By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — The hijinks, as Mike Leach calls them, were plentiful in the days of 16-millimeter film exchange.
First, a graduate assistant had to splice the thing up, cut it into a tight, neat package, then, after little to no sleep, drive the reel — or, later, the VHS — to the airport and get it on the earliest flight to the location of that week’s opponent.
And once it arrived, there were no guarantees it would be in one piece.
“Film would be missing,” Leach said. “Sometimes they would strategically make sure it was really static-y when it came in. There would always be the somebody who sent it late — ‘oh, well it didn’t make it on the plane.’ So you’re getting ready for a game and you get your film two days later and they’ve already had theirs, that type of deal.”
Not anymore. Not for WSU, and not for a bevy of other Division-1 and NFL teams, more and more of which handle their film-study through an online service called Hudl that seeks to diminish the stress so famously associated with film exchange.
Instead of lower-level assistants staying up all night putting film together and taking it to the airport, game videos are now exchanged simultaneously across the conference on Sunday mornings. And instead of players trekking into the football office to watch film together, they can do it on their own at any time — on their laptop, on their iPad, their iPhone or their Android device.
Reached by telephone in Orlando, Kyle Bradburn, a 27-year-old former high school coach working with Hudl in internal sales, relays the history of the company that changed football’s film culture.
David Graff, CEO, founded the company with two of his friends — Brian Kaiser and John Wirtz — while working as a graduate assistant under coach Bill Callahan at Nebraska.
Callahan was asked what he’d want new film-watching software to include. Among other features, Callahan told them he’d want the film to be exchanged digitally and stored online.
So Graff, Kaiser and Wirtz developed the product. Callahan used it and loved it. And after he was fired by Nebraska, he showed Hudl to New York Jets coach Eric Mangini in an interview for the Jets’ offensive line coach position.
Mangini loved it, the Jets started using it and Hudl took off.
“They kind of hit a home run with Nebraska and the Jets as their clients,” Bradburn said.
It’s intuitive, allowing coaches to add notes and ESPN-style telestration over the top of certain plays or packages, and gives coaches the ability to compile data breakdowns, formation reports and cutups.
“It’s online, so you can share with anyone,” Bradburn said. “Players and anyone can watch it at home and anywhere they’re at.”
“There’s no excuse for not watching film by yourself,” WSU safety Deone Bucannon said. “Because you can do it whenever you want. It really helps you.”
And they all have their own personal accounts, providing the kind of security desired by football coaches who would sooner give away their bank-account numbers than their playbooks.
“The access is unbelievable,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “So expectations, in terms of studying, there’s a lot more required.”
Recruiting is made easier, too. Bradburn said Hudl recently held a celebration to mark the 10,000th high school to subscribe to their service that uploads recruiting highlights for perusal by college coaches.
“I don’t have to wait for a DVD now coming from the west side of Washington,” Breske said. “Now it’s emailed to me. I can go to any state, whether it’s a senior or junior, click the school or the kid’s name and all his stuff pops up.”
Even Leach, an old-school soul who says he’s “fouled up” more computers than he’s made work, says the value of a digital system is undeniable.
“I have all of last year’s film, I have all of this year’s film and even though I can’t push the buttons to get them to come up, there’s people in my office that can,” Leach said. “Boom, there I’ve got 12 games, so it really is handy from that standpoint.”