Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2012

Talent behind the scenes

John Duff in the television studioBring up Camera 2. Get ready remote camera for the live shot. Roll the highlight clip, now. Cut to commercial in 3…2…1…go.

Such are a few of the commands you might hear at the University of Texas’ Longhorn Network production studio where John Duff ’97 is associate director and an integral part of the production team. He found his way back to Texas via a decade-long career with ESPN. The LU grad is now using his talents a little closer to home in Austin, giving up the jet-hopping lifestyle of an ESPN sports director.

Although you won’t see his face on screen, what you will see comes from his visualization of how the show should unfold and his expertise in making the viewing experience as enjoyable and smooth as possible. From the age of 12, he knew exactly the path his life would follow. A short documentary on “Monday Night Football” showing the intricate behind-the-scenes mechanisms of the production studio cemented his decision to pursue a career behind the cameras.

“After graduating high school, there were three schools that were local, affordable and had great faculty,” he said. “I chose Lamar over Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin because of the hands-on experience you receive as a freshman. You weren’t just learning theory; you were actually in the studio pushing the buttons.”

He never realized at the time that his dream of being a sports director would lead him to produce some of the major sporting events held around the world. After a five-year stint as director with KBMT-TV, Channel 12, in Beaumont, he accepted a position with ESPN in 2002 and started living the dream. Possibly the highlight of his career happened when he spent six weeks in Johannesburg, directing the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa tournament, soccer’s most prestigious event.

“I was involved in all the matches ESPN broadcast during the World Cup,” Duff said. “I only had six days off during the whole trip, but it had its advantages. I got to see the match between USA and Algeria in Pretoria that sent the USA to the next round of the finals. Eventually, I was able to go on a photographic safari the last week of the trip, which was great.”

Duff fell in love with soccer while at LU, thanks to friends who were international students from Europe. Once you sit down and watch a match with people who really know the game and are big fans, you can’t help but come to love the game, he said. But the World Cup wasn’t the only milestone moment in a career that spanned many major sporting events.

Super Bowl XLIV (Saints vs. Colts), multiple NBA Finals Series and many more on-site assignments punctuate his stellar career. Ask him which sport he most enjoys directing, and his response might surprise you. His favorite assignments have been the Daytona 500. Duff has three Daytona 500 races under his belt and worked an additional 17 NASCAR races in 2007.

“The excitement and the passion of the people there is just amazing,” he said. “Being there in person is a totally different experience than watching it on television. Some of the tracks allow people to camp outside the track and some, like Daytona and Talladega, allow camping on the infield of the track. I’ve never seen anything like the festive atmosphere on Daytona 500 race day.”

by Larry Acker

May 2012