One of the best parts of college football is the wildly disparate styles of play from team to team. Pac-10 teams, for example, play a completely different kind of ball than the down-and-dirty SEC, and the same is true for many conferences around the nation. In the latest entry in its college football series, NCAA Football 07, EA Sports has given the playbooks the largest overhaul yet. We spoke with assistant producers Larry Richart and Anthony White--the guys responsible for all the plays you'll call in NCAA 07--to find out just what went into putting the playbooks together for the game. In part one of our Q&A, we get to know the guys who have the enviable job of getting paid to watch tons and tons of college football.
GameSpot: First off, tell us who you are and give us some information on each of your football backgrounds. What are your positions at EA Sports and how long have you been working there?
Larry Richart: My name is Larry Richart, I am an assistant producer and I have been working at EA-Tiburon since 1999. I started out in QA as a tester and worked my way up from there to the Central Production Team that I am currently on. I was born in Daytona but moved to Orlando when I was 3 after my father took the head football coach job at Bishop Moore High School. I grew up around football as my father was a quarterback at the University of Louisville and would later coach there and at UCF. My father coached me through high school at Bishop Moore and I went on to play quarterback at the University of Florida. During my five years at UF, I learned a tremendous amount about the game of football from some of the best coaches in the country led by Coach Steve Spurrier. I was also a member of the 1996 National Championship Team. I graduated from UF with a sports management degree and was fortunate enough to land a job at EA to get my foot in the door in the video game industry.
Anthony White: My name is Anthony White and I'm an assistant producer here at EA Tiburon. I've been with the company for little over a year now and I personally feel I have one of the best jobs in the world. I've been a big fan of the NCAA Football series for years and to now be a part of the team that makes the game is a dream come true. I grew up in Oakland, MS, and I became interested in football while attending Coffeeville High School in Coffeeville, MS. For me I always enjoyed going to practice [and] learning from the coaches the various skills and techniques needed to play the game and to have fun. I wasn't the biggest or the fastest player, but I always had a good understanding of what my coaches were teaching us during classroom work and on the field. After high school I joined the military and during this time I continued to play, but this is where I got my start in coaching. I started out as a volunteer youth league coach, coaching 12- and 13-year-old kids. After leaving the military I floated around the semiprofessional level as a player and then later a coach. That experience allowed me to gain access to various resources such as game cutups, college and pro playbooks, coaching clinics, contacts with high school and college coaches, in addition to keeping up to date with the latest trends in football.
GS: We think many folks would be interested to hear about your jobs. Can you give us a description of what you do in a typical day? What kind of technology and facilities do you have to assist you?
LR: Well, my day really depends on what time of year it is. For example, during the fall when college football is in full swing, I am usually watching four or five games a day during the week, from games that were played earlier in the season. Our information-resource department does a great job of taping as many games as possible from the NCAA and will copy those games to DVD for us to watch. While watching these games I will take notes on what formations and plays teams like to use. We have a sheet with every formation in the game on it and we can keep track of how many times teams like to use certain sets. That will give us an idea of what types of formations/plays to put into their playbook for the upcoming game. We also just got a new coach-edit tool that allows us to watch games with a coach clicker to pause, fast-forward, and rewind on the fly. This tool also allows us to save each play to a database where we can label each by formation, play type, result, etc. This is something we will use extensively in the off-season after we ship, as we will be able to create a database full of different plays and be able to find any type of play, from any team, whenever we want. This is extremely useful when we try to find new pass-route combinations, blocking schemes, and new blitz styles. After feeling comfortable that we have done the right amount of research for a particular team, we will move on to the actual update in our play-designer tool. This is where we spend a majority of our time, as we are able to update a team playbook by simply adding or deleting plays that we best feel represent that team's playing style.
AW: What we do on a typical day primarily depends on what game we're currently working on and at what stage of the development cycle we're in. Early on in the development cycle, which is during the college football season for NCAA, we're watching tons of games. Here at the studio we're able to get video feeds from nearly every game that's being broadcasted during the season. After the research phase is complete we'll go over our notes and then list out the formations we're going to add to the game. With the many hours of research we put in this year, we were able to come up with 103 new formations (87 on offense and 16 on defense), including making some minor adjustments to some of the existing formations. After we've created the formations, we can now add motion, personnel packages, and finally, plays. Once everything comes together, Larry and I will spend a large part of our day in practice mode, tuning the formations and plays to make sure they're working properly. I have stacks of NFL and college game cutups, drill tapes, playbooks, coaching manuals, and other related materials at my desk.
GS: Give us some numbers here--how much game film do you watch per day? How many teams do you cover throughout the year and how many games do you watch of each team? How do you go about dividing the labor between the two of you--by team, by conference, or some other method?
AW: During the workday I'll generally watch four to five games. For NCAA, the games we watch are usually the broadcast versions of the game and, in some cases, the actual game film. For Madden we have access to the actual coach's footage from every team in the NFL. I also do a lot of film-watching on my on time at home. This also had my fiancée questioning my mental stability, but she's very supportive of what I do. This past season I was able to watch at least three games on nearly every college team, including the lower-profile IA teams and the IAA teams. In some cases with teams such as USC, Oregon, Missouri, and here locally with UCF, I was able to watch every one of their games. As a result of our overall research I feel each team's playbook is an accurate representation of what they do in real life from a formation standpoint. We also investigate info on schools that had coaching/philosophy changes from the previous season and try to make sure those team playbooks reflect those changes. For example, Rice is going away from the triple-option offense in favor of a wide-open spread offense. BYU [is] switching to a 3-4 defense, and Cal [is] adding elements of the spread offense to their offensive system, etc. As for deciding what teams we want to research we'll generally start out with the teams we're fans of and go from there. Since I've lived on the West Coast and in the Midwest I keep up with Pac-10 and Big Ten football as well as other conferences such as the WAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, and the Sun Belt.
LR: During the season and right after it ends is when we are in full research mode. We want to try and get this knocked out as soon as possible so we can move on to creating the new formations and plays that we have seen from our research. We try and watch at least two games for every college team. We try and split the teams up as evenly as possible, but Anthony has some great knowledge of the teams out West and some of the smaller conferences, so he does a few more teams than me for NCAA. The teams we individually research change every year with coaching changes as we track coach movement very closely. During our research time period we will communicate to one another about different teams moving to different styles of offense and defense and go from there.
GS: How do you go about getting tapes and analyzing smaller, more under-the-radar programs?
LR: For some of the smaller college teams, it is harder to actually get video of them, as they are not on TV as much as some of the bigger schools. In these cases we will try to research their coaches on the Internet to try and find out where they have been in the past and what kind of styles they have been associated with. We also look at media guides and team Web sites to try and find out what kind of offensive/defensive styles they like to use. From there, we will just give them formations and plays that fit those schemes.
AW: It's funny you mention "under the radar," as during each week of this past season I would send an e-mail listing of games to our guys in the information resource center titled Off the Radar Games. This would generally cover the lower-profile IA and IAA teams. In addition to our IRC, there are tons of resources we can pull from, including online with ESPN Gameplan and CSTV All-Access. We also will use our various outside contacts to acquire game film from the past season.
Come back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Larry Richart and Anthony White, as we delve deep into the playbooks of NCAA Football 07.