Dick Harmon: Hectic year of news for BYU athletic department

Published: Wednesday, April 20 2011 11:53 p.m. MDT

PROVO — Breaking news. Hold on, folks.

In the business of professional sports information directors, your department wants publicity, anticipates crises, avoids spectacles, lives through drama while expecting commotion from the ebb and flow of stories that hatch from games, personalities and routine issues.

In college sports, it's a given that there will be breaking news, establishment of press protocol, managing interviews and protecting images and reputations.

We saw all this in action this year with the Utah Jazz, BYU and Utah with firings, trades, conference realignments and new hires. In a sense, this may have been a record year for headlines of the big kind in Utah sports.

A peek at BYU's sports information machinery this past year gives a sliver of just how hectic all that can be at just one of the state's sports franchises.

The past 10 months have been crazy. Nuts, really.

It all began back in August when the Pac-10 added Utah and BYU declared independence in football. It continued when Bronco Mendenhall fired D-coordinator Jaimie Hill in mid-season, then replaced two coaches months later.

But nothing compared to the unexpected bomb that blew up with Cougar basketball: Jimmer Fredette, the suspension of Brandon Davies a day after a No. 3 ranking, eight Marriott Center sellouts and the first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 years.

The noise/work isn't over. No rest time. In coming months, independence will kick off a whole new challenge at BYU, and building blocks are being placed now in preparation for that day.

"It started last summer, became a roller coaster and never let up," said athletic department communications director Duff Tittle.

"In my 20 years in the business, it hasn't been this busy, ever. The attention focused on the basketball program was quite unbelievable."

Tittle said the volume of press requests and both national and international attention on basketball the past three months has never been this focused before.

"To me, the busiest point hit right after the Utah game (in Salt Lake City). It was crazy. From that game to the San Diego State game, from a national standpoint, Jimmer did about 10 interviews in a short time. ESPN did their all access show from here that week."

Then, after BYU's win at SDSU, a No. 3 ranking and talk of a No. 1 seed, the Davies suspension exploded. "I've never seen anything like that in my life," said Tittle, who called it "all hands on deck time" at his office.

At least seven university public relations professionals worked almost around the clock that week to handle requests for honor code information. Some came from Tittle's office, others from official university spokesman Carrie Jenkins and her staff in the administration.

"I know we averaged about four hours sleep a day for those four days," said Tittle.

The point man for Jimmer mania was basketball SID Kyle Chilton, said Tittle. "Credit him for handling Jimmer and interviews with Jackson Emery and just getting through it all."

Now, Tittle and his staff are gearing up for something never staged before at BYU — a football media day heretofore hosted by either the WAC or MWC and all its teams, coaches, SIDs and a pair of players from each team.

In the summer of 2011, BYU's football media day will be solo. A one-some. A solitary act.

It will host interested media from throughout the country and will include TV partners ESPN, BYU-TV, KBYU and KSL, plus local print, radio and TV outlets.

Before the clamor exploded over BYU going independent and leaving the MWC, Tittle says the athletic department took on a 12-month project to launch a new website due to debut this summer.

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