your time Kelly with us here at The fans, families, and especially the athletes really appreciate all of your hard work. You do a phenomenal job.

(KB) Thanks for the exposure on your Web site. Even us publicists need a little publicity once in a while.

Check out Kelly's football guide covers here: Media Page


Downtown48 said...

Nice work on the interview...Kelly does an outstanding job.

Wildcat11 said...

Thanks Downtown. Kelly has been real helpful with and has been very supportive.

I'm looking forward to next the next interview as well. That should be up at the end of May/beginning of June.

D O.C. said...

Gee! Keely was a real pro and didn't mention the term INTERN. He has his hands full there, as well.

"Kelly, any contingency plans for your family life when we finally pick up that tenth game?" Haw!