Rabalais: LSU football embraces new technology

TAMPA, Fla. — Erby Aucoin was as versatile as anyone you could find behind a lens.

As a still photographer with The Advocate, it was Aucoin who took the iconic photo of Billy Cannon charging past the Ole Miss bench, Rebels grasping at him vainly, during the most famous play in LSU football history on Halloween Night 1959. He also once climbed inside LSU’s tiger cage to take a dangerously up-close photo of Mike III, the picture on which LSU’s Tiger head helmet logo was based.

In 1967, Aucoin became the New Orleans Saints’ first film director, a more difficult transition than it sounds. But after the 1986 season, with the Saints about to make the switch from film to videotape, Aucoin decided it was time to call it a career.

Erby Aucoin died in 1997, about the same time Doug, the youngest of his eight children, became LSU’s video director. If Erby were around to see the transitions Doug was going through today, he would have been sure he got out of the biz at the right time.

Doug Aucoin started with film and moved on to video. There was a time when Aucoin and his crew mass-produced VHS tapes of practice sessions like they were working for MGM instead of LSU, which they would then stuff in players’ lockers for them to take home.

VHS tapes gave way to DVDs, but in the name of Blockbuster Video, those didn’t last either. A brief switch to a computer-based program gave way to an app and iPad cloud-based system that LSU players began working with earlier this year.

Aucoin handed out more than 100 iPads to LSU players and coaches. You can see some of them carrying their lightweight, high-tech gadgets through the lobby of the Westin Tampa Harbour Island, LSU’s home base for their week of Outback Bowl preparations.

Of course, getting ready for the Iowa Hawkeyes doesn’t mean being imprisoned in a team meeting room or wearing out the remote to run a tape or DVD back and forth over a particular play. All of the information players and coaches need — game and practice video, scouting reports, playbooks, even information for academic classes — is all just a touch on the screen away.

“It’s where everything is going,” Aucoin said. “In the next couple of years, it’s going to be commonplace. A player is going to have his helmet, his cleats and his iPad. It’s just part of the tools that they have to use for the game.”

Aucoin said there are only 28 college and NFL teams currently employing the software LSU is using.

“It is good to be on the forefront of it,” Aucoin said. “We’ve kind of paved the way. We are in a partnership with XOS (Digital, a technology company based in nearby Orlando), so a lot of times when they come up with new technology, we get it in our hands first so we can fine-tune it to better suit us.”

In a business where there is truly never enough time to feel you are outworking the other guy, LSU’s new system allows coaches and players to maximize time as never before, even on the road.

Before leaving Baton Rouge, Aucoin pulled the servers out of his office at the LSU football complex, packed them in a trunk and reassembled his gear at the hotel, where all 12 of the team’s meeting rooms are wired for instant access.

While the Tigers are practicing at the University of Tampa two miles away, Aucoin’s crew is recording practice and constantly shipping video memory cards back his workroom.

“We’re editing the beginning of practice while they’re finishing,” Aucoin explained. “Then we’ve got a van that runs the last cards over here while they’re dressing. By the time they get back here, it’s pretty much done.”

One of the bonuses of LSU’s system is its two-way capability, Aucoin said.

“A coach can open up a game at home, tag plays on his iPad, create a cut-up of 10 plays he wants to show his players, and when he gets back in the office, it’s waiting for him in the server,” he said.

The iPads replace not only DVDs or video tapes but bulky binders of scouting reports and playbooks. For today’s tech-savvy college students, Aucoin is convinced it’s the best way for them to absorb information.

“That’s all they know,” he said. “They’ve always got a phone, an iPad — something. That’s how they engage. So for us to provide that for them just enhances what they already do every day.

“For them, it’s second nature. For a coach who has opened up a binder his whole career, it’s a little different feel, but they adapt. The coaches have to adapt more than the players because this is what the players already do.”

What’s next? Aucoin isn’t sure, though he can envision a refinement of virtual reality technology that makes players feel they are actually in a game-like setting.

“I don’t know where it will go, but I promise we will use every bit of technology that’s available to help prepare them,” he said.

Doug’s dad would have been amazed.