BOISE, Idaho — The Williamsville South graduate most valuable to the University at Buffalo football program the last two weeks doesn’t line up at quarterback. He doesn’t even have a uniform. And he won’t play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome Saturday when the Bulls take on San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Paul Bittar is UB’s Director of Football Operations, a title akin to describing fellow Billie Joe Licata as “someone who throws a football.” The DFO tag only hints at the responsibilities that fell into Bittar’s lap once UB accepted a bid to play in this picturesque city almost 2,000 crow-measured miles from home.
While the Bulls practiced Thursday morning Bittar sat on the floor in front of his laptop in a cinderblock building adjacent to the field. The job never ends. He receives word that there’s been an addition to the second charter plane flying in tonight. Can he hook the guy up with a hotel room?
He chuckles. “No problem.” It’s not even a blip on crisis-management radar.
A few hours earlier Bittar was told that Boise State was reneging on a promise to lend UB its practice equipment. The Broncos’ DFO had no choice. The team’s still in town preparing for its own bowl game and its practice time overlapped with UB’s.
“So I’m making phone calls at 8 this morning while we’re having breakfast trying to get push bags, shields, step-over bags, down-and-distance markers, stuff that we need to get a practice going,” he said. “You don’t like to see coach Quinn blowing his top. If that stuff’s not there he’s blowing his top.”
Bittar got 220 people here on the main charter. Another 130, including the UB band, will be here tonight. Both charters will depart Saturday evening and there’s always food post game, usually for players and coaches, but in this case for four times the typical traveling party. Bittar walked into a Papa John’s with a request a bunch of frat boys might make on a dare.
“Can you get 350 pizzas to the stadium Saturday evening?”
“Uh, I think so,” came the response.
(Yes. He got the volume discount).
Bittar, 44, began at UB in 1997 working in facilities and recreation. In December of 2000 Bob Arkeilpane, the athletics director at the time, suggested he’d be ideal for an opening as director of football operations. Bittar has held the post ever since, working under coaches Jim Hofher, Turner Gill and now Jeff Quinn.
He organized UB’s trip to the International Bowl in January of 2009 but that was like a home game compared to this.
“The major issue I had at the International Bowl, which seems minor now, was getting over the border,” he said. “That was really it. This is a much larger bowl than the International Bowl was. At the International Bowl we didn’t have to get on a plane and fly five hours. When we went to the International Bowl a lot of people got themselves to the bowl. I worried about the team. I had five buses for our team, support staff and their families.”
A reconnaissance mission to Toronto required a simple drive up the QEW. Scoping out Boise last week required two days travel for one day of logistical planning.
“I flew out on Tuesday,” he said. “I arrived with no luggage because the airline lost my luggage, so I showed up Tuesday night at 11 o’clock at night Boise time. Wednesday was a day packed with the bowl people, hotel people, going around, checking out the different venues to make sure where we’re going and we got everything we need.
“And then Thursday I flew back to Buffalo first thing in the morning. So Thursday I don’t get back until 5 o’clock and I pull into a snowstorm. So now I’m trying to get back to the stadium and I can’t with traffic at a stop on the 90 and, this is no joke. The plane lands, I turn my phone on, from Chicago to Buffalo, 64 e-mails, six voices messages and 10 text messages all about questions people wanted to know.”
“I’m in stopped traffic calling these people and my wife’s like, “Are you safe? Are you home.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah, I forgot to call you.”
Beth got her revenge last week by posting a Facebook picture of her husband clothed and asleep with phone in hand, ever at the ready.
“In a word it’s very stressful,” Bittar said. “It puts a lot of strain on your personal life, because my wife’s not very happy with me right now.”
And Beth’s back home?
“No, she’s here with the kids but she hasn’t seen me because I am the person that everybody calls when there’s a problem or there’s a question,” he said. “So if something’s not going right, I’m the one who gets the phone call. So my phone doesn’t stop ringing because there’s always a question.”
Can we get a playpen for our room? Can we get a room refrigerator for the baby food?
“Honestly, it’s been a lot of work,” he said. “It’s very tough to turn around in eight days and get essentially 350 people from Buffalo to Boise and make it all work. Now I’m not doing it all by myself. There’s a lot of people who are assisting. Allen Greene and myself are the two that are kind of spearheading it with assistance from a lot of others helping, but there’s just a lot of logistics that have to go on. It becomes all encompassing and it’s hard to stop. You got so many people that are depending on you to do your job and if I don’t do the job they all suffer.”
It struck him on Wednesday how gratifying it is helping to make all this happen. The occasion came during practice, as the players interacted with his 3-year-old son Coleman, a boy he says the team adopted from birth. Bittar’s eyes softened and a slight smile creased his face as he described the scene and you could tell that moment alone was fair tradeoff for all the anxiety he’s endured.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Bittar said. “It’s been a very stressful experience but it’s been a great experience. It’s fun to see our players at this game and see what they experience because they are enjoying it. And I’ve had a number of them come up to me and thank me and say, ‘We really appreciate everything you’re doing. This has been a great visit. We really love it.’ To me that’s a mode of satisfaction, it really is. It’s something money doesn’t buy.”