The business of music at a football practice is tricky. At times, it needs to inspire. Other times, it needs to pester and frustrate. And still, at others, it just needs to sink into the background, a low hum amidst tackles and touchdowns.
Sometimes, coaches use it to imitate opposing stadiums, turning players’ own practice fields against them for a few days so that when they actually walk into enemy territory, they’re more prepared.
And sometimes, it’s just bad. Like very bad. Like “What Does the Fox Say?” bad (Yes, Washington Huskies, we’re looking at you).
But it’s always diverse. Like the players and coaches and schemes, practice music across the Pac-12 is a smorgasbord of genres and styles. You’ve got your ‘80s rock, your top 40 hits, your crying babies. It’s like listening to the radio, if there were no confines on what could or could not be played. Ever.
At USC, recruiting coordinator Alex Rios (whose Twitter bio reads: “Office: USC Football Recruiting Analyst, Field: Dancing DJ”) uses Spotify -- an online music library -- to create playlists for practice.
“I try to tailor that day’s songs to the theme of practice,” Rios said. “For example, if we are focusing on up-tempo in practice, I build a playlist of up-tempo songs, or if we are going to play at a stadium that has loud fans, I try to play songs that stadium uses to pump up its fans.”
The approach at Stanford is similar. Ryan Devlin, assistant director of football operations and recruiting, has taken over the reigns as the Cardinal practice DJ. He has over 2,000 songs in his Spotify library and during any given practice he only employs 35-45 of those.
“I'd say 60 percent of the songs I use came directly from me -- songs that I know fit the tempo we're looking for,” Devlin said. “The rest come from searching other playlists on Spotify and YouTube, hearing a new song on the radio, or a suggestion from a coach or player. I always say I take suggestions, not requests. I have to make sure it's appropriate and will fit the tempo of practice.”
Since Stanford has an outdoor practice field, the music flows out onto campus, meaning students, professors and visitors can hear what’s being played. That adds another level to Devlin’s job, as it’s not just the players he needs to keep happy, but the community as well.
That same problem hasn’t stopped Washington State though. Though practice music is only played on Thursdays in Pullman, they’ve still found a way to annoy some students and faculty. Quarterback Connor Halliday said that a few fellow students have mentioned to him that the raucous crowd noise that's blasted on Thursdays during the season isn’t always welcomed by non-football-playing students as they amble from class to class.
But be grateful, Pullman students. At least you’re not in Tucson.
Andrew Warsaw, Arizona’s Operation's Coordinator, is in charge of the Wildcats’ music. After the series of promotional videos Arizona has released, it should come as no surprise that the practice music is also a little bit off-the-wall sometimes.
“Depending on what coach [Rich Rodriguez] wants, we will play whatever,” Warsaw said. “If he wants to us to play something annoying during a certain period of practice we will play a baby crying for five-straight minutes, or songs like Barbie Girl or The Macarena.”
Arizona also takes player requests (which tend to stay closer to top-40 radio hits). Arizona State only plays music during warm-ups and seniors are asked to request which songs they’d like to hear during that time. California and Oregon State rely heavily on player requests -- though Oregon State players have been known to request Miley Cyrus music, which makes avoiding any parties in the USA awfully difficult.
Though if it were up to only coaches to choose the music, practices would probably sound quite different.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham would probably pick mostly country music or Bruce Springsteen, while Utah coach Kyle Whittingham would stick to only classic rock. In the perfect world, he wants to hear nothing post-1980 played at his practices. Though, he knows that no matter what is played “one-third of the team will love it, one-third of the team will hate it, and one-third of the team won’t care.” Little does he know, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” now haunts the dreams of wide receiver Dres Anderson and defensive end Nate Orchard. “Starships” by Nicki Minaj has had a similar effect on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, but he should consider himself lucky. When asked to name the worst practices songs they'd heard, Washington players at Pac-12 media days had no shortage to chose from. Offensive lineman Ben Riva stole the competition (if this is a competition) for the worst song when he said that he had heard “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.
Yes, the Canadian band that has had enough members over its years to field an entire first string on offense and defense in American football has resounded through Chris Petersen’s practices.
But, maybe Petersen is onto something. Maybe that song, followed by Cyrus and some Ylvis is just a way to better prepare his team for what they could face in the Pac-12 this season. Maybe these songs are fueling what could be a breakout year for the Huskies in a very deep conference.
Or maybe it’s just a lot of really, really terrible music.
But, fear not, the Pac-12 blog is here to help (we'd never leave folks in a pickle). If the DJs need any guidance with song recommendations, here’s our top pick for each school based on its personality.
Can’t promise they’re incredible. Can promise they’re better than "Barbie Girl."
Arizona: "Title Sequence," BT -- Reasoning: They're into speed this year and this is The Fast & The Furious theme song
Arizona State: "Runnin' with the Devil," Van Halen -- Reasoning: ASU's run game has improved under Graham. They're the Sun Devils. A + B = Van Halen.
California: "Pachanelly’s Canon," Gentleman’s Rule -- Reasoning: Because Cal winning four times as many games as it did last season sounds as crazy taking Nelly and adding Pachelbel’s Canon. But, it works. Cal will too.
Colorado: "Buffalo Soldier," Bob Marley -- Reasoning: 1. Buffaloes. 2. Bob Marley would love Colorado for many reasons. Well, mostly for one reason.
Oregon: "We Will Rock/Quack You," D2: The Mighty Ducks version -- Reasoning: It could only be more obvious if the offense were to run a Flying V formation this season.
Oregon State: "Happy," Pharrell -- Reasoning: Mike Riley is happy.
Stanford: Anything by Weezer -- Reasoning: Best nerd band. Stanford: best nerd football team.
UCLA: "Show 'Em What You're Made Of," Backstreet Boys -- Reasoning: 1. Like Backstreet Boys, UCLA is back ("All right!") 2. They're favored in the South, now they just need to show everyone what they're made of
USC: "Let It Go," Frozen -- Reasoning: The sanctions are gone. Let it go.
Utah: "Ring Of Fire," Lennon and Maisy cover -- Reasoning: Maybe the players can't like Cash's version. They'll have to like these two singing sisters covering it. Maybe? Guys, just give it a chance.
Washington: "Who'll Stop The Rain," CCR -- Reasoning: Can't promise Chris Petersen will get rid of the rain in Seattle, but the future is looking bright.
Washington State: "Hoist the Colors," Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End -- Reasoning: There’s a flag, there are pirates. No more explanation needed. You're welcome, Mike Leach.