URI football head coach Jim Fleming didn’t know exactly what he was getting into.
“I’ve got time so I’ll work it out,” thought Fleming, referring to the silence that had replaced all the powerful noises that are commonly associated with his profession at this time of year.
The sound of the band playing the school fight song while the student section whips itself into an absolute frenzy, the smell of Italian sausage and additional tailgate eats wafting in the breeze, the usual pageantry of college football at Meade Stadium have all been conspicuously absent.
Don’t think for a second that it has been “out of sight, out of mind” for Fleming & Co. though.
Beginning Saturday night October 24, Cox’s YurView and URI present a different side of ‘Coach Flem.’ Instead of calling plays and making in-game adjustments, he’ll be hitting the road to experience life in the Ocean State during what is typically regarded as his busy season.
Titled “Coach A La Carte,” this four-part series features Fleming in some very unusual settings – ones you don’t typically associate with a football coach.
From cruising in a boat in hopes of catching fish and oysters, to grilling pizza, to sampling the latest concoction from a local brewery…‘Coach Flem’ went into each adventure with an open mind.
“It was a chance to give everyone a firsthand look at Coach doing some different things and getting out there,” said Devin Berg, general manager for Rhody Sports Properties.
On the surface, the concept appears to be simple: Keep the spirit of Rhody football alive at a time when COVID-19 has forced everyone’s hand into a slew of schedule adjustments.
“The one thing that our athletic director Thorr Bjorn tasked us with was that even though football was postponed, we still needed to keep it on everyone’s mind during the fall,” said Berg.
Over the summer when the pandemic hit the hardest and college football seasons were either being outright cancelled or shifted to the spring of 2021, the marketing folks at URI started coming up with one out-of-the-box idea after another hoping something would stick.
One concept that Berg kept coming back to was a cooking show that would involve members of the Rhody football coaching staff in the kitchen with a concentration on tailgating type recipes.
The story goes that Berg pitched the idea of coaches in the kitchen to John Parris, director of content for Cox Communications. With restaurant restrictions beginning to loosen a bit, Parris added another layer to Berg’s original plan.
Coaches in the kitchen sounds great, but let’s keep the spotlight strictly on Fleming; have him take a tour of several restaurants located throughout the state and sprinkle in unique Ocean State adventures on the way. It’ll be natural and off the cuff at the same time while showing off some of beauty of Rhode Island in the fall.
“The concept is to show off the restaurants, have coach sit down and enjoy a good meal, while having a nice conversation with the owner,” said Berg.
Filming for the four “Coach A La Carte” episodes was spread out over a month. The destinations that will be showcased include Matunuck Oyster Bar, Newport Propane, Pizza Gourmet, The Coast Guard House, Shaidzon Beer Co., and The Mews Tavern.
One of the tapings occurred on a Saturday, which led football lifer Fleming to point something out to Berg.
“That particular day, Coach Fleming said to me that he doesn’t remember a Saturday in the fall when he wasn’t focused on football,” said Berg.
Now in his seventh season at the helm at URI, Fleming says he has a much different appreciation of what the state of Rhode Island has to offer after hopping on the “Coach A La Carte” caravan.
“Everyone we talked to has a strong ‘can do’ spirit and was looking for ways to improve their products and how they’ve gone about growing their businesses,” said Fleming. “You go through each of them and they’re all interesting and have great stories.
Every individual we came in contact with featured character of the highest order and has a love for Rhode Island athletics.
On the other side of that, to experience this state during the fall at a time when 100 percent of my attention is usually paid to what happens on the practice and game fields … to get out there and go fishing in October really emphasizes that we are blessed to be in truthfully the greatest spot in the country.
You just can’t often find that incredible and natural beauty that we were able to experience in Tiverton, Jamestown, Narragansett, Kingston and Wakefield.”
“It was all really cool and just another opportunity to promote the state for what it is when we tell recruits,” Fleming added. “It’s just a phenomenal place to live and that’s been validated by the number of kids who come here from different states and end up staying.”
The first episode of “Coach A La Carte” airs this Saturday (Oct. 24) at 6:30 p.m. on Cox Channel 4 in Rhode Island, with the three remaining episodes airing at 6 p.m. on Oct. 31, Nov. 7, and Nov. 14. Each episode lasts 30 minutes.
“We’re certainly pleased with how everything came out,” said Berg.
In addition to showcasing a different side of Coach Fleming, Yurview will re-air classic games from the URI football archives as part of the channel’s “Rhody Campus Classics” series. This Saturday at 7 p.m. marks a replay of a 2018 game against Albany.
The next URI classic game will air on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. That same night at 6:30 p.m., a roundtable panel moderated by URI football play-by-by voice Steve McDonald will take viewers behind-the-scenes with interviews and highlights from that particular game.
“It’s about keeping football out there until they return in February,” said Berg.