When it comes to technology, Georgia football coach Mark Richt still uses a “palm pilot.” That is, he still scribbles a lot of notes to himself in ink on the palms of his hands.
But like most college students, Georgia’s football players love everything about new technology. So you could imagine their delight when they showed up for preseason football camp this week and each of them — 105 in all — was issued a new iPad.
And these are no ordinary tablets. The fourth-generation Apple creations came with red-and-black, hard-cover cases and were programmed specifically to fulfill the Bulldogs’ football needs.
“Nobody heard about it until we came in and got them,” junior wide receiver Chris Conley said. “So guys were excited as they were handing them out. Everybody’s saying, ‘oh, yeah, this is cool.’”
The unexpected handouts caused a brief Twitter-buzz Wednesday morning as players tweeted photos of the iPads. Jealous responses came back from players at other schools.
But it didn’t take long for the reality to set in that these weren’t toys. UGA made it clear that they are work tools to be studied and utilized daily. Their main functions are to replace Georgia’s encyclopedic playbooks and provide a video and information exchange between players and coaches.
“When we realized, ‘oh, no, we can’t put any apps on it,’ everybody calmed down a little bit,” Conley said with a laugh.
In the end, Georgia says the iPads are an investment in winning. The expectation is to be more efficient and cost-effective while instantaneously providing information to players who can use it to become better at football.
Brett Greene, UGA’s director of video operations, spearheaded the project to transfer the Bulldogs’ playbook onto the tablets and master the video interfacing.
“We kind of looked at it last year, but we weren’t ready for it yet,” Greene said. “We kind of tested it with a few products back in the spring. A few of our players and (graduate assistants) and couple of our coaches used them and got an idea of how it works. After that we got everybody on board with it and got the money for it approved, and we got it done.”
Greene said Georgia is one of the first teams in the SEC to utilize the technology, along with LSU. Stanford employed a similar system last year, and about five or six college teams nationwide have come on board this year, Greene said. Most NFL teams already use it, he said.
Josh Brooks, UGA’s associate athletic director for internal operations, estimates the initial costs to be between $50,000 and $60,000. But he thinks they will pay for themselves quickly.
“You’d be surprised by the amount of money we spend a year on paper and printing and copiers and ink,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to track it exactly, but just from the playbooks I’d say it’d be safe to say we spend $20,000 a year on that. So these things should pay for themselves in three years.
“Technically you’re kind of going green, the money’s equal and you’re using something cool. I really think it’s a win, win, win situation.”
Brooks said another advantage is the iPads are more secure than paper playbooks. In the past if a player lost a playbook, it was gone. With the iPads, UGA can press a button and wipe out an individual iPad or all of them if needed. Georgia also meticulously tested the system’s firewall. Multiple security firms tried to hack the system, to no avail.
The video applications on the computers are particularly useful. Now after a Friday morning practice, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham can break down the day’s video, record a voice-over of feedback and send out a personalized cut-up by the afternoon to a particular player or group of players.
“I love it,” Conley said. “We can watch film on it and see the playbook and use it as an interactive tool. It’s unique and you can learn a lot and get more information from one source.”
Greene said some of Georgia’s “old-school coaches” are still trying to master the technology. Richt said he feels like he’s gotten a good handle on it now.
“The good thing about the technology is you don’t really have to know how it works,” Richt said. “You just got to know that it works and how to use it. And I have a lot of people who can help me.”