When Tripp Fayard heard the Saints were considering holding 2014 training camp at a West Virginia resort rather than their own Metairie facility, his initial reaction was less than positive.
Fayard is the transportation and account manager for John Fayard Moving and Warehousing, which became the Saints’ official moving company in April 2013. As coordinator of the company’s big projects, he saw the logistical nightmares ahead.
“My first thought was God, I hope they don’t go,” he said. “I hoped they would decide to stay in Metairie. We knew it was going to be a lot of work.”
Long-time Saints administrative director Jay Romig, a veteran of multiple training camp trips to Vero Beach, Florida, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, had no such misgivings. Still, it was hard not to feel a little concern when he arrived at the training-camp site at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on July 7, 16 days before reporting day for the entire team.
The facilities, which Greenbrier owner Jim Justice built from scratch after reaching a three-year training-camp deal with the Saints in March, still were not ready.
“I was nervous,” Romig said. “It was hectic, like moving into a new house but still having about 200 contractors doing work. That’s how it was all week until (July 18). It was wild.
“Every day you could tell something was different, a hill that had leveled or something new was on the building.”
Rest assured, everything will be in working order when the Saints practice for the first time on Thursday morning in what will be a nearly three-week stay through Aug. 13 before they return to their Metairie facility. They have their choice of two grass practice fields and a FieldTurf surface down the hill. A brand new, 55,000-square building is ready, replete with locker rooms, meeting rooms, coaches’ offices, training rooms, a dining room and a weight room.
The Greenbrier even had time to complete the little touches. Groundskeepers carved a fleur de lis into plants in front of the building, greeting all of the Saints as they arrive.
For Romig, who toured the site right after the Saints announced they would hold training camp at the Greenbrier, the transformation is remarkable.
“The building was a slab in the middle of May,” he said. “In the middle of March you — brush and hills and a gully. You have to see the place and all the surrounding areas to understand what they did. It’s something else. They did a great job.”
After lobbying unsuccessfully for the Washington Redskins to train at his resort, Justice bent Saints coach Sean Payton’s ear when Payton served as caddy for the PGA tour’s Ryan Palmer at the Greenbrier Classic last July. Eight months later, they struck a deal.
It was a significant undertaking for everyone involved. Justice had workers on the grounds for 24 hours a day to get the place ready.
“I grew up in a house where my dad said, ‘Son, if you don’t get it done during the day, you’re going to have to work nights,’ ” Justice said. “So I’m used to this. The Saints wanted to make sure every ‘T’ was crossed and every ‘I’ was dotted, but there was no way I could let the New Orleans Saints down, because it would’ve reflected poorly on me and West Virginia.”
Fayard Moving, based in Gulfport, Mississippi, used four 53-foot tractor trailers and one 34-foot truck to haul everything the Saints needed from Metairie to the Greenbrier, about 950 miles away. The first truck, which had field equipment including sleds, ice chests, pumps and pads, arrived July 8. Six days later, three more 18-wheelers completed the two-day trip with training equipment, taping tables, player bags, uniforms, shoulder pads, footballs, shoes, etc.
The last truck arrived Sunday with video equipment and coaches’ trunks. Counting the loading in New Orleans, Fayard said he had used 16 workers, including six or seven drivers. The final truck returned to Gulfport on Tuesday.
“Everything went real smooth for us,” Fayard said. “On my end it probably took a good month-and-a-half to coordinate and get ready to roll.”
The entire process will be repeated in three weeks when the Saints leave West Virginia, only with more urgency because all of the equipment needs to be unloaded in New Orleans on Aug. 15, the day of a Saints preseason home game against Tennessee.
Holding training camp a long way from home used to be common, but with most teams having built state-of-the-art workout facilities, the cross-country treks have become much more rare. Of the 32 NFL teams, 19 are practicing at their home facilities. Ten more are practicing in their home state, and another, Charlotte-based Carolina, is just across the border in South Carolina.
New Orleans and Dallas, which is conducting training camp in Oxnard, Calif., are the two exceptions, accepting logistical headaches for some tangible benefits.
For the Saints, the reasoning is twofold: bonding and avoiding New Orleans’ bad summer weather. Even when they practiced at their facility during training camp the last five years, they slept, ate and held meetings at the Airport Hilton as Payton tried to build camaraderie.
Romig can vouch for the West Virginia weather. He said it was 48 degrees in the morning of a recent day. Highs have been in the 70s.
“If we can get some of the same kind of weather while we’re here, the benefits to the team can be fantastic,” Romig said. “They’ll get some work in and it will help injury-wise and fatigue-wise when we come back. We hate to get away from our fans, but in the end, if we have a great season and get to the Super Bowl, that’s what it’s all about.”
Romig, who is in his 39th year with the Saints, said the first time at a new training-camp site always had the most potential pitfalls. He recalled the searing heat wave in their first of 11 trips to Wisconsin-La Crosse 1988, when the box fans in each dorm room did nothing to alleviate the stifling conditions.
“We wound up buying like 88 (air conditioner) window units from every Sears in like a three-county area,” he said. “I think we had everybody in the area mad at us because we bought all the window units during the heat wave. You run into different problems in different places, but it all works out.”