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Brent Renaud, Director of “Our Time: UCF Football”, Killed in Ukraine

Renaud was an award-winning documentarian

The 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony - Arrivals
Brent Renaud at the 2015 Peabody Awards
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Peabody Awards

Brent Renaud, the award-winning filmmaker and documentarian who directed “Our Time: UCF Football” for ESPN+ this past season, has been killed covering the war in Ukraine. He was just 50 years old.

The New York Times, for whom Brent worked on past projects, confirmed the news early Sunday:

Renaud was reportedly covering the plight of the Ukrainian people in the wake of Russia’s invasion. According to one unconfirmed report, he and at least two other journalists were ambushed by Russian soldiers at a border checkpoint as they were in a car in the town of Irpin, just outside Kyiv. The others in the car were wounded but alive at last report.

Renaud was wearing his New York Times ID badge at the time he was killed. The Times stated he was not working for them at the time, although they acknowledged the work he did for them in the past.

Renaud was renowned for his work as a war journalist, producing several documentaries on such far-flung places as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as hot0button issues in the United States, such as racism and the War on Drugs. He and his brother Craig had their work air on VICE, HBO, Discovery, PBS, and NBC.

The Renaud Brothers won a Peabody Award in 2015 for their VICE series “Last Chance High,” which documented the story of a school in Chicago whose students suffered from emotional disorders.

The 74th Annual Peabody Awards Ceremony
Brent Renaud, right, with his brother Craig at the 2015 Peabody Awards
Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Brent was the director of “Our Time: UCF Knights Football” on ESPN+ over this past football season. Brent interacted with several key people in the program, who expressed their remorse over his death on social media:

On a personal note

Jeff:

I was flabbergasted when Brent chose to use clips from our podcast several times in the show. But I was even more impressed with him over how he handled a mistake.

During one episode, Drew was misidentified in a graphic as Eric in one podcast clip describing UCF’s injury issues after the Louisville game. We reached out to the production company just to give them a heads-up, because that’s what you do — not out of spite, but in the spirit of helping out your fellow journalist when something goes wrong that they maybe don’t know about.

The mark of a professional is not that they never make mistakes — They do. Professionals are human too, and humans mess up. The true mark of a professional is what they do after they make a mistake. That’s what I learned from Brent.

Brent wrote back and was really apologetic. He handled it with incredible grace and professionalism, and was also kind enough to ask Drew to be on the show in an on-camera interview in a later episode.

It seems surreal that Brent went from covering something as admittedly unimportant in the grand scheme of things as college football to the human suffering wrought by the war in Ukraine. It seems just as surreal to learn he lost his life doing it. Such is the job of a war journalist: To enter the maw of death and tell those on the outside what it’s like on the inside.

It’s one thing to fight in a war zone for a nation or a cause. It’s a different thing when that cause is truth. That’s what journalists like Brent do, and what happened to him is the risk they balance with the reward of telling us what is happening in the world.

In sports, we throw around the word “hero” a lot. Brent was a true hero for laying down his life doing what he was doing.

Rest in Peace, Brent. And thank you. For everything.

Andrew:

Hearing news like this makes you stop and think about the world and your place in it. When I learned about Brent's passing, I had just finished a round a golf and while calling my game "bad" is a compliment, I was enjoying life. Hearing the news about Brent gave my both a feeling a dread and sadness, but also a feeling of pride.

Brent was all about the story.

As Jeff mentioned above, how I got to meet Brent was by accident. After being misattributed as Eric Lopez on an episode of "Our Time: UCF Football" and typing a few words of profanity in the Banneret's Twitter group, I decided to try and notify the show to let them know they made a mistake. I didn't expect it to get fixed, but I know they like to know if they made a mistake. As I later found out, this was the one time UCF's representatives weren't able to verify names before it was uploaded to ESPN. Any other week, it would have been caught, but the universe wanted Brent and I to meet, so it wasn't caught.

After a lot of digging, I was able to find the Twitter handle of one of the producers, Bo Mattingly, and sent him a message kindly mentioning the mistake, just so they were aware. During the time of sending it and hearing back from Bo, I let UCF know just in case it comes up.

Bo eventually responded and was very apologetic. When it comes to stuff like this, they care about accuracy, and were disappointed when they found out they weren't. As we found out, Brent and his team really liked the Black and Gold Banneret podcast and ended up sampling it three more times. I'm very flattered they thought so highly of our work. I take it personally.

After a little time, Bo reached back out to me and asked for my contact information and told me he wanted to give it to the director. I did and then he did. Through Bo, Brent contacted me. I included Jeff and we had some back and forth. He wondered where we recorded our podcast and was very interested in seeing The Closet(my collection of jerseys). Unfortunately, I was too far away from Orlando and we couldn't get together. Despite the feeling more was going to happen, things went quiet, but we had a feeling things weren't done.

My nine-to-five job was bringing me about 1,100 miles to their home office on Thursday the week of the UConn home game. I had a feeling that Brent was going to contact me for an interview, so instead of staying until Sunday like I wanted, I flew back home Friday night. As I was waiting in the Charlotte Airport, I got the email asking for the interview. My intuition turned out to be correct.

Go figure, I nearly missed the interview. I live around two and a half hours from UCF, so I budgeted time to get to the game. My GPS told me to divert off Interstate 4 and drive north to Clermont and across 408. Thankfully, I made it campus and we met in the Nicholson Fieldhouse.

Brent is not a large person. When I met him, he had long hair and was carrying his big camera around. We got together, found a spot in the Fieldhouse, got miked up, and set up. The guy was a pro. He worked quickly, wasting little time trying to St things up. With many pandemic policies still in place at that time, we stood a little bit away from each other once he was ready to roll the camera. He then asked me a bunch of questions. Some of them were used on the show, some were not.

There was one question he asked and it got a pretty pointed response from me. It was about Dillon Gabriel and if I thought he was coming back. I gave a pretty negative answer to his question. You could tell it caught him off-guard. Unfortunately, it didn't make that week's show. Also unfortunately, my answer was correct.

We finished the interview. He packed up and had to scurry to his next stop. I had to as well, but not as fast. I'm guessing he went to the locker room. I figured that was the end of our interaction. I got to see him after the game at the press conference and we waved to each other. I know he got me on video at least once during the post game presser, but I don't recall any getting into the show.

Jeff and I decided to keep it quiet that I was going to be on the show. We respected Brent's work and wanted to make it a surprise. Eric's response was worth it.

For the record, I wasn't really mad. It was more of a moment that we laughed at and it became a running punchline. I started calling myself Eric Lopez. Some UCF fans decided I was AAC commissioner Mike Aresco in disguise, which added on to the joke. Next to my closet of jerseys, I keep a collection of all the bowl and special game credentials. I keep one more, which was the UCF at South Florida men's basketball game from this season. The game itself was awful, but the school messed up and had the credential originally for Eric Lopez instead of me. While they replaced the name with a new label, I still keep it because Eric's name is still on it below the other label. I had to explain to the South Florida people why I found it so funny.

Who would have thought that so much would happen as a result of an honest mistake? I'm very thankful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with Brent. I'm better for it. The world has lost one of the good ones.

Rest in peace, Brent.