Lee Corso has done his mascot headgear picks on ESPN College GameDay 323 times since 1996. But at the conclusion of Saturday’s show, the first to go live from the campus of UCF, the folks at Team Knightro, the UCF Knights’ mascot, wanted to do something truly special.
The following is a Q&A with Dr. Mike Callahan, a UCF alumnus and the head coach of Team Knightro, where we discuss the week of preparation leading up to the big moment.
Jeff Sharon, Black & Gold Banneret: First, for the readers, tell us about your role with Knightro and how long you’ve been doing it.
Dr. Mike Callahan, Team Knightro Head Coach: I am the current coach for Team Knightro. This is a role I have had since 2005. Before that, I was a student of the Burnett Honors College here at UCF. The college stressed the importance of getting involved, and when I saw Knightro for the first time, I knew that was how I wanted to be involved.
I tried out and received a call from the coach, and he said to me, “You were not the most talented person we saw, but I saw today that you have the heart and drive to do this. If you’re willing to put in the work, we will make room for you on the team.”
Due to the willingness of Team Knightro to work with me, I spent two years as Knightro as a student. When I graduated, Spirit Head Coach Linda Gooch emailed me asking if I wanted to still work with the team and that is when I became the coach. All in all, I have worked with Knightro for over 15 years now.
JS: Tell us about when you got the call from ESPN that Lee Corso was coming. You must have known exactly what that meant.
MC: I learned on Sunday that ESPN was coming here, and I knew that meant there was a possibility that the Knightro head might be requested for the Lee Corso reveal that ends every show. I was super excited to help in any way I could as UCF and Knightro, if picked, would be seen by countless people.
Here’s a brief history of Lee Corso’s headgear picks on ESPN College GameDay:
JS: How did the idea for Lee donning the full Knightro eventually come about?
MC: When I spoke with Head Coach Linda Gooch on Monday, I learned that ESPN wanted a full Knightro suit. I knew then that this reveal was going to be big. We spent the week planning what costume to give, and when ESPN came to pick it up on Thursday the team was given all the details of what was intended.
JS: So how long does it take to get into the Knightro costume regularly? How long did ESPN give you?
MC: For everyone the time to get dressed is different, and most of the time we get places early so we have plenty of time. On average I would say it takes ten minutes to get dressed. The Knightro costume is not like others where you have a onesie fur suit you jump in, zip up, and add a head. Knightro has 22 pieces of armor and a cape that make-up the Knightro costume.
When ESPN came on Thursday, I shared that we could have Coach Corso dressed in 15 minutes, giving us some buffer time not know how many people from UCF Team Knightro would be allowed to help. I was then told that we had to find a way to get Coach Corso dressed in under three minutes. At that time, I was not sure if we could do it, but I told ESPN we would work it out.
JS: Tell us about the preparation. How many times did you do a run-through?
MC: The student-athletes at UCF are some of the best in the country. As a group, we worked late Thursday night coming up with a process in which we could stage the suit and dress a person in not just three minutes, but I challenged the team to find a way to do this in under one minute and 30 seconds to allow for extra time on GameDay.
I had the team dress me over and over finding ways to save minutes and then seconds off the time. I lost track of the number of times we put on and took off the costume, but the end goal in our minds was the biggest reveal ever for ESPN College GameDay, and we did not want to let any of the UCF fans down. This was our time to shine.
JS: What was Coach Corso like to work with?
MC: Coach Corso was great to work with. He was super nice to everyone I saw him interact with, and he was detail oriented. Just like us, I could see he genuinely wanted this to work. He did whatever it took to ensure both he and Team Knightro were ready for Saturday.
JS: What was your biggest worry heading into Saturday morning?
MC: I was worried we would run out of time. This is a live broadcast. So, what if Coach Corso was late getting to us? What if the suit Coach Corso wore that day did not sit the same way? We only had a few minutes to pull off what we had just learned two days prior. I was worried he would show up and the producers would say we have 30 seconds. Then what?
However, being worried keeps me ready for anything that might have happened. I feel that when people are worried or nervous, it shows they really care about what they are about to do. In the end, we were able to get Coach Corso dressed and get off the stage in time for the curtain drop.
JS: What was the biggest snag that you had to overcome?
MC: This has never been done before. The time, logistics, and the unknown were all obstacles for us to encounter and overcome. We spend time practicing the expected year-round -- how to handle children who are scared, how to pose for photos, how to walk, how to sign Knightro’s name. The unexpected we had never practiced: getting a person dressed in a mascot suit in under three minutes while still dressed in a business suit.
We spent time brainstorming how to do it, working on the order in which the parts are put on, and then changing the order to save more time. The Knightro costume is not like others where you have a onesie fur suit you jump in, zip up, and add a head. Knightro has 22 pieces of armor and a cape. Then once we came up with a plan, we had to ensure we could do it over and over again because on Saturday there would not be time for us to mess it up.
Here’s the actual segment, complete with the big reveal, as it was seen on College GameDay:
JS: What was your reaction to the reveal and how it went down on TV?
MC: I felt the reveal was epic and the fans reaction was great. Team Knightro worked very hard all week to do the best we could in the time allowed. It was even more rewarding when Team Knightro Alumni walked up to me and said, “How did you get him dressed in three minutes? It takes us way longer to get dressed!”
JS: You guys have done so much over the past several years stepping up Knightro’s game. Is this your proudest moment?
MC: One of the first things I tell people trying out for Team Knightro, and then I repeat this to the team over and over, is that your priorities in life should be school, Team Knightro, then everything else. If you can’t commit to that, this team is not for you.
My proudest moments are seeing the team members graduate. As part of this process, when Team Knightro members are recognized at senior night, it is fantastic to see the students be announced as Knightro for the first time in public without a costume on. But I would say this is a close second.
JS: What was the game on Saturday night like, now that you could breathe a little bit easier?
MC: The crowd, the lights, the excitement, and the weather made it the perfect night for College Football. However to be honest, I was worried that the attention of College GameDay would change the routine of the players. Cincinnati is a great football team.
Before the game Head Coach Linda Gooch told the whole spirit squad the crowd had the ability to have an effect on the game. We needed the lead the crowd on being loud on defense and quiet on offense. The last thing I wanted was for UCF to end the winning streak on ABC primetime. I spent extra time preparing before the game to ensure Knightro was where he needed to be when he needed to be there to help our team in every way possible no matter how small the effect. Because, like getting the suit on in under three minutes, it’s the tiny details that are the most important.
JS: So what’s next for Knightro? Got any cool things you’re working on that you can divulge?
MC: With 15 years working with mascots I have learned one thing really well, and that is keeping secrets. I encourage everyone to get out and support UCF Athletics and the school in any way possible, and there is an excellent chance you will see Knightro there doing the same. You just might be there for the next big thing.
Special thanks again to Mike Callahan and UCF Athletics for their help with this story.