There we were, inside a ballroom at the Omni hotel, a stone's throw from the Dallas Cowboys' glitzy practice facility and world headquarters, talking about how to do a job no one gets into for the glamour and the fame.
FootballScoop attended the DFO annual clinic last week in Frisco, Texas, and the event was kicked off with a presentation by Fresno State's Mike McHugh.
To understand, McHugh -- better known as Huge -- is one of the OGs in the DFO business, at least as it exists today. He took his first director of football operations job in 1994 and, save for a 2-year stint as a quality control coach with the Detroit Lions, he's been in it ever since. Huge has worked at five different schools in seven separate conferences -- he worked at Missouri while the school was in the Big 8, the Big 12 and the SEC. He was there when Barry Odom was a Tigers player, then returned to work for him when Odom became the head coach. "You want to talk about a hot seat? My head coach was a DFO for six years," he joked.
Huge is the type of guy to wear his Oakleys in his official Fresno State headshot.
To call Huge's talk a presentation would be a bit of an overstatement. It was one of the veterans of the business sharing with the young bucks of the profession just a sampling of what he's learned over a quarter century on the grind. Mind you, these aren't the 30 most important, most pressing questions that each DFO must have a road map to navigate over the course of a given year. This was the 30 most inside of the inside-baseball topics McHugh shared over the course of his hour at the front of the room. I could've written down 30 more, and Huge, given more time, could've rattled off 300 more stories from a hundred more must-answer DFO questions he deals with on a regular basis.
"Your job description," Huge said, "is a blank sheet of paper."
With that said, here are 30 questions each big-time DFO must answer:
1. When a new coach is hired, can his wife fly into town for free? How many nights does the family get in a hotel?
2. How do you get key cards to get inside the football building? Is that something you need to go on campus to do? McHugh was once new to a job and had to show up to the building by 6 a.m. one morning for a player discipline issue... only to realize he was so new that he didn't have a key card to get in the building.
3. Do you have to pay for parking on campus? McHugh once negotiated his salary with a head coach, then learned he had to pay $150 a month to park.
4. Does per diem work differently for players and administrators? What about valet parking and room service?
5. Does the AD care where coaches park at the airport?
6. Do you need a police escort for home games? Do you go through TSA at the stadium or the airport?
7. Who approves the cost of air travel?
"You may make a $700,000 decision about what aircraft you're going to fly in one minute, then the toilet clogs and you're the one who's gotta figure out who to call," McHugh said. "That's the range of decisions you make in this job."
8. Has the head coach OK'd the seating chart for road trips? Does the head coach sit next to the AD or one of his coordinators?
9. Do female trainers and managers stay near the players on the road? Do department head's wives travel or just assistant coaches wives?
McHugh says he has female trainers and managers stay on the opposite end of the hotel from players to spare them the implication of someone seeing them near a players' room, not knowing the female trainer's room could be next door.
10. How early do you arrive for road games?
11. Do coaches stay at the team hotel for home games? Who does bed check? Do you eat the same pregame meal as you do on the road?
"You gotta remember, coaches are all former players," he said. "I used to say to coaches, there's these things in America called stores. You put your wallet out and they let you buy stuff."
12. Who travels to bowl games? When do they travel -- with the team or the day before the game? Do you fly in as a team or let kids fly commercial? Who arrives on what bus? McHugh once spent five hours driving around a bowl destination airport picking up players who flew in on different airlines and arrived at different gates.
13. Who goes to the bowl luncheon? "With 125 tickets, we can't take everyone."
14. Who has access to the bowl game hospitality suite? McHugh often sets one up for athletics department VIPs and their hangers-on and a separate suite just for the coaching staff.
15. Who decides what wives get to go on a bowl game excursion?
16. Who gets a bowl ring? Who gets access to the presidential suite at the stadium?
17. Who gets to eat at the training table? Do coaches count? McHugh once found himself walking into a bank in a bowl game city looking to cash a $35,000 per diem check... only to learn that branch didn't carry $35,000 in cash. "What do you mean you don't have $35,000?" he asked. "You're a BANK!"
18. What's your plan if busses break down or don't show up? Judging by stories I heard last week, the question really is, "What's your plan when busses break down or don't show up?" Huge once dealt with this on the way to the airport for a road game when the offensive bus broke down. He put the offensive starters on the defense's bus, then had a campus shuttle ferry everyone else to the airport.
19. How do you handle June/August rent when the money's due on the first of the month but scholarship checks haven't cleared yet?
20. How do you pay and/or reimburse guest coaches at summer camps? Do you do a coaches social after the last day?
21. How much money do you spend on a meal for official visits? Who gets to attend? "You'll have some people want to come eat that $30 dessert and they never even talk to the kid."
22. Can parents have alcohol on official visits on the school's dime? Some schools allow this, some don't.
23. Who gets a sideline pass for home games? Fresno opens its sidelines to Hall of Fame members and players on active NFL rosters; everyone else is welcome to buy a ticket.
24. How many tickets does a coach get? Where are they?
25. Do you have a plan for coaches and their families to gather after games?
26. When do you do your team banquet? Is it after the season or around your team's pro day? Team awards, after all, must be ordered ahead of time, which would require coaches to pick end-of-season awards winners during the season if the banquet is held near the end of the year.
27. What furniture goes in coaches offices?
28. Who plays in the golf tournament? Do coaches get country club memberships?
29. If a big concert swings through town, can you get a suite for the team?
"I get blamed for pre-game music all the time," Huge said. "One F-bomb and everyone's looking at me. I listen to Springsteen 100 hours a day."
30. How do you coordinate the hiring and firing process? The head coach is the judge and jury on these decisions, but it often falls to the DFO to play the executioner. "It's always awful seeing your friends go," he said.
And three pieces of wisdom for every aspiring DFO:
-- Things will inevitably go wrong, so it's best to plan ahead and manage expectations. Police escorts in the Mountain West are, according to Huge, the worst in college football. Huge saved himself a headache warning his head coach ahead of time. "Coach, this'll be the worst police escort you've ever had," he said one time. "Are you paying for it?" the coached asked. "No," he replied. The ride was a slow one -- slow but smooth.
-- Even when nothing goes wrong, something will go wrong. Huge once relaxed into his seat at the back of the plane on the way home from a road game when his head coach springs out of his seat and makes a beeline toward him. Every other set of eyes started studying the plane's carpet as the coach's eyes locked onto Huge. "What's wrong, Coach?" Huge asked. "There's no condiments with the sandwiches. My sandwich is dry," the coach said.
"Everything on the trip went great and he's worried about a dry turkey sandwich," Huge told us.
On the way out of town after the next trip, Huge unlocked the styrofoam on his sandwich to find roughly a hundred mayo and mustard packets tumbling onto him as everyone around him at the back of the plane started laughing.
"I think we have the best job in the world," he said. Huge came to this realization, he said, slightly annoyed after a player asked him to locate a bathroom at a road hotel. How should I know? he initially thought to himself. Look for yourself! Then it dawned on him. "It makes you feel good that they're coming to you for answers."
It's those relationships that keep McHugh coming back to the job day after day, problem after problem. As an unmarried guy who's spent the better part of his adult life preventing and solving other people's problems, it can be exceedingly easy to marry yourself to the job. "If you die tomorrow, someone else is gonna be in your seat two weeks from now," he said. "Your friends and your family will mourn you for the rest of their lives."