Marvin Lewis: “We’re glad to be here today with NFL Films, and also HBO. When this announcement came out a few weeks ago, I wasn’t able to be a part of it, so we decided to do this today once I returned. The organization is excited to be a part of the NFL Films and HBO production, Hard Knocks, again. People have asked ‘why?’ and it’s a couple of things. No. 1: from the standpoint of our fans. The comments people have made to me talking about what a great opportunity it was for them to get to know the Cincinnati Bengals players when we did it a few years ago in 2009. And from the standpoint of me as the coach: we have to go win football games, regardless of who is watching. We’re going to do our jobs to the best of our ability – coaching and playing. We’re used to the people from NFL Films being around. They’re very professional, their crews work extremely hard, and I think that’s a great thing for my players to witness – how hard other people do what they do and how they work professionally at their craft and how good they are at what they do. They’re up and moving before we are, and they’re up working after the guys have been put to bed at night. That’s great for them to experience and see that. There’s some benefit to that. But we’re committed to do it, and we’re getting ready to kick it off next Wednesday.
Ross Ketover (NFL Films): “Thanks. I want to thank Mike Brown, the Brown family and Coach Lewis for welcoming us back here again. We’re excited to be back. They were a playoff team back when we were here four years ago, and they’re a playoff team again now. But we looked it, and it really is a totally different team. The quality is still just as good, and it’s a totally new roster. For us, that summer (2009), I think, took the series to a new level. So we’re thrilled to be back here.
“In addition, I just wanted to mention that NFL Films has had a 30-plus year relationship with HBO, which we’ve loved. And we’re happy to announce today that Hard Knocks signed a multi-year extension. So, for any football fans that can’t get NFL in August, we’re around for a few more years, which I think is good for the NFL and good for football fans everywhere.
“The last thing I really want to say is that – and we don’t want to set the bar too high, because I know the trophy the Bengals really want says “Lombardi” on it – one thing Steve Sabol was never able to do was to get back here before he got sick. He wanted to present to the team and to Coach the Emmy that the series won the last time we were here, for Outstanding Edited Sports Series. It’ll keep the trophy case warm until the Lombardi Trophy gets here; we want to present the team with the Emmy that the series won last time. Like I said, hopefully there will be more trophies to come.”
Ross, you said that the 2009 version of Hard Knocks took the series to another level. How?
Ketover: “Fans had an expectation of what Hard Knocks was, and we were excited with the years that we had done (previously). When we came to the Bengals, not a lot of people knew anything about this team, and thought, ‘Oh, it’s sort of an anonymous team, and expectations are low.’ And it was arguably the most interesting and exciting series we did. I think everyone realized, ‘Wow, this team, the series is interesting no matter what, because training camp and the struggle to make an NFL roster is a fascinating journey. We were really proud of the summer we spent here, and that’s part of the reason we’re excited to be back.”
There are a lot of myths about how other teams and coaches view Hard Knocks. What are some of those myths, and what do you think about them?
Lewis: “The myths are that you get guys acting. If you’re acting, you’re in the wrong spot, because we’ll find someone to replace you really quick. You’ve got a job to do, and that’s to make this football team, and make this football team better, depending on where you are in respect to the football team. That’s one of the things: people not being themselves, in one way or another. I will say that, in a very short period of time, you almost forget that they (the Hard Knocks crews) are around. We have constant scrutiny all the time during the season. This is what you’re striving for at the end of the year, for you all (the media) to have an overflow in this (news conference) room, so we’re standing room only at the end of the year. So, there is something to getting used to the attention to the things that come about with this. So I think that’s one of the biggest myths in that way – are people really themselves? I think you have to be. Being in it (Hard Knocks series) a couple different times, now as a head coach for the second time, I’ve not seen that part of it.”
How do you determine the storylines for Hard Knocks?
Ketover: “We’ve had a number of meetings for sort of mapping out what we think the story lines are, and we’ll probably rip it up about 48 hours in (laughs). Steve Sabol used to describe this show, like no other show, is like building an airplane in flight. So yes, we map it out. Everyone knows who the stars are, who the Pro Bowl players are. We know maybe what some of the position battles are. But the fact is, we get here, and what happens in camp is what we document. So if someone is struggling, if someone is out-performing, they become a storyline. If it comes down to two guys for the last spot, that becomes a storyline. So a lot of it we don’t know; it’s how camp unfolds. So your guess going in is probably similar to what ours is, but it will change by the second day.”
How tough has it been to keep this thing going? Because a lot of organizations like to operate behind the “iron curtain,” so to speak. There was a report that maybe only a couple of teams were interested in doing it this time around. Is that true? Is it becoming tougher and how to convince teams to do this?
Ketover: “It’s always been tough. At the same time, I think NFL Films has earned the trust of most of the organizations around the league. They know we’re not trying to do anything salacious. We’re trying to show how hard training camp really is. We talk to a lot of teams every year and we try to find a match where the storylines and the access that the team grants matches up with what we’re looking for. It is a difficult process but every year there are teams you would never imagine be interested that are, and vice versa. So I don’t really think anything has changed in the last decade.”
With the new agreement you just extended, is part of that having the league make sure that more teams would acquiesce, more teams might be involved? Is there more cooperation involved with that deal you extended?
Ketover: “No, our deal is with HBO to do a show. That’s up to the commissioner and the ownership if they want to push more teams to be involved. We want to be where we’re wanted because I think what fans have learned to expect from the show is that they’re seeing everything, that the access is complete. Once that’s not the case, it’s not a place we want to be.”
Marvin, I think you were asked sometime on radio last year about doing Hard Knocks a second time and you kind of said “We did our time.” What in a year changed, or was it just evolution of the roster or maybe handling it more?
Lewis: “When Ross contacted me, (it was clear that) it is a lot different football team. There are very few players on this squad that were here in ’09 so there’s a lot of interesting positions, some battles that we’re going to have. There’s been quite a bit of change. At the end of the day, the organization felt a trust with NFL Films and how things would be and to go ahead and go forth with it and join together with them as well.”
You mentioned you’ve done this three times now. How big of a deal is it when you address the team? Do you talk about it at all or just talk about it once when you address it?
Lewis: “Last time I had an opportunity to address the team about it without them being here. (Laughs) I’ll have to create that atmosphere again, Dave. It is something I need to address the football team with because I haven’t collectively had them together. Obviously they’ve all heard about it and I contacted the staff right away when the decision was made to go forward with it back in June. From that point, we’ve done that part but I need to again educate the rest of the football team regarding it. “
Lewis: “It is because of the input and compliments from people from last time that you would never think, from moms, from friends, wives of friends that really thought it was interesting. They got to see a side of things that they never have. We have a beautiful city we’re here in. Last time we were between here and everything that was done for us and we had such great partners there at Georgetown College but now we’re back home and we’re doing everything here. I also think that will be a plus for things.”
As a former player, my focus would be “I don’t want to be the one that screws up on national TV.” Do you think practices, not that they’re not focused anyway, but do you think practices have an added tempo or anything?
Lewis: “I think it’s hard for anyone to see who did this right or wrong right then. As a coaching staff, we’re not trying to embarrass anybody. We’re trying to correct the action, not embarrass the player. That shouldn’t change how we go about the correction and critiquing of our football day in and day out. I find it funny because I’m not in every position room day to day but to see some of the coaching that goes on, and critiquing and correction with some of the guys and the beauty with how they are able to portray it is great, but never belittling the player.”
Ross, one of the changes is that you’re not at Georgetown this time where you had players 24/7 right there. Does that change much for you guys logistically?
Ketover: “We lose a little bit of the small college setting, but that’s the way the NFL is going now. I think 22 of the 32 teams don’t go away anymore when everybody used to go away. I think we’ll make the city more of a character in the show. We don’t have to move all our equipment and our people so that makes life a little easier. It’s definitely different but that’s the way the NFL is going right now and I still think that the first three weeks is still camp, and it’s still here, and that doesn’t really change other than the setting is different.”
Lewis: “The thing that we found last year, which we didn’t know how it was going to be perceived and how we were going to get through it, but the fact that our team headquarters is still our team headquarters. It’s the same thing. Instead of being in a room at Georgetown, they have their hotel rooms. It’s just a different situation. That part worked well for us last year. Now it’s the second year in it and we’ve been able to tweak that process and improve on some of the things last year that we were kind of walking through blind a little bit. We didn’t know how many guys would take the shuttle back and forth to the hotel during the day, and those kinds of things. Now we have a pretty good feel for that. The atmosphere, we’ve got the uniqueness that we’re going to be here for a week and then spend a couple days with the Falcons and kind of pull up stakes for a while and go to Georgia for a bit. Then we come back and we’ve got a great preseason schedule. I think there’s a lot of plusses to it.”
Last time you guys (Hard Knocks) did a great job of disappearing. After the first couple days is was like “Jeez, where the heck are they?” You almost camouflaged yourselves it seemed like. Do you think it’s going to be as easy to do here as it was at Georgetown to kind of hide like that?
Ketover: “I think so. As coach mentioned, it’s probably a little strange for the first day and a half and after that, you almost become part of the organization. These are all directors and camera men and sound men that these players work with every Sunday and there’s a lot of familiarity with that. I think camp is so hard and these guys have such a focus, that worrying about some extra cameras doesn’t really change anything.”
Marvin, one of your highlights a few years ago was your “Be a pro” speech after the loss to St. Louis. Four years later, do you still get comments from people who remember that?
Lewis: “I do. I got one yesterday, actually. (Laughs) If you took the time to think about it, it’s probably something you would have done in the confines of your own group, but that’s something that just happens in the moment. “
Lewis: “No because at that point, what’s done is done.”
You have that right though, right?
Lewis: “I have the opportunity to see what’s going to go on the air that evening. We don’t want anything to do with football, our football and what we’re doing and our communication with football to be on the show. That’s really what we’re looking for is to make sure that we keep things strict to us confidential.”
Ross, there is the perception that a lot of teams don’t want to do the show. Have you made any calls to GMs and coaches where they said “no freaking way”?
Ketover: “We speak casually with nearly every team in the league and some teams that have done the show have said ‘no freaking way’ the year before. So it really does vary from year to year. Just the way teams change and perceptions of what the focus is of camp that year. That’s why every year we press the reset button and evaluate. That’s why when we sat down and started thinking about this year, your knee jerk reaction is, why come back to the same team? We thought the team is great and has a lot of players who are terrific that fans don’t know about. It’s a totally different roster and a lot of the coaches are different as well.”
Marvin, players have done a good job of minimizing distractions. You’ve got players who have done the series. Will the same apply?
Lewis: “The maturity of our group plays out. When we get everyone together on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll begin that process. I’m excited about that. We’ve got one goal, which is to be world champions. We can’t talk about it, now it’s time to do the work. It’s got nothing to do about what the people from NFL Films are doing; it’s what we are doing. They are going to try and capture that the best that they can. We can’t worry about that. We’ve got some things internally that are important to us as a team. We have to go back to those things and stand on those same principles. It is time to shut your mouth and go back to work. We don’t need to be doing some of the things that we like to do when we are not doing football, but now it is time to do football.”
How do you feel about that, Marvin? This is just another piece of getting ready for training camp. It’s been a pretty good offseason for you guys. You get a pretty big signing the other day with Carlos coming back. Do you feel pretty good about the way everything is fitting?
Lewis: “Yes I do. I told Mike if you want to do it, we can do it. My job doesn’t change. I’ve got one job to do, which is to get this team to win a Super Bowl. If you feel like you want to go forward with it, I’m fine with it. We’ve got to go do what we can do. Let’s just go and do our jobs.”
One of most compelling things as a viewer is when a player you become attached to gets cut. As a coach, knowing how close you get to these guys, is that tough to see on TV?
Lewis: “It’s very difficult. We talked about it before we walked in here. That’s one of the hardest things I have to do in this job. The hard part about that a lot of the times it is the guy who is the first one here and last one to leave who is working his tail off, that’s the hardest part of trying to make an NFL football team. The guy that doesn’t take care of his business the right way they aren’t long for here anyway. Guys see that and now that. The good part about it is there were some guys who got let go got some opportunities right away. Guys felt some connection to them and are still playing today in the National Football League. There are pressures on the players; they have the opportunity to earn a great living for a short amount of time. There’s such outside pressures on them from family members and going ‘did you hear what coach said about you’ or ‘did see what someone wrote about you’. No one understands the pressure put on that particular guy. We have to remain on an even keel and keep it within house. Coaches want to keep it as a small family and tight knit.”
Surprised about how much was made of Jim Lippincott coming in to tell a player that he was cut at 5:30 in the morning?
Lewis: “I was. When you have to waive a player you want to do it where a player has an opportunity to move on. Sometimes you are waiving a veteran player early and guys appreciate that, they understand the business. If you give the guy an opportunity to catch on with another team, that’s the beauty of the NFL. There might not be a spot for you here but if you are deserving you’re going to get another spot. Stuff happens, this is a pay for play sport. It’s a difficult time and once we put the gas in that bus it is time to go.”
Is it still going to be early in the morning?
Lewis: “Yes. There’s not an easy way. You don’t want to go up to the guy in the cafeteria and say you are going to let him go. If it was you guys (the media) we would do it in front of everyone (laughs). You want to make it as private as you can. You want to treat him with the respect that he has for you and minimize the emotional part as much as you can.”
Ketover: “And that is what has resonated most with fans is that everyone thinks being an NFL player is the greatest job in the world, but they don’t realize how hard it is and that 30 percent of the work force gets released each year, which is uncommon for anything other than sports. It shows what a difficult process it is for players and how it humanizes players.”
Ross, how many are on the crew, how many hours a day will you be shooting and how much of the video gets used on air?
Ketover: “More ends up on the cutting room floor than for any series we do. As people who are around here for camp know, a lot of camp is repetition. We shoot about 400 hours of footage for every hour that airs on television, far and away more than for anything else we do. I think we have five camera crews here around the clock, we have eight robotic cameras mounted in select offices and rooms which can tape without somebody being in that room. So we have about 25 people here.”
How do you decide what gets aired?
Ketover: “The first part is you've got to get it recorded, so that's a lot of pressure on the guys out here in the field. And then we have 20 producers at NFL Films editing seven days a week going through all that footage. I think the hardest part is making the collection of stories from that 400 hours and making it with an actual story arc so it doesn't feel like ‘Here's two minutes of 15 different stories. So how do we find themes that work for what went on that week at camp? We have all the producers' cut and it goes to one or two people who mold it into one real compelling story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s probably the hardest part.”
Do you worry that other teams might gain some advantage by watching the show?
Lewis: “Well, the video is what we're studying. The Dolphins did it (Hard Knocks) last season, and they beat us here last season. I watched Coach Philbin and his staff, I watched the shows. So I know it. And before we did it last time, I was given the Chiefs and the Cowboys to watch and see and if you're not gaining anything as a coach because I could sit and in 30 seconds gain something and I don't feel it helped us one bit versus the Dolphins last year. That's the other reason why we're sitting here today.”
So you didn't get any advantage from watching the Dolphins on Hard Knocks?
Lewis: “No. I don't remember one thing that occurred and I sat down and took notes. It's nothing we can't gain from the videotape that we do each and every day.”
Does it make it easier for teams to evaluate guys who get cut and you've gotten to see how they react to things?
Lewis: “Well, there's a personality side to the player you may not know. They featured a couple of those (Dolphin) defensive linemen, a couple of them were college free agents. I'm not as aware of those kids. It was well done. And that's part of what we all know, is seeing those young guys and I think people always want to talk down about our preseason, I just sat here and did a half hour with Joe (Reedy, Cincinnati Enquirer) and Nick (Hurm, Cincinnati Enquirer) and all we talked about is it's going to play out during the preseason. That's why we play preseason games. That's why we're going to practice versus the Falcons for two days, so we get more opportunity to evaluate our players who are vying for spots on this football team, whether it be a starting spot, or a spot to back up and make the 53-man roster. We want as many of those evaluation opportunities as we can get and we want to do it in as competitive and as healthy an environment as we can get it in. And that's what's so great about the preseason games. We're going to go out there and we're going to have guys compete and that's what's fun.”
What’s your shortest turnaround time for a show?
Ketover: “The show's airing Tuesday nights and in general, unless something unexpected happens, we try to cut the footage off on Sunday for that Tuesday night, which is still faster than anything else we do at NFL Films. Last year with Miami, almost all of the major newsworthy events happened on a Sunday and we got it into that Tuesday. Between what happened with Chad Johnson, the trade of Vontae Davis, their decision on who the starting quarterback was, all happened on a Sunday and we managed to get it in that week's show. What's easier now is that we're able to digitally send all the footage back to NFL Films and we don't have to put it on a plane and fly hundreds of tapes back every night. So that makes it a little bit easier for us, the technology.”
When do you start filming?
Ketover: “Pretty much we mirror what the players do, which is when they show up. Before I walked in here, we've been shooting some helicopter scenics of the city. So we've shot a few different things. We've shot a couple of different players' back stories, we've gone back with them. But we'll mirror camp. I think we'll probably start rolling on Monday when some of the rookies get here.”
Marvin, how does (Atlanta Falcons head coach) Mike Smith feel about Hard Knocks following you to the workouts in Atlanta?
Lewis: “Smitty and I have talked quite a bit about it. It was my last out that they would put the kibosh on it and I guess their response is they're going to make a cameo. (laughs) But yeah, Smitty and I talked about it quite a bit and the same concerns. He knows what the parameters are and he'll have an opportunity to meet with the people down there. Obviously this is a unique thing. I don't know if you've been three days with somebody like that like we're going to have an opportunity to do.”
Ketover: “We've worked a lot with Coach Smith. In fact, we spent a summer with the Jaguars one year when he was the coordinator down there. So I don't expect any issues with the Falcons.”
Have you had anything like this on a hard knocks episode with two teams working out together?
Ketover: “We've had practices with other clubs. I don't think it's been a 3-day or 4-day trip before, which actually it almost feels like the going away to Georgetown used to be. I think it's probably good for the players, which is why coach is doing it, to change locations once in a while. We're looking forward to getting different shots and different angles and different settings.”
Do you work with the team on assessing storylines?
Ketover: “No, we do it the same way all of you probably do it. We're not here to take up any of coach's time. We're here to shoot camp. And he's worried about putting a team together. So for us, we read and then we listen and watch the footage. We're going to have wires on guys at practice, I think eight to 12 at every practice. We're going to listen and the footage is going to take us in the direction we want to go.”
Will much of the show be about the Falcons when the Bengals are there?
Ketover: “I think it will be based on what happens. If there's a lot of interaction ... look, we're covering the making of the Cincinnati Bengals, so if there's a lot of interaction with the Falcons either on game day or during practices that are relevant to that story, we'll cover it. It's not going to be half of that show's going to be about one team and half's going to be about the other.”