'Hard Knocks' won't cut the cuts

June 18, 2013

When the Cincinnati Bengals last appeared on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in 2009, one of the most memorable moments featured a player getting pulled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. so The Turk could deliver the news he was being cut.

Such a procedure certainly wouldn’t fall under the more “humane” process that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is seeking for how player releases are handled.

“Hard Knocks” executive producer Ross Ketover admits the early-morning visit from now-retired Bengals director of football operations Jim Lippincott to fullback J.D. Runnels was “pretty harsh.” “Hard Knocks” also dedicated time to highlighting the release of other players such as Marlon Lucky, including close-up footage of the running back turning in his playbook and cleaning out his locker.

Ketover, though, said Goodell’s request is not going to change how “Hard Knocks” covers some of Cincinnati’s future player cuts when the Bengals return to HBO in August.


“How we’re going to handle it is show exactly how they handle it,” Ketover told co-host Jim Miller and me Monday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “If it’s kind, we’re going to show it. If it’s harsh, we’re going to show that, too.

“We’re not going to miss any moments like that. Viewers will see what happens.”

Although a wake-up cut may be extreme, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis explained Tuesday to FOX Sports why his team opts for breaking the bad news to players being released sooner rather than later. Like all NFL squads, Cincinnati has to pare its training camp roster from 90 to 53 players before the start of the regular season.

"There is no easy way to release players," Lewis wrote in a text message. "It's always easier early in the morning so they don't have to face their peers. Generally, this is done around the breakfast hour. Otherwise, it's more awkward.

"It is the end to a chapter here but hopefully not to their career."

In light of off-field problems being experienced by some former players – including ex-Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young – Goodell has said he is concerned the manner in which they are released could have an impact on psychological well-being. Goodell broached the topic in May at an NFL owners meeting in Boston.

“How do we make the process more dignified? It is, in some cases, the last experience a player has with a team or any team in the NFL,” Goodell said in a post-meeting news conference. “We have to do a better job of doing that in a humane way and a way that will make sure they understand the respect we have for them and the pride we have in what they accomplished.”

Ketover, who was the coordinating producer for Cincinnati’s last “Hard Knocks” appearance, believes most franchises already are compassionate during the release process.

“I’ve actually been pretty impressed with how humane it’s been,” said Ketover, whose “Hard Knocks” experience dates back to the show’s inaugural season in 2001. “You think back to when you were cut by teams in high school and they just post (names) up on the board.

“In general, every coach really sits down and gives an honest answer and helps these guys. They’re often buying them plane tickets to their next location or calling other coaches in their favor.”

Ketover said chronicling player releases will always be a part of “Hard Knocks” because it can provide some of the show’s most powerful segments. In 2012, “Hard Knocks” aired the face-to-face conversation of Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin releasing Chad Johnson following the wide receiver’s arrest on a domestic violence charge.

“There are some things that are always going to be covered,” Ketover said. “When HBO and Steve (Sabol of NFL Films) invented this as really the first sports reality television show in 2001, it was really about a job interview. It’s the toughest job interview going. It’s about how do you make the NFL? That is always going to be there.

“We’re always going to end the last show with some guys getting cut and some guys making the team. Lucky enough, it’s stayed interesting.”

Ketover knows some fans may not be as interested in this “Hard Knocks” season for two reasons: Despite two consecutive playoff appearances, the Bengals aren’t a marquee franchise with a huge national following; Cincinnati also was showcased just five seasons ago.

Ketover, though, said 80 percent of Cincinnati’s roster has turned over since the franchise’s last “Hard Knocks” appearance. Among the newcomers are well-known players such as quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones and linebacker James Harrison.

The Bengals also are willing to provide unfettered access to their training camp. Ketover said other franchises would have agreed to participate but only if certain protocols such as player cuts weren’t part of the show.

“For us, it’s all or nothing,” Ketover said. “What it comes down to is what teams have interesting storylines and which teams give us unlimited access to go wherever we want in their facility.”

The new “Hard Knocks” season debuts Aug. 6.