Outside of South Carolina’s indoor football facility, the Gamecocks are hard at work practicing, sprinting across the field, from drill to drill to get their reps in.
Inside the indoor facility, on a set of tables just outside the door of the training room, three staffers are going through their own kind of sprint.
Joe Lisle, South Carolina’s assistant AD for video operations, sits alongside a pair of staffers, Brett Burger and Topper Korb, four laptops laid out before them, one with a rapidly growing pile of cards from video cameras. Their deadline is as soon as possible after practice ends. Their goal is to get the Gamecocks coaching staff what it wants: the film of the practice cut, categorized and at their fingertips to review and show to players.
It’s not on a small scale.
“We get about, on average, about 65 cards a practice,” Lisle said, noting his staff usually has it all done within 10-15 minutes of practice finishing. “Sixty-five SD cards, which is kind of nuts.”
There’s friendly banter between the three men, chatting and a few jokes that overlays the high-speed task at hand. At breaks between periods, or a changeover in drills, camera men or cardrunners appear to hand off their wares.
There might be the chirp of a walkie talkie or a call to adjust who is shooting what and where as the cards pile up and one cog in the machine behind the Gamecocks football machine whirs on.
The operation begins with the nine cameras.
Two are in a tower between South Carolina’s practice fields, another four provide an angle from the end zone (Lisle says the offense always wants the angle from the backside). Then a trio of shooters roam on the ground, shooting close often in individual and special teams work.
Their job is to shoot each rep individually. Tap the button to stop and start each time, get each as a separate clip. This is not a job where someone can mess with their phones and not pay attention, and Lisle usually tries to have his new shooters shadow and then practice shooting before they are relied upon.
Paul McGee, a near 20-year veteran with Lisle, is the “floor director” outside while shooting from a tower.
When things change, so do cards. The camera operators perched high have a system to drop them down, where a few runners collect and drop them off. The ground-based shooters usually filter in on their own, handing off when breaks occur.
Burger sits in the middle, a pair of laptops before him, cards going in and out as data gets dumped into the system the team uses to catalog and database all these practices. Each one comes in and gets titled according to the team’s naming system.
“So you’re always just, me and Brett sit there and as we’re editing, we just kind of go, ‘Do this, do this, do this. OK, I’ve got that done. I’ve got the kicking done. You get this.’ ” Lisle said. “We’re communicating the entire time.”
The individual drills are handled by Korb, while Lisle and Burger take the competition parts of practice.
The shots the football staff usually looks for in teamwork are the standard coaches film angles: a wide shot of all 22 players on the field and the angle from the end zones that shows what’s going on in the box.
Those have to be cut together, wide shot of a play, then end zone, wide shot of the next play, then end zone.
The editor takes the series of shots and cleans them up, cutting the fat so each one is just the rep at hand. They have to match up the number of shots, assuring 14 all-22s are in line with 14 end zones.
Once cross matched and put together, the finished product gets dropped in a folder in the XOS Thunder system the team uses and the raw video gets archived in case something needs to be double checked. All the data goes by fiber cables across Gamecock Park to a set of servers in Williams-Brice.
Team GAs will filter in when practice allows, hopping on an iPad next to the trio to add more information about a given rep or drill. When it’s in the system, coaches will be able to access them as needed.
This whole process, while hectic, is a good deal easier than road games, where the editors are often carrying open laptops to the bus as video converts to an iPad-ready format, so coaches can watch on the ride home (about six or seven like to do it). The staff handles film of opponents along with game day work.
The standard shots are expected from practice, but there’s often special stuff thrown in.
The shooters get a practice schedule, broken up by period and position so they can plan things out. Then coaches sometimes come to them with something in mind.
Different coaches have different preferences, primarily when it comes to individual position drills. Burger admitted it’s almost like a takeout menu of exactly what they want.
Certain groups, defensive line in particular, like to review shots from the ground angle, often putting them right in the action.
The coaches even hand over diagrams of who will be where on special teams drills, drawing in an extra “X” where the shooter should stand to get the angle needed.
“We shoot almost everything,” Lisle said. “We know what we don’t shoot. The only time they request anything that, if they’re doing a drill today, they want to make sure we get it because they want to go back over drill work, most of the drill work we shoot, they use for clinics and examples to show people for recruiting.
“It’s always in the system if they want to see it.”
Tricks of the trade
As the practice goes on, the area behind the editing table starts to get littered with them.
They’re plastic bags, only with corners covered in a mess of athletic tape. This small lifehack is one of the innovations the video staff has come up with to speed things along.
Lisle, who also handles a few other audio/visual parts of practice, explained how in the old days, the cameras took tapes rather than the small cards, so when a shooter needed to pass one down, gravity helped bring it to the runner below.
SD cards are around the size of a quarter, so the old way wouldn’t do.
At first they tried a tactic they had heard of elsewhere: sticking the small cards into nerf footballs. But with the number of cards for a given practice, someone had to tote a bag of footballs up the tower each day.
The next plan was putting them in plastic bags, but those were too light. The staff stumbled upon a rocky parking lot beside the practice fields, since covered by the site of the new operations facility. They scooped up rocks, put them in the bags, and that worked, but there was a risk of scraping the contacts.
The final fix came in the athletic tape, wrapped around one corner, trapping the rocks and allowing the perfect anchor to pull the camera cards to earth.
This is only one of the practical fixes Lisle’s staff has come up with.
If there’s a play that doesn’t need to make the cut (i.e. something went wrong), the shooter throws a hand over the camera, a sign for the editor watching a run of shots at high speed to dump it. If one play gets missed from a certain angle, a false shot will be put in to line things up when things are cut together.
During the spring, Korb suffered a bad knee injury visiting family in Maryland. It left Lisle and Burger in a lurch, overwhelmed by the volume of video in coach Will Muschamp’s high-paced practices.
But Korb was laid up with his injury, so he logged in from the mid-Atlantic and cut up clips remotely.
When Lisle needs to replenish his staff, he has a variety of approaches. He’ll go to USC’s journalism school, even for folks outside the broadcast side. Every other year someone who shot practices in high school wants to continue and join.
And that creates it’s own momentum.
“Usually when I get these kinds of people in, I’ll keep them for the entire four years,” Lisle said. “They have friends, so I’ll (say), ‘Hey guys, I’m going to need two or three people.’ They have friends who want to do it. So I kind of get it by word of mouth.”
In an ideal situation, new shooters goes through an apprenticeship, learning and getting their feet wet. Since the turnover is usually spaced out, Lisle can bring in new people across the year to get ready.
“I put them up on a camera, in a tower on a camera, they’re on their own,” Lisle said. “I can’t see what they’re doing, and at the end of the day, if they don’t hit record, I don’t have it. I can’t fix what they didn’t shoot.
“They have to know what’s going on, and we run a pretty tight ship, I have to admit, it’s worked out well.”
When Muschamp arrived in Columbia, he asked for something Lisle hadn’t dealt with in more than two decades on the job.
A computer in his office on which to watch video.
“Brad Scott never had a computer in his office, not one,” Lisle said. “Lou Holtz never had a computer in his office. Steve Spurrier never had a computer in his office. They were older coaches. They had never used them. They didn’t need to. They watched it on tape. They wanted it on tape.”
Coaches are creatures of habit. They tend to do things the way they’ve always done them. Lisle said there’s usually one or two on each staff interested in what’s new and what’s coming, and that evolution has been an ongoing one in this corner of the game.
When Lisle started in the early 1990s, everything was on tape. When he came to South Carolina in the latter part of the decade, the staff was smaller and the equipment was far less available.
Under Scott, Lisle had only three cameras to work with. Both the offense and defense had their side shot from the sideline, but the end zone camera got traded off on a daily basis.
It’s a far cry from nine and editing capabilities unimaginable back then.
“That’s what we had, that’s what you did,” Lisle said. “Nobody knew any different.”
When Holtz arrived, they got another camera and a second full-time staffer. Around the time he arrived, things migrated from Mac computers to PCs, and as that era progressed, things for the most part migrated away from true tape.
In all that time, Lisle has seen the way the job worked change in fascinating ways. Back when he started, video was pulled into an editing system in real time, and that didn’t change until later last decade. At points during his career, staff couldn’t start working until practice ended and someone had to stay overnight to process tape.
Lisle said each advancement comes with the promise everything will take less time, and while it does, the need to do more balances it out. Ten years ago, he could finish up a practice in 45 minutes or an hour despite still shooting on tape. But now they shoot more, have more cameras.
“That’s one thing this job involves, it’s the better way of doing things,” Lisle said. “You do practice for five years, and one day you go, ‘Well shoot, if I’d have done it like this, I would’ve saved some time.’ So you start doing it like that.
“You only knew one way to do it. The way you did it was the fastest it could be done.”
He said he nearly had a breakdown after trying to process Muschamp’s first practice. The pace was so fast, what had once produced 20 cards of video now produced 65. He finished three hours after practice, and the next day devised a new plan, coordinated with his staff, cut the finish time down to 20 minutes after practice and improved from there.
The process has changed in scale, efficiency, even physically. And the folks using it have as well. What started with coaches who wanted their tape, even as things zoomed forward, now has Muschamp, whose setup goes well beyond one screen on his desk.
“He’s got two computers in his office, and he carries another one,” Lisle said. “So I went from coaches not using one to a guy who loves technology.”
A constant presence
The place one might not expect to find Lisle’s name: an NCAA leaderboard.
In 1989, no NCAA kicker was more accurate than Middle Tennessee State’s senior. He hit 14-of-17 attempts, part of a career that featured 35 career field goals in three seasons as a starter and ended with a degree in mass communications with an emphasis in broadcast production.
Lisle had planned to become a graduate assistant coach, but his coach noticed his concentration and pushed him in another direction.
“The head coach ‘Boots’ Donnelly came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re buying this system, we want you to run it.’ ” Lisle said. “I said, ‘OK.’”
He admits the system was archaic, but not for the time. Around then, the transition from film to videotape was underway, and he was at the start of a four-year stint with the Blue Raiders.
He also coached kickers, working with four who earned all-conference honors and one All-American. To help make ends meet, he worked at a box factory in Murfreesboro.
In 1995, his knowledge of the system led to another role. Memphis hired Rip Scherer, and his staff reached out to Lisle and brought him on.
And that led to his first connection to the Gamecocks.
“On that staff was a guy named Sparky Woods,” Lisle said of the man who led USC from 1989-1993. “Two years after I was there, South Carolina came open and I said something to Sparky. Sparky had one of his ex-coaches still on the staff for Brad Scott, Brad Lawing. He called Brad, told Brad Scott I was interested.”
Twenty years later, Lisle is still running the show in Columbia.
His experience is a relative rarity, for the length of the tenure in one place and for the fact he’s been through so many staffs.
“It is definitely in the new norm that video guys travel with them, the coaches now,” Lisle said. “The young coaches take a video guy with them.”
He noted one of his former student workers, Will Brown, followed former Gamecocks assistant Rick Stockstill to Middle Tennessee State, and later went from UConn to Maryland with Randy Edsall.
Often, video coordinators move into more prominent roles simply because of history. Both Urban Meyer and Bobby Petrino’s current directors of football operations had long stints coordinating the video side.
“Most of the assistant coaches with the head coach, if you’re anywhere for a period of time, are going to leave,” Lisle said. “Who stays around? Who’s the guy you see every day? The video guy. He’s not jumping jobs like coaches jump jobs. So you kind of end up with just a few people in the department, they end up staying for extended periods of time.”
It makes Lisle somewhat of an outlier. He’s been at the same place for a couple decades. He’s worked under four regimes and a wide array of assistants. He’s come through a whole slew of technological changes and evolution in what he does.
There was a time when he was closer to the norm, but now, men in his position often hitch themselves to a coach and climb the ladder.
“You never saw it,” Lisle said. “Never saw it 15 years ago.”
Call it an assembly line, but maybe something more.
That’s the assessment Lisle agreed fit his and his staff’s little corner of the South Carolina football program.
They shoot the practices and the process at rapid speed, churning out a detailed record of the day’s happening in a format the coaches are used to and can rapidly devour. But it takes some touch, the ability to reorganize and shift on the fly.
“Once you get it in and you go through it ... you actually cut the fat for all the plays,” Lisle said. “The sideline might have recorded too long, or too early, and you have to trim it down. So it’s a couple seconds before the snap.
“Or the end zone looked like it was late on the play, you may have to use the other end zone because they missed it or something, and you have to flip those around.”
That’s what it is, the little things that add up to big things. The cameras rapidly churn out clips, shooters and runners build little piles of little black cards on a laptop, and a trio of men sit at four computers, deftly sailing through their work.
“I don’t have many complaints,” Lisle said. “So I’m taking my chance, pretty happy with what we do.”
A look at USC’s video staff:
Joe Lisle - Full Time (Practice Editor)
Brett Burger - Full Time (Practice Editor)
Topper Korb - Student (Practice Editor)
Paul McGee - Full Time (Offense Sideline Shooter)
Mark Mixon - Full Time (Defense Sideline Shooter)
Rawn Miro - Full Time (Defense EZ Shooter)
John Clemens - Student (Defense EZ Shooter)
Chris Searcy - Student (Offense EZ Shooter)
Christian Raver - Student (Offense EZ Shooter)
Joe Wise - Student (Ground Shooter)
Ronnie Wess - Student (Ground Shooter)
Tyler Boswell - Freelance (Ground Shooter)
Clarence Garner - Student (Runner/DJ)