Wendys, VHS, and Football Film

Luke Goldstein at UVA Football Practice

“I was just standing there in the parking lot of a rural North Carolina Wendy’s” Luke Goldstein remarked “I looked like I was about to do a drug deal”

            Walk into the University of Virginia Football offices and turn right and you enter a hive of activity. The analysts sit in the back end of the cavernous room, eyes glued to their computers. As you look towards the front of the room, you are forced to take in a wall that is covered in televisions. As you look to the left and the right, you can find nearly a dozen desktop computers scattered around the front half of the room. Players and coaches alike sit at these monitors, gathering the intel that they need in order to win that Saturday. And in the midst of all these machines and people, you find Luke Goldstein.

            Goldstein’s desk sits in the front left corner of the video room, on his desk he has two computer monitors and a television directly above him. Covering his desks are memos from the athletic department, the head coach, and personal mementos.

            If the University of Virginia football program was Batman, Goldstein would be Alfred. As the team’s video coordinator, he serves coaches and players video on a digital platter, and they use it to understand their enemies. The amount of things that he helps the team with seem to grow every week. Ever since he started the job in 2002, he has pioneered a number of changes in the video department. This has led him to become the assistant athletics director for video services in 2013.

            Football from the very beginning has been a game of strategy. Coaches and players scheming for the best possible way to beat their opponents. From this, the forward pass, the shotgun snap, blitzing, and modern football itself has grown from this. Off the field, modern medicine, nutrition, and recovery techniques have significantly improved and have helped players stay on the field. But, the most important aspect that many people often skip over is film study.

            Film study has grown exponentially in importance and prestige since its inception. It has evolved from film rolls in projectors, to VHS tapes, and now has moved to a completely digital platform. This new digital platform has led to an explosion in popularity in addition to how we study and analyze the game.

            Goldstein is originally from New York, growing up he knew that he wanted to be on television. This is a passion that followed him into college at Syracuse. But, his desire to be in front of the camera faded after he found out he couldn’t ever remember his lines. This led him to go behind the camera and this kick-started his career.

            He started in the equipment room for the football team and then later transitioned into shooting video for the rest of the athletics department. He shot lacrosse and also worked with the basketball team.

            After college he was able to secure a job with ESPN and he helped with the program Sports Center. Fortunately, after a few months he got a call from his old coordinator and he wanted him to come down and interview for a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He flew down to Florida on his own dime and interviewed for the job. He didn’t have a place to stay so he stayed with his old coworker and helped him hang Christmas lights. It was shortly after this that he decided to hire Goldstein for the job. This was a risky move as the head coach, Tom Coughlin, did not want him to be hired as he wanted someone with more experience. Thankfully for Goldstein, the video coordinator disregarded his head coach and hired him anyways.

            When Goldstein was hired, the Jaguars had just become a NFL franchise and it had to sign players to its roster. The first thing that Goldstein shot for the Jaguars was a free agent tryout. The problem was, he had never shot football before so he screwed it up until they showed him how.

            Football is shot in three different ways. The first is the game clock. This shot prefaces the play and gives context such as down and distance, who possess the ball, and time left in the game. The second shot is a wide shot which shows all the players on the field. This shows the whole play and all the routes and motions that players do. The final shot is the tight shot which is directly behind the offensive line. This helps to show blocking and blitzes by the lines.

            When Goldstein was with the Jaguars, they used all tapes to document their games and practices on. So he shot practice with a Beta SP. They had multiple racks of DVRs and processors so that they could separate the film between offense, defense, and play/blitz types. This whole process took about two to three hours and was one of the most advanced systems that money could buy. Goldstein estimates that the whole setup costs millions of dollars.

            After working for the Jaguars for three seasons he took the head video coordinator job for the University of Southern California football team. He was able to work with athletes like Carson Palmer and coaches such as Marvin Lewis. This was the first time that he was in charge of the whole process.

            He had to overhaul the entire way that the team shot and sifted through film as the old way was very outdated. He came to this profound conclusion after it took him six hours to sort the film after his first practice “I wanted to quit” Goldstein remarked.

The technology that they were using was similar to the NFL but it also lagged behind in the way that the film was sorted. He had multiple decks of VCRs and computers in order to be able to sort through the film quicker. It was during his time at USC that film started to go more digital. But, they still had to transport all the film the old fashion way.

Due to the continued heavy reliance on tapes to store film, video coordinators had to manually ship the film to other schools so they could use it to scout. This process could take a number of days especially if the team was on the opposite coast. If the game was played on Saturday, the worst case scenario was that the film wouldn’t be there until Wednesday.

Coordinators had to drive the film to the airport and ship it from there. And after 9/11, they had to start using carrier services in order to transport it far distances. For teams that were within about six hours of driving. Goldstein would meet the other coordinators halfway and end up waiting in a lot of strange places. Often he would pay one of his student interns to drive so that he could spend time with his family.

He left USC in the early 2000’s and became the head video coordinator for the entire XFL. While he was in their employ, he started capturing video directly into computers which was a turn from the capturing it on tapes. By directly putting it into a computer it took a shorter amount of time to process and make it available to coaches and players.

After the league folded, he worked on computers for a few months but hated it so much he put his name back into the job market for a video coordinator position. He was hired by the University of Virginia in 2002 and has remained there ever since.

During his time at Virginia, he has transitioned completely away from using VHS and now everything is digital. Once a game or practice finishes, the upload to the database is completed within minutes. He has film on every single team in the NFL and nearly every FBS college team readily available for coaches and players. Perhaps his favorite advancement is that film can be sent by file between teams rather than him driving hours to pick up a box set of VHS tapes.

The amount that film capture and processing has changed since the advent of the digital age is simply staggering. Goldstein explained that on each of the decks that used to process film, they could only hold 160 gigabytes. Now they have equipment that can hold 3 terabytes (one terabyte is 1000 gigabytes). This easy access film has led to the rise of highlight videos, and websites such as Hudl and DVSport. These sites help high school athletes make videos to help them get recruited, these sites also help college teams share film with each other.

Working with film is a constantly evolving job and there is no guarantee for what happens next. Luke Goldstein has gone from VHS tapes to completely digital and he is ready for whatever is going to happen next.

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