What it takes to move a team for Bowl Week
When the Oklahoma Sooners emerge from the tunnel at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and huddle one last time before kickoff of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Kenny Mossman may finally be able take a deep breath and relax. At least for a minute.
Mossman is the Senior Associate AD for External Operations and the sport administrator for football. That means he’s the guy responsible for packing up half of Norman, Oklahoma, and moving it 800 miles away to Atlanta so the Sooners can have everything they need for the College Football Playoff semifinal.
“When the team arrives, they expect it to be ready-made so they can get right into their routine, because their sole focus is the game,” Mossman said.
Moving a team of 200-plus players, coaches, staff members, administrators and their families is a bit more complicated than throwing a few suitcases in the family wagon and heading out for a week of vacation. It requires comprehensive planning and execution that few ordinary fans can grasp. It makes transporting the team to Ames for a Saturday afternoon game against Iowa State seem rudimentary.
“It’s really an involved process,” Mossman said. “When you’re talking about moving an entire football operation across several states, it’s a significant undertaking.”
Mossman has been at Oklahoma for 19 years and been on the bowl patrol for a dozen seasons. He has overseen trips to the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl over the past five years. He has developed a playbook to deal with bowl trips, breaking down the tasks and responsibilities so nothing is left to chance. After all no one wants to arrive at their bowl site without practice jerseys or athletic tape.
“We’ve got a number of people who have been here for a while, so we divvy up responsibilities among various staff members,” he said. “In many cases it’s second nature for our staff.”
The logistics of bowl preparation begin with an advance site visit. The planners get together with the team at the host hotel and begin making plans to transform it into the football office for the week. It’s where the team will hold all its meetings, eat most of its meals and spend the majority of its free time. The goal is to make it as normal as possible.
“The hotel will have a huge bearing on our experience,” Mossman said. “So much occurs at the hotel. It really becomes your football office. … So what is a large office complex that we work out of here in Norman gets transferred to the hotel. That’s why it’s such a big piece.”
Mossman said the Sooners are extremely happy with the Omni Atlanta, which will serve as their team hotel.
“We hit a home run with our hotel because their readiness for us and awareness of our needs is as good or better than any hotel we’ve ever come in contact with,” he said.
The other important piece of the puzzle is a visit to the practice facilities. Mossman’s team will consider the distance to the site, how much time will be spent in traffic and whether meals will be eaten there or the hotel. Oklahoma will practice at Georgia State – a complicated situation since the Panthers are also getting ready for a bowl game – and Georgia Tech, with a walk–through conducted at Mercedes-Benz.
Oklahoma will be bringing its own nutritionist with the team, which probably nixes a trip to the Varsity. And the team managers got lucky in terms of weights; the Sooners will be able to lift at Georgia State, meaning they don’t have to ship the weights from Norman.
They’ll pack cold-weather clothing for practice days, even though the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will be played in a climate-controlled domed stadium.
“When we go on the road we have to account for all those pieces by bringing them with us or finding ways to access them in the city that we’re visiting,” Mossman said.
A three-person crew will leave Saturday to drive the equipment truck. The managers will fly with the team and immediately get to work preparing the practice facilities. In this case the multiple practice sites complicates the process. There are a lot of trunks to move and crates to transfer to make it happen. Mossman said, “The managers will definitely earn their money.”
Once they arrive in Atlanta, the Sooners will have a liaison for the bowl committee, another to deal the hotel, another for the football operations. They’ll go through the checklist, just like a pilot does before heading for the runway, and make sure nothing is left to chance.
“We have a playbook, but more important than a playbook, we have experienced people who understand what we need to accomplish who are very good at their job,” he said. “I can’t tell you how comforting it is and, likewise, it’s comforting to (coach) Lincoln Riley because there are going to be a lot of those things that are rightfully out of his view.”
If the Sooners win the game, they’ll have to do all the packing and moving again to prepare for the national championship on Jan. 13 in New Orleans. And there’s no objection, if that happens.
“We’re more than happy to do whatever we have to do to go through this process,” Mossman said. “There will be plenty of time in January and February to catch our breath.”