Pound for pound, Brian Holloway is the best sports information director in the business. Since returning to his alma mater in 2004, Holloway has been a virtual one man gang, successfully raising the level of visibility for the entire A&T athletics department and shining a spotlight on the student athletes here. Despite having to work with a meager budget and limited resources, he’s somehow been able to provide A&T fans with consistent, first-rate coverage of each of their favorite sports programs. It’s a level of coverage that most larger schools are unable to match. In addition, Holloway is responsible for maintaining the ncataggies.com website, editing the various team’s media guides and also keeping in-game statistics. Recently, we sat down with this maestro of media relations and asked him about all the challenges he faces in his profession and just what it is that continues to keep him driven.
Bluedeathvalley.com: How has your job duties changed since when you first started here?
Brian Holloway: “I think the perception of what a sports information director does has changed since I’ve been here. Before I got here, there was a lot of turnover and not a lot of faith in the position. And as an Aggie, the one thing I wanted to do when I got back here was to put this university in the best light possible and make us as professional-looking as can be. I feel that the (sports information department) is the face of the athletics department and I wanted to put a better face on what we do. The position has evolved – especially now with technology and with websites – into more of a role of shaping the image that we put out to the public, and that has changed my responsibilities. (A&T athletics director) Wheeler Brown has allowed me to look into improving the website, to put together press conference, to put together talking points for the university … so I just think my overall role since I’ve been here has increased. The trust level with sports information has increased. And that’s just through diligence and trying to convince people that it’s more than just keeping stats. It really is as public relations position and that’s the way it should be treated. The University Relations staff here has really been nice and started to include me in on things that are going on, and that has really helped me grow a little bit.”
So what type of skill set does someone in your position need in order to be successful?
Brian Holloway: You need to have organization skills. You need to have excellent writing skills. You need to be able to complete things on deadline. You have to have the skill to be able to think on your feet, so to speak, and you have to have the ability to know how to relate to people – whether they be the media, the public, or people that you work with. A lot is asked of a sports information director; you have a lot of different mouths to feed. You’ve got 15 sports, you’ve got administrators, you’ve got academic people – everyone wants a piece of the information you have, whether it be pictures, whether it be history, whether it be information on a player, whether it be information on a team. So you really have to be organized enough to handle all the demands. I’m not foolish enough to sit here and tell you that I get to everything; just answering emails is a chore in of itself. But you try to do the best you can and you try to be as fair to as many teams as you can. One thing I really want to do is get to know all the players within all the different sports programs here, but it’s difficult when you have over 350 athletes on campus.
What is it like having to work so closely with all of the different coaches here?
Brian Holloway: The relationships I have with the coaches are second to none. For someone like myself who loves sports, being able to listen to knowledgeable people talk about their particular crafts is a unique and wonderful experience not everyone gets to be a part of. When you have an opportunity to talk to people like Pat Bibbs, Roy Thompson, Jerry Eaves, Courtney Stith and others, you always come away a lot smarter.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Brian Holloway: Time. Just having the time to accomplish all that you want to accomplish. You might have a lot of big ideas but when you’re juggling meetings and travel and being at different events and the writing aspect of this job and covering games, the biggest challenge is always time. And then for a person like me who has a family, you’ve got that aspect to consider as well. It’s just a matter of fighting against the 24-hour clock each and every day.
How are you able to successfully juggle your family life and your career?
Brian Holloway: I don’t. (laughs) I don’t do it very well. Between the travel and other demands, sometimes you don’t see (your family) a lot. But the baseball coach here, Keith Shumate, once told me that whenever you get an opportunity to be with your family, make sure it’s all about them. When you’re at home make sure you’re not stuck in front of some computer; that you really are focusing on them. That’s the best way you can do it. But once again, this is athletics. I tell people all the time – students and people who might come here to work – “look, this is athletics.” All the games are either on night or on weekends. So if you understand that and you are willing to sacrifice those two things, you can do well. But if you can’t, then you probably need to find another profession.
Speaking of travel, how much are you on the road doing the course of a year?
Brian Holloway: You know, I look at it as 52 weekends. And out of those 52 weekends I’m probably away from home 44 or 45 out of the year. You factor in having to travel for basketball games and having to travel on the weekends for football games. We don’t do a whole lot of travel for baseball and softball, but usually on the weekend one of those teams are here. And then we also have track and field, so you have to add that aspect to it as well. A lot of your weekends are taken up. I get more weekends during the summer of course, but overall most of my weekends are pretty occupied. That’s how I look at it. I don’t view it so much as travel; I view it more as just another day on the job. With basketball you’re going to be gone on a Friday and, most likely, you’re not going to be back until a Tuesday. So you’re looking at maybe five days right there that you’re not home in a particular week. But, you know, I’m not complaining. The basketball coaches have to do it, so I’m not alone in experiencing that. Most people here at A&T are stretched thin. That’s the understanding that you have and you just try to do the best job you can.
So I guess your wife is a big sports fan?
Brian Holloway: No she’s not (laughs). But she understands that it’s part of the job. She’s been wonderful. She has kind of held down the fort a lot and she does a great job. She’s really supportive and she really stands behind what I do. I know its tough on her sometimes, but she just really plays that supportive role and I don’t know too many other people who could do what she does. She definitely is appreciated.
In your opinion, how does the resources you have here at A&T compare to what an SID at, say, an ACC school might have to work with?
Brian Holloway: Oh man, there’s no comparison. One of fun things I like to do is look at the media guides that I get from other schools. One of the first places I go is to the staff page. If you look at a big school like the University of Miami, I think they have three or four people who just concentrate on football alone. People like the University of North Carolina have a staff of nine people … and also interns. Yeah, they all probably have a bigger media audience than we do, but pretty much the work is the same. They may have a few more sports, but really the work is the same. Now there used to be a time when it was just me here. So when you talk about their resources compared to what we have here as far as human resources, there’s really no comparison. However, what that shows you is that those bigger schools value the media relations department for them to put those kind of resources behind it. It makes you feel better when you go to your job, knowing the importance of it. You understand how important it is that you execute your job as best you can. And yes, it gets frustrating sometimes. If you’re worth your salt you want to make sure you are doing your job to the best of your ability. Sometimes when you can’t get to everything that you know you should be getting to, its gets frustrating. Some days you just don’t feel like you’re doing your best. That’s when it makes the job tough. But you’ve just got to keep plugging along and try to do the best you can. Yet still, things fall through the cracks. That’s what makes it frustrating and it gets you down a little bit.
I understand that you recently added a new assistant to your staff, Darlene Mitchell. What is her current role in the sports information department?
Brian Holloway: Darlene played volleyball here for four years. She has a twin sister named Arlene and both of them are outstanding athletes. I think Darlene could have played basketball here and had just as successful of a career, maybe even better. If you ever see her on a basketball court you know that she’s good. But more importantly, she’s a good person. They receive a lot of attention, but the one thing about them – especially Darlene – is that they are very down to earth and very humble. They came to me about a year and a half ago and I was doing a volleyball game and of course I was stretched thin. I was running here and there. Arlene came up to me and said ‘hey, I can help you out if you need me’. At the time she had just graduated and no one had ever really reached out to me like that. The next day she and her sister came by and they both started helping me out around the office. So when Wheeler Brown made it possible for me to have an assistant, I really thought about it for a while and I wanted to reward them for helping me. Arlene was going in the direction of being a volleyball coach, but Darlene had helped me so much also and I just wanted to show my appreciation for that. Her role here has been to take care of those little things that kind of hinder me here and there; like taking care of some emails or taking care of some game notes or taking care of some travel for me. That frees me up to concentrate on the meetings and the writing and the website and that kind of stuff. She’s been great. She’s come in and worked hard and she’s really been open to learning new things. I have no complaints.
How do you think your department will be affected by the reported university-wide budget cuts that are set to take place?
Brian Holloway: That’s a though question. I think any budgets cuts that would affect me the most would come in the printing area – that’s where most of my money is dedicated to: the printing and publication side. We’re also trying to do a better job with technology and offer web-casting and video highlights and those types of things. Right now, I’m bringing in young guys like Justin Howard who are helping me with those types of things. We’re really trying to take some steps toward updating our website and ultimately getting a new website. My hope is that we’ll be able to enhance our image and how we are viewed. If there is any effect (from the budget cuts) it will probably be in that area, but hopefully that won’t happen. Hopefully, we can find some money down the line that will enhance the look of the athletics department. When I got here, the website was just … oh man, I can’t even describe it. We had some young kids here update it a little bit, but now technology has moved again and so we’re trying to keep up with it. Hopefully we’ll have the funding to help us do that.
Do you have a timeline in place for when you hope to debut a new website?
Brian Holloway: This is something we have been trying to haggle with for a while now. I think this is something Wheeler Brown has really wanted to do. He put it in my hands and said lets try to get it done. He’s tried to help out as much as he can. We’re hoping that before football season we’ll be able to unveil something new. That’s my goal. That’s what we’re working toward and I think we can make it happen.
Backtracking a little bit, how did you even get started in this profession?
Brian Holloway: Well, I’m a graduate of A&T. I tell people all the time that I bleed blue and gold. I ended up getting a graduate internship right out of school and, out of that, I ended up going to Utica, New York to work at a paper up there. That got old real quick because was so cold up there. I came back and I was out of the business for a while and working at a tech place. The one day the guy who I did the internship for just called me out of the blue and said ‘I got a job open if you want it.’ I told him sure- it was writing and journalism. So I went up to a place called Carol County, Maryland and worked up there for a while. Then I left Carol County and went to the Fayetteville Observer and worked there for a while, and at the time they were bringing down the NBA developmental league. The whole idea was to match professionals with the players and help them advance to the NBA. Then after about a year when they were down there the PR lady left and the team president asked me if I wanted to do it. That’s how I got into PR. I worked with the NBA developmental league team for a bit and then the Charlotte Bobcats came to town and I put in a resume. It just so happened that the guy who was my mentor here – a guy by the name of BJ Evans- was working down there and he put in a good word for me. So all of a sudden I went from working in the development league to actually realizing a dream. I mean, I actually got a chance to work on the NBA level, which was outstanding. But then I got a call from Wheeler Brown and he offered me this position here. I was grappling with it and BJ kind of pulled me to the side and gave me the whole Aggie Pride speech. He told me that they really need somebody who is going to take the job seriously and you’re going to be great and you’ll get a chance to spread your wings more down there than you will here. Those types of things. So I called Wheeler and I told him that I wanted to take the job. That’s how I ended up back here at A&T. It’s been a really good experience for me. The best part of the job is probably the kids and getting to know the Arlene Mitchells and the Darlene Mitchells and the Amber Blands and the Steve Rushes of the world. All those kids are just great. That’s the best part of the job – just getting to know those kids and relating to them.
What is the biggest misconception that fans may have about the role of a sports information director?
Brian Holloway: In my opinion, a lot of the old guard believes that this is just a stat position. I think that is probably the biggest misconception. I don’t think the position was ever just all about stats, but that has been the perception of what we do here. People’s perception is based on what they see you doing. So most of the time when the public sees you, they see you at a game, working the computer. But they don’t see the late nights when you’re updating the website, the late nights when you’re designing a book, the late nights when you’re putting together a media guide, they don’t see the when you’re trying to handle a budget, they don’t see when you’re having to deal with vendors or when you have to deal with putting your posters out or putting together your press conference or having to deal with putting out a press release. All those other things that go along with the job, people don’t see you doing it so there perception is ‘oh, it’s just a stats position.’ If it was I wouldn’t have to work the late nights that I work; it’s so much more than that. It’s funny but someone like a Darlene Mitchell could come here and tell you that the job requires some long hours and that it’s very time-consuming. I had a colleague at a CIAA school and the new AD came in and told him that he was going to cut some things out of his job because all he did was stats. So, people still have that old-guard mentality that stats is all this position is. You can get anybody and teach them the stat program, but if you don’t have somebody who is organized and able to put together things in a timely manner, then it’s going to be bad for you. There are probably a lot of A.D.s out there who can tell you that if you don’t have a good SID on staff, it can throw your entire department off.
What type of deadline pressure do you find yourself under?
Brian Holloway: Well for instance, the other night against South Carolina State we started the game at 9 PM. The local papers are looking for something right afterwards, and they don’t know if they’re going to get something from the Associated Press. In that situation the game started at 9 PM, so you want to make sure all the TV people get their information before they go on the air. That’s part of your deadline pressure. With your media guides, you want to try and have those out before the season or at least the first home game – so that again puts deadline pressure on you. Then you have your game notes. If you’ve just finished playing a Saturday basketball game then all day Sunday you are working on game notes, trying to get ready for the Monday game. If we have a Saturday football game then the only time I have to do game notes is that Sunday. That’s because the off day for our football team is Monday and that’s the only day we can have our weekly press conference. So that means you’re up all night Sunday doing the game notes. Everything in the media business is time-driven because people what information at a certain time. The entire job is predicated on deadlines. There are just certain times when you want to have things out and things publicized. You want to have the website updated with the latest story as soon as possible. That always puts you under the gun.
Lastly, what would you say has been your proudest accomplishment during your stint here as SID?
Brian Holloway: Every time we’ve been able to get a kid on television or get a kid some major coverage, that makes me feel pretty proud. Whether it be Charlie Gamble or the interview the Mitchell Twins got on Fox news or the feature story that was done on Jason Wills or Angelo Hernandez – anytime we get an opportunity to get the kids some pub and tell the story of something other than them just being an athlete, that makes you feel good. And anytime you get a student-athlete come up to you and give you a hug and say thank you for the coverage you helped them get, that makes you feel good. I want to make this college experience as best for them as I possibly can. I want them to come here and get the recognition and get the highlights and get on bluedeathvalley.com and other sites where they can really be put out there for the public to see. That’s what makes you feel best about the job: the kids who come through the program who you’re able to build some lasting relationships with. I mean, today I had Amber Bland in here and we were going over a story that she was working on for the News & Record. She’s a journalism major and she did a Q&A with Brittanie Taylor-James. It’s the neat little things like that. Just working with the student athletes is really a special thing and having those friendship with some of the great players who have come through here makes it all worthwhile. I truly believe that Aggies are supposed to help Aggies. When I got here that’s the way it was. There were people here who really embraced me and brought me under their wings and showed me things about my writing that could improve. I think about Allen Johnson and Brian Tomlin and some of the professor here – that kind of love you wouldn’t have received at most of your bigger schools. That’s the kind of love and nourishment that I received. And now that I’m in the position that I’m in, you kind of want to return the favor to others so that they can go out and be professionals.