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A recent Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) announcement that Nebraska was again one of the nation’s “Super 11” sports information departments serving football was hardly a surprise. “Nebraska’s SID group always has had a stellar reputation, dating to the days of The Fat Fox (Don Bryant, Nebraska’s legendary Sports Information Director Emeritus),” said San Antonio-based Tim Griffin, a former FWAA President who wrote the release that was distributed nationally from Dallas.
A sports journalist for three-plus decades, Griffin has a handle on why certain schools rate hightest in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision during the 2013 season, and he was willing to share his thoughts with The N-Sider, giving well-deserved kudos to Keith Mann, a humble leader and Nebraska’s Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations.
Don Bryant’s warm smile still graces Nebraska Athletics on a regular basis.
In following Bryant and Chris Anderson, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Community Relations, as Sports Information Director, Griffin believes Mann “grew up” in the program and was “brought up with an innate sense of knowing the right thing to do,” Griffin said. “It’s carried over into his work once he took the program over after leaving for that brief period at Tennessee – a job I think was good for Keith because he was exposed to the ways things are done around the SEC schools.”
Since the FWAA’s 1941 inception, the organization targets better working conditions for writers across the country. Over the years, the FWAA has made a habit of commending deserving schools and developing ways to rate sports information departments.
Nebraska One of Nation’s Top Four or Five
“It’s fair to say that Nebraska is among the four or five best departments in the country,” Griffin told me. “They’ve been honored when they were in the Big 12 and continued to be honored after the move to the Big Ten.” With no intention to disparage anyone, Griffin believes Nebraska is the benchmark for Big Ten Conference Sports Information Departments. “My spies on the ground in the Big Ten tell me that,” he said. “Nebraska has ranked at the top from the very beginning.”
Griffin has covered 12 national championship football games, five NCAA Final Fours and four NBA Championship Series, so he knows what the media wants and needs. He also knows that in the business he’s in, yesterday’s accolades don’t necessarily become today’s realities. “Despite its traditional success, I’ve always thought that the Nebraska SID group has never rested on its laurels,” Griffin said. “They keep improving and evolving to try and make things better in their dealings with the media.
“The Nebraska football program receives as much publicity in the state as any college in the nation,” Griffin said. “In essence, it is the pro team for the state and is covered as such. Nebraska sports to the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star are every bit as big as the Red Sox might be to the Boston Globe, the Cowboys to the Dallas Morning News and the Spurs to my newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News. Keith always seemed to get it and his work reflects his dedication to the craft.”
Like every Sports Information Department, Nebraska faces unique challenges. “What always impressed me about Keith and his group is the way they keep trying hard and work through whatever challenges exist,” Griffin said.
At a Husker practice, "The Fox" and Bob Devaney pulled a prank on Coach Mike Corgan.
Through Change, Nebraska Steady as a Rock
“Keith and his group always take that extra step and we as a group of football writers appreciate them for that,” Griffin said before acknowledging how media has evolved over the years. “Unfortunately, tweets are becoming as important for some sports editors as a good long-form story. Through all the changes, Nebraska has been steady as a rock. I personally miss dealing with them after they left the conference I cover on a daily basis.”
Since Griffin, the reporter and columnist, introduced the subject of social media, I ask him about his thoughts of Tim Miles, Nebraska’s second-year head coach who was not only the 2014 Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, but also the National Coach of the Year.
“I’ve only seen Tim and his group when they came to San Antonio for the NCAA Tournament, but a couple of items have struck me in their coverage,” Griffin said. “The success of the program has driven interest in Miles and the program. The new building has helped. The success they had in getting to the NCAA tournament, as well as their new surroundings, has helped make them a program with a growing national perspective.”
McKnight, Griesch, Smith Support the Media
Even with the growth in interest, Griffin has noticed Miles being quoted in the Nebraska media on such day-to-day subjects as moving the Big Ten Tournament around, future scheduling and other topics. “The fact that he’s accommodating for those demands is an indicator that he gets it and realizes the media’s role in helping build his program to bigger heights,” Griffin said. “Shamus McKnight (the Nebraska Men’s Basketball SID) does a great job, which isn’t surprising especially when you consider where he’s working and his exposure to the Nebraska way of doing things.”
Jeff Griesch, Nebraska’s director of media relations operations, is second to no one in terms of women’s basketball information and also supervises and coordinates many of the components that make the media’s job infinitely easier covering football. Matt Smith is another important sports information cog serving the media with football-related priorities, and Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications under Mann, is one of the best, if not the best, social media manager in college football. Bottom line, “Nebraska gets it, in terms of its services to the media,” Griffin said, “and for that, I speak for our 1,100 (FWAA) members in appreciating all that you guys do.”
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