Q&A: Rush Propst asks 'Titletown High' viewers to ‘have an open mind’
It was a reunion of sorts, when Rush Propst and Jason Sciavicco got together in Valdosta, Ga., in the spring of 2020. Netflix had agreed to an 8-episode deal with Sciavicco’s production company, Blue Eyes Entertainment, for an all-access look at the Valdosta football program in 2020, the first and only season for Propst at Valdosta.
The historically controversial high school football coach in Propst, and Sciavicco, the man largely responsible for taking Propst’s brand to a completely different stratosphere over 15 years ago in Hoover, Ala., together again.
In 2006, a 24-year-old Sciavicco convinced executives at MTV to fund the eventual breakout reality series that tracked seemingly every move made by Propst and his Hoover High School Buccaneers. “Two-A-Days” is still widely considered to be the first series/documentary of its kind, following high school kids as they grow up on the field and off of it. The coach became an instant lightning rod on the show.
For one reason or another (and there seemed to be plenty to choose from back then) people seemed to love or hate Propst. That means superstar potential in the reality television game.
So, when Propst was hired to lead Valdosta, the nation’s winningest high school football program, in early 2020, another microscopic look at the coach and his team was born. This time, it would be aptly named “Titletown High” for the school’s 24 state championships on the gridiron.
What was once a distant dream became an almost instant reality for the Emmy nominated Sciavicco and his team.
“This time it was almost easier because these kids nowadays are so used to being on camera or on their channels or whatever. I don’t even know if social media was around back then,” Sciavicco told SDS.
For Propst, it was more controversy. He was subjected to harsh penalties from the Georgia High School Athletic Association (GHSA) due to alleged infractions revolving around recruiting players prominent in the Netflix series such as quarterback Jake Garcia, now at Miami. A leaked audio tape recorded by former Valdosta Touchdown Club President Michael “Nub” Nelson was almost certainly the final straw for the state’s prep athletics overlords.
Netflix summarizes its show as one which “follows the nation’s winningest high school football team as they tackle age-old rivalries, teenage romance and real-life drama while vying for a championship title under infamous head coach Rush Propst. With unprecedented access both on and off the field, the series delivers an honest and complex portrait of the most unique football culture in America.”
The docu-series began streaming on Netflix Friday, Aug. 27. On Thursday, Propst and Sciavicco spoke with Saturday Down South about what to expect in the series and what Propst hopes the audience will do when watching.
Below is a Q&A recap of the phone interview conducted by SDS/Travis Jaudon with Propst and Sciavicco taking turns to answer a wide variety of questions regarding the show, its motives, and its main characters.
SATURDAY DOWN SOUTH: How much of the series had coach Propst seen/reviewed ahead of the “Titletown High” release?
RUSH PROPST: I’ve just seen some trailers, but no, I’ve not seen any of the episodes or anything like that. We’ve talked and I’ve seen different trailers and things like that. Just excited to see what Jason (Sciavicco) and his guys have done.
SDS: When did the Netflix crew arrive in Valdosta and what was that timeline like?
JASON SCIAVICCO: I believe it was the last week of July, maybe first week of August (2020) when we first started with the cameras rolling. Before then, we had talked with coach Propst, (Valdosta High School) athletic director Reggie Mitchell, and then-Superintendent Dr. Case.
SDS: For each of you, what has changed the most since you filmed “Two-A-Days” with each other back in 2005, 2006?
JS: Obviously, just the way our society is so much different than it was back then. How different these kids are. They are so comfortable now with being in front of a camera because their lives are, on a day-to-day basis, seen widely on their social media channels. They are constantly posting, or sending messages and they have already kind of exposed themselves to the world before we ever arrive. So, for us, getting that raw emotion and honesty from them actually came pretty easily.
RP: Well it doesn’t take long for Jason and his guys to make you feel comfortable. I think last time (in 2005, 2006) it took me a couple of weeks to get used to the cameras being around and that sort of thing. But this time, it was kind of like old hat. When we were together at Hoover High School for 2 years, I wasn’t sure how (Jason) would find a show with stories and things like that. This time around, I think there were plenty of storylines around Valdosta High, so it was just easier this time around. When I talked to the kids about doing this, they were all excited about doing it and I think that’s because all of these kids are just social media driven now. Kids will be kids and that’s what this series is about. It’s about kids playing football at a high level and what it’s like through their perspective.
SDS: Coach, what would you hope people take away from this series as far as you personally, your coaching style and things of that nature?
RP: That’s hard to say. I mean, I just think that football is football at the end of the day. So, I had a job to do and that was to come (to Valdosta) to win football games. You don’t go to Valdosta and expect to just have a winning season. You go there to win a state championship. I don’t know that I’ve changed a whole lot since (“Two-A-Days”), but I would think I’m a little more mellow now than I was back in (2005) and (2006).
I guess I try to control my language at least a little more than I did back then, but it’s like I said, once those cameras are around for a few days you just get used to them and you are back to business as usual. The best way I can explain it is tunnel vision. From Day 1 of Fall Camp to the last day of the season you are in your own little capsule. You have to be that way.
SDS: The recording between Michael “Nub” Nelson and Coach Propst was obviously a story that made national headlines. What was that like to try and capture it on film, Jason, and what were the days and weeks following that leak like for you Coach?
JS: So that recording was taken by Nelson maybe the first week of May (2020) or somewhere around then, and it wasn’t released until March, maybe April (2021). And so, for us, the season was over and we thought we knew how the season and the series were ending. But obviously, when something like that comes out, we have to rethink how we are ending the series and so we were covering that story. We were able to get ahold of the full recording (over an hour in length) and so in our series you’ll see some different pieces of audio that weren’t in the original (leaked) recording (around 14 minutes in length). There’s a lot more to it than what you’ve already heard and it might shed some new light on all of it.
People haven’t seen the emotion behind it all. When Rush walked into his house at the dinner table with his wife and kids and had to explain to them what was going on … Well that was just a really emotional time and coach Propst allowed the cameras to go in with him and capture that whole thing. We aren’t an investigative series. We are not there to uncover rocks. We were there to tell stories through the emotions and actions of our main characters.
RP: It was very frustrating. Probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been in my entire life. Let’s be honest here though, there are things in that tape that I’m not happy about having said. Bottom line. But it is what it is. At the same time, that tape was significantly altered to make me look as bad as possible. Obviously, I wish I could change some things but you can’t. You’ve got to just own up to some things, but I was taken out of context. Absolutely, I was taken out of context. There are still some things being worked out with investigators and so that’s probably all I can say about that incident right now.
SDS: Just to follow up on that recording coach, a lot of people believe that it made national news because of your naming schools like Alabama and Georgia in terms of recruiting violations. You named specifically a guy like Nick Chubb, is that one of those things that you regret having said?
RP: Yes. Yeah, yep it is. What people don’t understand is that there was a lot of the conversation which occurred leading up to that that wasn’t on the tape. It was just, we were just like two guys sitting at a bar or two people on the boat talking. That wasn’t something I just made up, I was just repeating rumors. It was just something where you hear things and then you repeat things. They’re not true. They are rumors and they aren’t true. None of that was true. And I’ve signed affidavits stating that. But yes, those parts of the recording caught the biggest pert of (the attention) and I do regret saying that.
SDS: Coach, do you have any messages or anything you’d like people to know before they watch the series?
RP: Just to have an open mind. I hope people have an open mind about it. And I don’t want people to watch it just to see about the (tape recording) controversy. I hope people take an overview of what a high school athlete goes through at a high-pressure program like Valdosta. It goes on at other schools, too. It goes on at North Gwinnett, Buford, and it goes on at places like Grayson.
I know people are going to look for my controversy and the negative stuff like that, but if people would just look at this series open-mindedly and are able to enjoy what Jason and his crew have done, I think they’ll see what being a student athlete can really be like.