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Dick Harmon: Hectic year of news for BYU athletic department

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 6:47 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.

Work on that product had to continue aside from all the drama this year, and it included hiring staff and reshuffling assignments for the 30-person staff of full and part-time employees.

"We've already made several trips to Bristol and met with ESPN. What we have planned is exciting. It is an exciting time to see the future of BYU and show exactly the reasons why we said we were going independent — for exposure."

The new website will be revamped to handle extensive video content. The department website, along with BYU-TV's Internet product, will feature full screen, high definition streaming, along with already documented worldwide broadcasting capability via satellite and cable companies.

Working with ESPN and the new BYU-TV studios, the athletic department will soon announce what Tittle described as some nifty handheld (phone) apps to interact with department media features.

Taken as a whole, Tittle made a dramatic declaration.

"The content we will have available will be unmatched in college athletics, and that excites me," said Tittle.

"It excites our staff, and everything we are trying to do is phenomenal in terms of why we are independent — exposure — and fans are going to be excited about the direction we are moving."

Of course, the impact will be moot if BYU athletics doesn't produce wins.

That's the challenge.

"We are at a time that may be unprecedented in BYU athletics history, where both the football and basketball programs are very successful," said Title. "Certainly this is one of the best times as far as our programs being healthy."

email: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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