If all goes as planned, the nearly 950-mile move from the New Orleans Saints' Airline Drive headquarters to training camp at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., will occur with the same precision and timing that’s come to be expected from the Saints’ offense in recent years.
The goal, said Saints Administrative Director Jay Romig, who, along with director of operations James Nagaoka has been tasked with managing the logistics of the move, is to allow the players and coaches the opportunity to become the best football team they can be from the moment they arrive in West Virginia.
“We have to have everything ready to go,” Romig said. “(Camp) is just for three weeks, but it’s probably three of the most important weeks of the season for the organization and the guys trying to make the team.”
Romig, who’s been with the Saints for 39 years, said moving the team away from New Orleans for an extended period of time is a monumental task, albeit one the Saints have considerable experience with.
Nevertheless, before John Fayard Moving and Warehousing, the Saints’ official movers, could begin its three-week phased relocation of the team’s equipment, the Greenbrier had to turn what its owner Jim Justice described as a “typical West Virginia hillside” into a state of the art facility capable of hosting an NFL franchise.
READYING THE GREENBRIER
In April, the Greenbrier began construction on three fields (two grass, one FieldTurf) and an adjoining 55,000 square-foot building that will house the team's meeting rooms, locker rooms, coaches' offices, training rooms, medical facilities, dining room and weight room.
Justice, who purchased the resort in 2009 and rescued it from bankruptcy, had been actively pursuing the Washington Redskins’ training camp for years. But when Saints coach Sean Payton caddied for PGA Tour pro and friend Ryan Palmer in last year’s Greenbrier Classic, the wheels were instead set in motion for another team.
"I called Coach Payton and said if there’s a chance, we would surely do what we could to jump through the hoops to make it a reality," Justice said.
True to his word, Justice jumped through a $25 million hoop, securing a three-project tax credit through the West Virginia Tourism Development Act. The tax credit allowed him to invest that money in the sports training facility and realize his dream of attracting an NFL franchise. One of the other projects is the adjacent $250 million Greenbrier Medical Institute, the centerpiece of which is world-renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews.
Justice said the entire state, including its governor and politicians, are “all in” and ecstatic about hosting the Saints.
"You don't have to be tapped into to know this, but they are on Cloud 9 and will come out in droves," he said.
But as far as profitability versus the cost of the project, Justice doesn't see it in those terms.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s a cost on our end, it’s an investment, that’s for sure," he said. "I want this to go on for a long time.”
Construction crews at the Greenbrier have been working at a torrid pace to complete the work, often around the clock. For Justice, failure is not an option.
“It’s monumentally important for me that it’s done right,” Justice said. “I just want people to say that we did it right in West Virginia and did it right for the Saints. And maybe we could take claim to being a grain of sand in the success story, but at least we’re there.
“And that’s what we want to be, we want to be that grain of sand in the success story of helping the Saints win the Super Bowl.”
The Saints have worked closely with Justice and his staff to ensure nothing is overlooked.
Saints officials, among them, facilities manager Terry Ashburn, traveled to West Virginia on several occasions to monitor the installation of the fields and construction progress.
“When (the Greenbrier) started, we all kind of said, ‘God, can they get this done?’ But sure enough they are getting it done,” said Romig, who himself has already made three trips and plans to return for the move after the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament concludes on July 6.
“There’s still work to be done," he said, "but it will be ready, that’s for sure.”
THE MOVE UP
Planning for the relocation, which will occur in phases over roughly three weeks, began in April after the Saints finalized their practice schedule.
Fayard Moving transportation and account manager Tripp Fayard said each leg of the trip offers its own unique set of challenges, among them labor and distance.
“The most important thing, though, is that everything is on time and ready to go. The delivery times are so important,” he said. “Every step has to be planned precisely. Sure, they’ll be a few things that change, but for the most part, it all has to go as planned.”
The Saints began packing their gear as soon as OTAs ended on June 19. On June 24, Fayard Moving delivered 50 custom wood-shelving units that will be used to transport and then store equipment in two on-site trailers at the Greenbrier.
In all, the Saints will use four 53-foot tractor-trailers, one 34-foot trailer, four 26-foot box trucks and a 16-foot pack truck. The two 53-foot trailers not used for storage and the 34-foot trailer will return to Fayard Moving’s base of operation in Gulfport, Miss. while the Saints' hold camp at the Greenbrier. The box and pack trucks are used to move the team when it travels locally and on gamedays.
The move began in earnest on Thursday morning, when the first 53-foot trailer, which holds field equipment (sleds, dummies, ropes, etc.), was loaded at the Saints’ facility before leaving for Gulfport that afternoon. That trailer will be staged at Fayard’s warehouse until it departs Sunday, arriving in West Virginia on Tuesday.
Legally, drivers can only run 10 hours a day and work no more than 14. Therefore, all the trucks leaving the Saints’ facility will stage in Gulfport overnight. From there, it’s usually about a day and a half trip, Fayard said.
The most significant part of the move begins July 10. That’s when three 53-foot trailers arrive at the Saints facility for loading. These trailers, which will depart for Gulfport that afternoon, will hold all the training equipment, medical equipment, helmets, shoulder pads and uniforms. They are scheduled to arrive at the Greenbrier on Monday, July 14 – so as not to offload over the weekend.
Finally, on July 18, a 34-foot trailer will be delivered to haul the video equipment and game trunks. It will depart Gulfport on July 19 and arrive in West Virginia on July 21.
The only equipment the Saints won’t bring is their weights. Instead, they’ve opted to use a vendor that services the area, Rogue Fitness out of Columbus, Ohio.
It’s a decision, Romig said, the Saints made after their experience transporting their own equipment to Jackson, Miss. for camp from 2006 to 2008.
“The weight coaches will meet the people (from Rogue Fitness) up there a week before the players arrive and help set everything up,” Romig said. “If we had to bring our weight equipment up there, oh boy, we did that at Millsaps (College), and that’s like another two trucks and you talk about a mess, that would be terrible.”
GOING TO ST. LOUIS
The Saints only travel during their stay at the Greenbrier is for the first preseason game against the Rams in St. Louis on Aug. 8. This move , Fayard said, is similar to that of a typical weekend game against any of the Saints’ divisional opponents.
The only difference, “We’ll be operating out of West Virginia instead of New Orleans,” he said.
For this trip, the Saints employ three 26-foot box trucks, only one of which makes the trip from West Virginia to St. Louis. This truck carries the team's game trunks and equipment. The other two will be used to transport bags and miscellaneous equipment to and from the team charter in each city.
When the Saints break camp at the Greenbrier on Aug. 14, the preseason is far from complete. In fact, the Saints have their first home game against Tennessee the next day and then return to their Metairie facility, where they’ll finish out training camp.
“It takes about 10 days to set up (from the time the first truck arrives at the Greenbrier) and about 24 hours to tear down,” Romig said. “We have to get it all back (to New Orleans) and setup again.”
Fayard Moving will get a jump on the return, though. On Monday afternoon, Aug. 11, the field equipment will be loaded in a 53-foot trailer and depart for New Orleans, arriving Aug. 13.
The 34-foot trailer that carries the video equipment and game trunks will depart on Aug. 12 and arrive in New Orleans on Thursday, Aug. 14. This trailer will be unloaded in Metairie, repacked Friday morning and then delivered to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the game against the Titans.
Finally, the remaining three 53-foot trailers will load after practice on Aug. 13 and arrive at the Saints’ facility two days later, where they will be unloaded and setup as if the team never left.
“We do big moves all the time, but this is probably the biggest thing we do as far as just scheduling, setting up equipment, setting up manpower, time constraints, that type of thing,” Fayard said.
There is, nevertheless, a sense of pride in making sure the Saints have what they need to get the job done, he said.
“It was already our team over here in Gulfport,” he added. “But now, when you do something like this, we really feel like we’re part of the team.”