Behind The Scenes

‘It’s like building a giant puzzle’: Talent Producers put the pieces together for 50-guest College Football ‘Car Wash’

Lisa Stokes (Rich Arden / ESPN Images)
Senior Talent Producer Lisa Stokes keeps track of the College Football Coaches Car Wash with the help of these logistical charts. (Rich Arden/ESPN Images)

Fifty head coaches from four of the country’s major conferences have been crisscrossing ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., campus the past week to participate in the largest College Football “Car Wash” ever.

Each coach will have up to 15 interviews during his one-day visit, for a total of 480 interviews spanning eight days, from July 22 to Aug. 1. Senior Talent Producer Lisa Stokes and her team are the organizers for this event that helps build and strengthen important relationships between the guests and ESPN — and gives fans incredible access to their favorite coaches.

“This is the biggest, most-complex ‘Car Wash’ we ever have had,” said Stokes, who credits her team of five talent producers with helping to make the event a success. “The logistics of coordinating the schools, conferences, locations, public relations — it’s a lot heavier this year than in past years. Before, it’s just been one week involving two college football conferences. This year, it’s two weeks and four conferences.”

The “Car Wash,” a term coined by ESPN’s Bob Ley, is when guests visit ESPN’s Bristol Campus for a whirlwind day of interviews. The agenda spans every type of ESPN media and a variety of shows, including SportsCenter and First Take.

The 50 college football coaches represent the SEC, PAC-12, ACC and Big Ten. During the same two-week period, ESPN also will be hosting and interviewing NASCAR driver Travis Pastrana, PAC-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, former NFL linebacker Derrick Brooks and Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. Each guest is given a “handler” to ensure that his or her ESPN experience is the best it can be.

It takes Stokes and her team two months to prepare for this event. She is constantly updating four giant white boards.

“One show might want all the coaches, and some shows use the same location and same talent,” Stokes said. “Some shows are live or have the same time frames. So the schedule is literally down to the minute. It’s like building a giant puzzle.”

This is how relationships are built, through personal connections. Guests meet the people who are actually making the interview requests and conducting the interviews.

“You can hear about ESPN, but to see how it operates is a totally different experience,” Stokes said.

The “Car Wash” events also help Stokes and her team of five — Darren Demeterio, Omar Michaud, Jamila Phillips, Kareem White, and Carol Mayer, (and special assistants such as Programming Coordinator Eric Loh) with their main job of talent producing.

“As Talent Producers, we come up with guest ideas for shows, we pre-interview guests and, most important, we deal with breaking news stories. The ‘Car Wash’ helps build relationships,” she said. “Therefore, when there’s breaking news, someone who has been to Bristol is more likely to do an interview with us because we’ve established a relationship with them.”

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