A long, winding road for Bremen's Wagner
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — As a video coordinator at the University of Arkansas, Bremen native Andy Wagner is used to being on the other side of the spotlight.
But the Razorbacks’ Director of Sports Video will get some much-deserved attention of his own when he returns to Indiana to receive the Southeastern Conference Video Coordinator of the Year Award at the 18th Annual Collegiate Sports Video Conference May 14-17 in Indianapolis.
As co-SEC award-winner, Wagner is now a finalist to be named the 2011-12 Bob Matey National Video Coordinator of the Year, to be selected at the CSVC’s banquet May 17.
“It’s honestly something that I’m really proud of because your peers are the ones that are naming you,” said Wagner by telephone. “In the short time I’ve been in college football and the Southeastern Conference, to know that I’ve got a lot of people that respect the job that I’ve done here at Arkansas is just very fulfilling.”
The SEC Video Coordinator of the Year Award isn’t the first accolade for Wagner, who helped develop Arkansas football’s recruiting website ‘Thisisarkansasfootball.com’ in his first year with the program in 2008 as well as its mobile extension, the Petrino Plan app, last year, both of which received awards of their own.
In fact, as much as overseeing the taping and dissemination of footage from games, practices and scrimmages for coaches and players, Wagner’s job involves updating servers, software and other technology to keep U of A’s football program on the cutting edge.
One of the ironies of his job, Wagner says, is that ‘breaking down film’ no longer has anything to do with film. In the age of increasingly web-based information exchange, keeping coaches connected with each other, players and recruits has become central to keeping a top-tier program on top.
“Film is just kind of the label that is placed on our line of work just because everybody is familiar with NFL films and whatnot, but really it’s more computer-based now than it’s ever been. Making sure that all that stuff is in place and getting a network in place for the coaches to have access not just to even Arkansas film but to high school film for recruiting purposes, stuff along those lines, that is key,” said Wagner.
“When I first got here in 2008, we were receiving recruiting tapes on VHS, then it was DVDs, and now for the most part our coaches get our recruiting off linked video clips and emails. Our head coach rarely ever watches a DVD now. The technology, the different ways to find different players, it’s amazing. For me, teams are much easier to come across now. I’m starting to see high schools that I remember back when I was at Bremen. In fact, I think there was even a Bremen game that came across on our system this year. It’s just amazing to see the way film is growing, and how everything is so much quicker. I can sit in my office and send a practice to a coach so he can watch it on his iPad. Four years ago, that wasn’t even available, and head coaches would just stay until the film was done to grade or review or do whatever they needed to do. Now people can go home and get a text message from me and pull their iPad out and watch the scrimmage that we did from last spring or the spring game, for that matter.”
While Wagner has achieved award-winning status as a video coordinator, his road into the profession was a long and winding one.
After graduating from Bremen in 1995, Wagner attended Butler University to pursue his degree in telecommunications. His original goal was to be a sportscaster, and, the son of longtime Bremen assistant tennis coach Mark Wagner who had played tennis in lieu of football in high school, his early interest was in auto racing.
An internship with a TV racing program fell through in his senior year at Butler, but when that door closed, another opened in the form of an internship with the Indianapolis Colts. The rest is history.
“I actually did some internships with Dean Huppert at Fox 28 while I was at Butler,” said Wagner. “I think when I went to Butler I probably thought the naive thing, that, hey, I could be Chris Berman and be on ESPN. Then when I got into college I got really caught up in working for ABC Sports. I did a program with them where I was a production assistant where I worked in the pits at the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400. I was convinced that that was what I wanted to do right up until the end of my junior year. I was supposed to take an internship with RPM Tonight and get a job once I was on the set with ABC. But there was a miscommunication as far as I thought I was going to be able to take classes, they needed me to work full time. I couldn’t graduate and still work the job at RPM Tonight so basically I went to my counselor and said ‘I’m really in trouble here because I’m not going to be able to get my internship like I thought.’ That same day the Colts had called my counselor asking if they had anybody that was good with video that would be willing to do an internship. So my senior year, that’s how I got on. It didn’t take very long. I went to interview for the position with the Colts and that day I spent a couple hours with the video guys there, and they took me to lunch and I got to have lunch with Marshall Faulk. I was like ‘Man, this is cool.’ It really kind of caught on there.”
In addition to meeting Faulk, Wagner got his start with the Colts the same year a young Tennessee quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning joined the team.
Manning’s studiousness is legendary, and because of his keenness for breaking down film, Wagner got to know him pretty well during his two-year tenure in Indy. He says he followed Manning’s storyline this offseason with some interest and was glad to see him land on his feet in Denver.
“In the two years that I saw him he was always the first guy in and the last guy to leave,” said Wagner. “We always treated him as almost a position coach. He wanted to watch the same amount of film that the coaches watched. Being around the coaches as much as we are, the coaches were impressed from the minute he was drafted. I remember that first offseason sending tape to him so that he could start getting familiar with the offense before he’d even practiced for the first time. I always thought with just his work ethic he’d always end up on his feet. Whenever I was around or he’d get a chance at a game, he’d always say hey. He’s a class act. I did follow the story, and I wished nothing but the best for him and hopefully he makes it work in Denver.”
Following his stint with the Colts, Wagner accepted a position with the AFC South-rival Jacksonville Jaguars, and it was there that he met quarterbacks coach-turned-offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. Wagner worked with the Jaguars for eight years, and, after Petrino vacated his position as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in the wake of the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal in 2007, the two reunited at Arkansas in 2008, when Petrino made a return to college coaching following a nine-year venture in the NFL.
From 2008 to 2011, Wagner did his part to help Petrino and his staff turn the Razorbacks around from a 5-7 team to a national championship contender as Arkansas followed up its BCS Bowl debut in the Sugar Bowl in 2010 with an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last season, where the Razorbacks beat Kansas State to finish the year at 11-2.
Petrino was dismissed April 10 after it was revealed he had hired 25-year-old mistress Jessica Dorrell as his football team’s student-athlete development coordinator, then tried to conceal the nature of their relationship. He was recently replaced by one-time boss and former assistant John L. Smith, who had left Arkansas four months earlier to take a job as head coach at alma mater Weber State but returned to take the reins for the Razorbacks in the aftermath of the Petrino/ Dorrell scandal.
Smith and a host of returning assistant coaches should provide the Razorbacks with some continuity, and Wagner said everyone in the program is looking ahead, not backward.
“Regardless of anything that’s going on, we’re still a strong program. It’s fun to be in the mix where we’ve been national title contenders last year and should be this year. There’s not one person that makes the program, and we’re all extremely excited about the direction that we’re headed in,” he said. “We just gone done with a staff meeting, and there’s nine assistant coaches that are still here from last year, and Coach John L. Smith, who’s been here with us the last three years and is probably one of the most exciting and energized coaches I’ve been around. While it’s fun to be recognized and all that, you’ve really kind of got to think recognition in the past is just that — it’s in the past. The offseason gets shorter and shorter each year so our focus is turned on moving forward whether that’s on next season or on what new piece of technology that could be out there for us that we could use.”
It’s been a long, strange trip for a would-be sports broadcaster from Bremen, but it’s often been an interesting and rewarding one. And through it all Wagner hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I couldn’t have done half the things that I’ve done in my career if it hadn’t been for a lot of people back in Bremen, obviously, most importantly my parents,” he said. “When I first got my job with the Colts I had to spend my nights working for Federal Express just so I could get insurance, and I’m not quite sure back then my parents quite understood the direction that I was headed but they always supported me, and I know now that they’re proud of me. They always supported me in anything that I did, and that’s as much of a key to being successful as anything, and I can’t thank them enough for it.”