Interview: Talkin’ Quack with Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com // @WildKingdumb & @BigShaun
I’ve got a knee that’s been bugging me since the spring, when I trained for and ran the Eugene Half-Marathon. I’m day to day, of course. But having just turned 40 on Sunday, this stuff tends to linger a little longer. Especially since I’ve continued to go to CrossFit workouts rather than rest the knee. I feel like it would be very un-CrossFit of me not to mention that I attend CrossFit. So, yeah. CrossFit.
What does your day-to-day look like on non-game days?
The football team practices late morning, so I’m at the facility by 9:30, and at practice until 11. Interviews, lunch and writing a practice report take me to 2-2:30, leaving a few hours to work on other stuff. I try to give as much attention as I can to our other sports, which is most difficult in the fall. My most insane time is April, when baseball, softball and track all overlap with football practice. But I like being busy, so I don’t mind. And all those teams merit attention due to their success, so it doesn’t often feel like actual “work.”
How much time do you spend online looking through Twitter, reading columns and other Duck blogs?
I consider it hugely important to keep a finger on the pulse of Oregon fandom, through Twitter, message boards and such. It helps me with story ideas, clues me in to players/issues fans want to know more about, etc. And I read everything I can find written about the Ducks, because that stuff has a huge impact on how the program is perceived, regardless of its accuracy.
What do you think is something that Duck-Twitter, or CFB fans, get “wrong” more often than not?
The short answer is, pretty much everything, and I’ll explain as I duck the tomatoes being thrown my way. The bottom line is, judgments are made based on incomplete information. I don’t fault anyone for that; it’s human nature. And Oregon has closed practices, and the policy of not talking about injuries, etc. Even when I was at the R-G, I knew I was writing stories that interpreted developments to the best of my ability based on the information available to me at the time. There are certain issues within a team that are best left in the locker room, or on the practice field, or in the treatment center, whatever. In a perfect world, every message board thread would end with, “But honestly, we don’t possibly have enough information to truly know what’s going on here, so take all of this with a grain of salt.” And I probably wouldn’t use the word “wrong” as much as I would “overgeneralized.” There are so many moving parts on a college football team/game/whatever, that almost no problem has a simple solution. But nuance gets lost among the Tweets and group-think.
What are Oregon practices like? Are there portions of practices you are kept away from by coaches?
Practice is pretty standard Monday through Wednesday — 20-30 minutes of position drills, then a mix of 11-on-11 against scouts (offense and defense separately), special teams against scouts and “teach” periods, with the music off so coaches can communicate concepts. Thursday is the walk-through, Friday is “Fast Friday,” with a lot of situational stuff and special teams. My favorite parts of practice each week are the single five-minute periods each Tuesday and Wednesday when the travel squad goes head-to-head in full pads, and then the 10-minute scrimmage for scout-team players each Friday. I’m not kept away from any of it; when I was hired, Mark Helfrich told me to cover practice like I used to for the Register-Guard (no injuries was one of just a couple specific guidelines he set down). But common sense prevails over a whole lot of stuff; if I have a question about something, I usually just leave it out, because there’s no chance of getting scooped, and no point in taking any sort of risk.
How difficult is the self-imposed veil of silence to maintain? Are there ever questions where it would just be easier if you could answer them?
It’s not difficult, per se; I like my job and intend to keep it, thus don’t plan to do anything to jeopardize it. But there are definitely times there’s a very innocent explanation behind, for example, a guy not playing due to injury, and certainly it would make my life easier to say, “HE SPRAINED HIS ANKLE IN PRACTICE, THERE’S NO CONSPIRACY HERE, GO ON ABOUT YOUR LIVES!”
I hear people say a lot “we don’t KNOW Coach Helfrich”, to those folks how would you respond? What about Coach Helfrich stands out to you, in either the way he coaches or deals with people/players/coaching staff?
What you see is what you get. He’s not one person internally and another person externally. He’s a genuinely good dude. He’s not much more interested than Chip Kelly was in sharing anything about himself, but he *is* interested in being more polite about brushing off questions. Which sometimes gets him in trouble, ironically. The Colt Lyerla “circumstances” situation is a good example. Chip would have just said, “none of your business,” when asked why Colt didn’t play. Helf wants to maintain a more collegial tone with media, and so tried to be vague without being rude, and got pilloried for it. That sucked. To that point, though, he’s much more direct in his messaging to the team internally. He’s very careful with media not to give anything way, not to throw anyone under the bus, etc. So he comes across a little scattered at times, which isn’t the case at practice.
People assume you’re in every meeting, at every practice, and every trainer session. This is true, right?
Monday through Friday, I’m around the team very little other than practices. I’ve dropped into team meetings from time to time, and will interact with somebody in the treatment center or somewhere else if I need to. But that doesn’t happen often. I basically spend mornings at practice, and afternoons at my desk.
What do gamedays look like for you? How many cookies would you say you eat on a stressful gameday?
I try to be parked and at the stadium three hours before kickoff. I don’t have three hours worth of stuff to do, but I hate feeling rushed in that situation. I can go to my desk, collect my stuff, head up to the press box and get set up without compounding the stress that always sets in at kickoff. With about 90 minutes to go I’m training my binoculars on warmups, making sure the injury situation and starting lineups are in line with what I was expecting from practice. I’m probably on average a four-cookie guy on game day. Just before the game ends, I head to the field, to enjoy that vantage point and potentially pick up some details for stories. I walk back to the locker room with the team, do my interviews there after Helfrich addresses them, then head back to my desk to work. Being able to work at my desk rather than in the press box is one of the top perks of the job.
What was the transition like going from being at the Register-Guard to the Editor of GoDucks.com?
I’m not much of a risk-taker; if I do something, significant thought went into it. And that was the case here. The R-G went through some tough times, including layoffs, that made it not quite as fun to get to the building and head upstairs to the newsroom each day. My best mentors (Ron Bellamy, Bob Clark) were retiring. And the business was changing, too; I didn’t get into sportswriting to do investigative stuff or opinion writing, which are the last, most important bastions of newspaper journalism. I liked being a conduit for fans to the teams they enjoyed, and started to think working for a team itself better fit my skills and interests. So I made the transition in 2013. In large part it feels the same: doing interviews and writing stories about the team. But there are significant differences, obviously. My top priority at the R-G was information for readers; here, it’s the program, followed closely — very, very closely — by the fans who support it, and providing them with information. I’m constantly having to judge what’s appropriate to pass along, and what’s better kept in-house. I do enjoy immensely writing the occasional feature about golf, or tennis, or whatnot, sports that the R-G and others used to cover as beats but understandably cut back on as that industry changed. And simply feeling like part of the program at large is fun, too. That rooting interest can lead to some wild emotional swings (like, you know, right now), but it makes the highs really high. As a newspaper guy, there was nothing like the adrenalin surge of deadline pressure. Here, there’s nothing like watching the players mature on and off the field, and sharing a small piece in their successes. I used to be most invested in stories; now I’m most invested in people.
Given your role now, and formerly being a traditional reporter, what is it like having to face the types of questions that you would have had to ask 10 years ago?
I used to be available as a shoulder to cry on, and that’s harder now. I get frustrated by losses, and sometimes I let that get the best of me in interactions with fans, unfortunately. I try to remind myself to take the high road, and to brush off venting, but that’s easier said than done in the heat of the moment. One place I won’t ever go is indulging calls for a coaching change. If Mark Helfrich weren’t the coach here, I’m not sure I’d have my job. I want to see the Ducks win, and I want to see them do so with Helf as head coach. But also, every loss I’ve ever covered, at the R-G and here, has been accompanied by some portion of fans calling for some coach or another to be fired. So frankly, I can’t seriously indulge that notion anymore, either. And since I’m not in a position where it matters that I do so, I’m comfortable with that.
People in the Duck-Twitter World seem to be critical of your reporting on Oregon Football, what would you say to them is your responsibility as a reporter/editor/employee of Oregon Athletics?
My responsibility is to keep the fans as engaged and informed as possible, without compromising the programs and players in any way. So I’m serving multiple masters, which inevitably leads to conflicts of interest. I fully encourage and expect that my work be seen through a critical eye; I’m not an objective entity, and don’t claim to be one. That said, I do think people kill the messenger at times; I’m not a decision maker. I get branded as a “sunshine pumper” and “Baghdad Rob” (which is clever, although I’ve seen like 19 different people take credit for it on message boards). And that’s fine. I chose this lot. But I think also that those labels, while seeming generally applicable based on my line of work, aren’t always in line with the tone of my actual coverage. When the Ducks lose, I write about it. If the team has a weakness, I print quotes from a position coach about addressing it. I’m always going to be forward thinking and keep an optimistic approach, rather than dwell on past negatives. But I don’t think I completely shy away from the team’s struggles. And everything I write in practice, happened. I don’t make things up just to suit a storyline. I do still have SOME journalistic scruples. I think some people read practice reports and expect them to portend the outcome of games, which is ridiculous. Sometimes a guy or unit will look great in practice, and not so great in games. It happens. The only thing I can objectively communicate through practice reports is depth chart movement; which guys fans can expect to see in which roles come game day. That’s the meat and potatoes; which quintet of offensive linemen is together, or which receivers are running routes for the No. 1 quarterback. The other stuff — the highlights, and my subjective opinions — is dessert. They’re empty calories — tasty, but empty.
What is one big misconception people have about your work?
That I’m involved in helping set agendas, or mold storylines somehow. In more than three years here, I’ve probably been asked to pursue specific stories maybe a half-dozen times, across the entire department, not just football. Otherwise I generate my own ideas, and don’t have anybody overseeing what I print. There’s a lot of trust, which I like to think I earned with the department through more than a decade of fair coverage at the R-G.
Do you work more or less, face more or less stress now that you’re “in the building”?
I don’t think I work any more or less, because in both jobs I felt to some extent that I was always working. I’m never not monitoring Twitter, or message boards, or Facebook. I’m always on call if something comes up. And I’ve always been somebody who internalizes work stuff, and takes it home with me in that regard, so the stress level hasn’t changed one way or the other, either.
From your time at GoDucks.com who has been a player that you have seen the most growth in outside of the football field from beginning to the end of his Duck career? Why?
I might need another year or two to come up with a good answer. The class I came in with will be fifth-year seniors next year. But also, this is like asking a parent which is their favorite kid.
What has been the most fun season of covering Duck football? Why?
In 25 or 30 years, I will retire without having had a more fulfilling, enjoyable professional experience than I did spending a week with Mariota on the awards circuit, culminating in the Heisman stuff. To attend all those events, see how he handled the spotlight with such grace and also do so inside the bubble — feeling like some small part of “Team Marcus” — was immensely rewarding. It would be amazing if that didn’t end up being once-in-a-lifetime, but if it is, I’m completely fine with that.
What have been your favorite Oregon football uniforms?
I’m not one who gets too into uniforms, one way or another. Even those that look odd at first sight, by the middle of the first half, I’m used to them. I did like the green and yellow getup from Mariota’s debut (perhaps not coincidentally) and also the Kenny Wheaton throwbacks.
Do you get any of the “perks” that players/coaches get? Unlimited Nike clothing and shoes? Food at the training table? Anything? Do you have a favorite perk?
My boss, Andy McNamara, has a small budget from which he provides the folks in our office each year with some gear (a couple polos, a pullover). And I pick up some other stuff here and there, with the baseball team being particularly generous. I do get some meals with the team, during preseason camp. And charter flights have spoiled me when it comes to air travel, for sure.
Favorite non-football sport to cover? Why?
My favorite sport has always been baseball. It’s the game I understand the best in a technical sense, by far. Also, women’s basketball, because Kelly Graves is just a fun dude to be around. And he’s creating a juggernaut of a program. Seriously, get on board now, because the next few years for that program are gonna be really fun.
With all of the renovations of the athletic facilities, what one thing is your absolute favorite, and why? For example, Andre Yruretagoyena told us the coaches have amazing bathrooms. What is your favorite thing/place in there?
Well, first things first, all the shuffling around left our office (marketing and communications) with a pretty nice space. We’re in the old Pittman Room in the Casanova Center, which used to host postgame donor functions. A few years back it was outfitted as a players lounge; as a result there are still a bunch of TVs and such, including a large projection screen with a bunch of couches around it. Once I’m done writing game recaps, I usually settle in there to watch football the rest of Saturday night. Also, I walk by the “Zen North” upgrade every day from my parking spot to the Cas, and the waterfall there always reminds me how lucky Oregon is to have the support of the Knights and all the other donors.
Who are other people around the Athletic Department who are unsung members of the GoDucks.com staff?
I have a fancy title, but I’m far from the only voice on GoDucks. There are athletic communications staffers assigned to each sport, and they work their tails off. On a typical Sunday, I’m only in for a couple hours for Helfrich’s press conference (I’m working from home in the morning, but still) and usually McNamara, Dave Williford and Todd Miles are there when I arrive and also when I leave. We have interns and students who help keep bios and schedules and rosters up to date, which is near impossible to do in real time. Very much a team effort.
Final and most important question… What is the name of the Oregon Ducks mascot?
((RESPONSE REDACTED BY THE EDITOR))