Three years ago Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was in the office of HBO Sports president Ken Hershman on a fact-finding tour about what it was like for NFL teams to appear on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
Now McNair is about to find out first-hand.
The Texans have been selected to be featured on the well-regarded and long-running television series that takes viewers inside an NFL training camp. A sports television source confirmed the news on Wednesday morning. Credit goes to Houston Chronicle NFL writer John McClain and ESPN NFL writer Tania Ganguli for initially breaking the news.
The Texans, who have never been featured on the series, will bring some interesting storylines to the series, including the comeback of the injured defensive lineman and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, a quarterback competition between Ryan Mallett and free agent signing Brian Hoyer and Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt being ... J.J. Watt. The loss of Andre Johnson means third-round pick Jaelen Strong has a chance to get significant targets this year if he impresses in camp. Look for him to be featured.
Last year's Hard Knocks: Training Camp With the Atlanta Falcons averaged 3.6 million viewers per episode, making that series the third most-watched season since 2005 behind the Jets and Dolphins. The show launched with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, followed by the Dallas Cowboys in '02. The series took a couple of years off before resuming with the Chiefs in 2007. That was followed by the Cowboys (2008), Bengals ('09), Jets ('10), Dolphins ('12), Bengals ('13) and Falcons ('14). “We are thrilled to partner with HBO and NFL Films to give fans unprecedented access to our team and organization,” McNair said, in a statement. “The Hard Knocks documentaries do a tremendous job of displaying how an NFL team prepares for the upcoming season. We look forward to showcasing the Houston Texans to a worldwide audience.”
About 30 Hard Knocks staffers work onsite during the filming, and a half-dozen in the crew will spend seven weeks in total with the Texans. Staffers work 12-to-14-hour days, and often clock 100 hours per week. The crew typically shoots 300 hours of film for each 55-minute program. In 2013 I embedded with the Hard Knocks crew in Cincinnati for two days for an MMQB story. The production staff is truly impressive to watch. This year's series will premiere Aug. 11 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
NFL TEAMS ON HARD KNOCKS
NFL Teams on Hard Knocks
Baltimore Ravens (2001)
Some of the issues covered: The team looking to repeat as Super Bowl winners. Rookies Todd Heap's and Dwayne Missouri's adjustment to professional football. The team's adjustment after a season-ending injury to Jamal Lewis. The veterans on the team in the final years of their careers (Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Qadry Ismail, and Tony Siragusa). The quarterback competition between Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham. Ozzie Newsome's and Brian Billick's management of the team.
Dallas Cowboys (2002)
Some of the issues covered: Quincy Carter's pressure to stay the consistent starting quarterback and the acquisition of Chad Hutchinson as a backup quarterback. Rookie Roy Williams' adjustment to professional football. Emmitt Smith beginning his final season in Dallas, and his pursuit to become the NFL's all-time rushing yards leader. Dave Campo heading into his third (and eventually, final) season as Dallas' head coach.
Kansas City Chiefs (2007)
Some of the issues covered: The battle for the starting quarterback job between veteran Damon Huard and second-year player Brodie Croyle following the trade of Trent Green. Star running back Larry Johnson's contract holdout. Priest Holmes' attempted return to football after missing all of 2006 after a career-threatening neck injury. The contract holdout and later development of rookie wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs' first-round draft pick of 2007. Boomer Grigsby's switch from linebacker to fullback. The development of rookie defensive linemen Tank Tyler and Turk McBride. The competition between two undrafted cornerbacks—Tyron Brackenridge and Dimitri Patterson. Arena Football League star Bobby Sippio's attempt to catch on with an outdoor team.
Dallas Cowboys (2008)
Some of the issues covered: Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones' reinstatement into the NFL. Keon Lattimore, a younger brother of Ray Lewis, competing for a job. Todd Lowber, a very athletic wide receiver new to the game of football, trying to make the team. Undersized wide receiver Danny Amendola competing for a job. Rookies Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett adjusting to NFL camp for the first time.
Cincinnati Bengals (2009)
Some of the issues covered: The battle for the starting fullback position between Jeremi Johnson, Chris Pressley, Fui Vakapuna, and J.D. Runnels. The injuries of tight ends Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht, and the adjustment of rookie tight end Chase Coffman to the NFL. The contract holdout of offensive tackle Andre Smith, the Bengals' first-round draft pick of 2009. The battle for the starting strong safety position between veteran Roy Williams and Chinedum Ndukwe. The recovery effort of starting quarterback Carson Palmer from an injury-plagued 2008 season. The antics and catchphrases of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (who is now Chad Johnson). The development and maturation of wide receiver Chris Henry.
New York Jets (2010)
Some of the issues covered: The vocal coaching style of head coach Rex Ryan, highlighted by several sound bites that became popular after the season, such as "That's being a jackass!" and "Let's go eat a goddamn snack!" Cornerback Darrelle Revis' contract holdout. The battle for the starting fullback position between veteran Tony Richardson, journeyman Jason Davis and rookie John Conner. Second-year starting quarterback Mark Sanchez's development as the "face" of the franchise. Kris Jenkins' return after ACL surgery. Running back Danny Woodhead's attempt to make the team. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie attempting (and failing) to name all nine of his children.
Miami Dolphins (2012)
Some of the issues covered: Contract negotiation of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The position battle between Tannehill, Matt Moore and David Garrard, with Tannehill winning the starting job after week 2 of the pre-season. The health issues of Garrard, especially after undergoing knee surgery during training camp. He was released from the team the same day the season's final episode aired. The difficulty of Les Brown in adjusting from former college basketball player to NFL tight end, and his subsequent release. The meeting in which Philbin notifies Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco) of his release following his arrest for allegedly headbutting his wife of 41 days. The trade of cornerback Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts for two future draft picks.
Cincinnati Bengals (2013)
Some of the issues covered: Rookie defensive lineman Larry Black's season-ending injury. Linebacker James Harrison's dislike of the camera crew at training camp. The backup quarterback position battle between Josh Johnson and John Skelton. Estonian rookie defensive end Margus Hunt's adjustment to the NFL and life in the U.S. The fullback position battle between veteran John Conner and converted tight end Orson Charles. The linebacker position battle between undrafted rookies Jayson DiManche and Bruce Taylor Linebacker Aaron Maybin's struggle to stay on the team and his pursuit of painting.
Atlanta Falcons (2014)
Some of the issues covered: The Falcons attempt to build more toughness into the team after a disappointing 2013 season. Veteran Kroy Biermann's attempt to return from a major injury and switch positions. Rookies Tyler Starr's and Jaques Smith's attempt to make the team.
Houston Texans (2015)
Some of the issues covered: Brian Hoyer named starting quarterback over Ryan Mallett. Brian Cushing repeatedly vomits and Jadeveon Clowney returns to the field. J.J. Watt remains the focal point of the team.
The Noise Report
1. Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand reported that Matt Millen has left ESPN for Fox Sports.
2. On Wednesday ESPN named Chris Connelly as the Interim Editor-in-Chief of Grantland. He ostensibly replaces Bill Simmons. Connelly is a longtime contributor to E:60, Outside the Lines, and ABC News, and joined ESPN in September 2001 after more than a dozen years at MTV, where he was a host and interviewer and correspondent for MTV News. ESPN PR declined to make Connelly available for an interview. In a statement, Connelly said, “Bill Simmons had the vision to create Grantland, and his leadership, ideas, and inspiration made it singularly great. I’m looking forward to helping the writers, editors, and producers on this amazingly talented staff create more of the outstanding work for which they’ve rightly become known.”
2a. The SI Media Podcast is now on iTunes: Episode 1: Adam Schefter of ESPN and Rachel Nichols of CNN. Episode 2: Verne Lundquist of CBS Sports. Episode 3: Rebecca Lowe of NBC Sports.
2b. The Columbia Journalism Review on what to expect from the SI Media Podcast.
2c. Thanks to Slate’s “Hang Up And Listen” crew for the podcast invite.
3. The man most responsible for ESPN’s noxious “Embrace Debate” philosophy—as well enabling Skip Bayless’s decade-plus of hockey goonery—started work last week at Fox Sports 1 as the boss of programming, marketing and scheduling for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. How much does Fox Sports president Eric Shanks expect Jamie Horowitz, the former ESPN-er and NBC News executive, to change Fox Sports Live and studio programming?
“I don’t know what the expectations as far as changing specific things but what I will say is that Jamie is the leader of the team charged with the future programming vision is for Fox Sports 1, whether it is changes to existing shows or coming up with a programming vision that continues to move forward,” Shanks said. “We want to start to identify achievable goals and start to put some wins on the board. Our live events are clearly putting wins on the board and the overall network is up something like 30 percent from last year. I think that Jamie’s unique skills will start to put some wins on the board in other areas.”
Horowitz had a successful run drawing viewers to ESPN2 and worked hand in hand with ESPN’s research department to convince the higher-ups to focus on debate-oriented programming. He happens to be a very nice guy in person, which proves that the Devil often comes with a smile in sports television.
“I think debate was a means to an end—which was winning,” Shanks said. “Jamie was tasked with making ESPN2 compete with ESPN and debate was a means to an end. I think the end game was ratings. That’s the same end game here. What that mix of programming is and his creative vision is, I don’t know. But we all have the same goal.
ESPN management (in all departments) has long looked the other way on First Take, from Stephen A. Smith’s domestic violence takes to Bayless’s on and offline goonery of LeBron James—as long as the money train flowed to a day part that previously struggled to make big dough. If given the same paradigm, based on his answer, Shanks will also play ball with Horowitz’s brand of asshattitude.
“I don’t think there is a sports media company on the planet that doesn’t take criticism for something,” Shanks said. “If you believe in it—whether that’s how you cover a sport, who you have on pregame or the studio, you have to be willing to take criticism and you have to be willing to take chances. The category that was created around ESPN 2 clearly took a lot of heat but does not take merely as much heat as it does today because it performed.”
3a. ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd tells the About Sports Radio podcast that his show makes $18-$20 million per year for ESPN and that he thinks AM sports radio will be dead in five years.
4. The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights recently recognized The New York Times bestselling book Strong Inside, which tells the story of Perry Wallace, who in 1966 enrolled at Vanderbilt University and became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. The author, Andrew Maraniss was is a former basketball SID at Vanderbilt University and was the first-ever media relations manager for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays in inaugural season of 1998. A link to buy the book is here.
5a. Here’s SI’s Grant Wahl on what’s next for the investigation.
5b.Here's Bloomberg's Inside Report of the FIFA arrests in Zurich.
5c. If you have not seen the E:60 investigation of FIFA czar Sepp Blatter, do so here.