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Finebaum Hits It Big At ESPN

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Whatever controversy might be brewing in college football, you can count on Paul Finebaum to comment on it.

He did as a newspaper columnist and radio host in Birmingham, and now he does it daily on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show.

“What gives Paul Finebaum the right to voice his opinion on sports — he’s never touched a ball in his life,” said Charles Barkley of Leeds. “He can come on the radio and everybody in Alabama thinks it’s the gospel because Finebaum said it.”

The 59-year-old Finebaum, born in Memphis and educated at the University of Tennessee, built his reputation in newspapers and enhanced it in radio. Now he is known nationwide as a fearless commentator who isn’t timid about bashing callers and coaches.

“Back in the day I was just thrilled to be writing a column for a newspaper,” Finebaum said. “My dream was to work for a big newspaper, maybe the New York Times.

“I started from scratch. There has been a shift over the years. I was evolving, and I found myself choosing radio over newspapers.”

As a talk show host on WJOX in Birmingham, Finebaum and his callers would often go into a tizzy over some trivial matter. If you called his show, you may have been shouted down, but hey, you had plenty of company.

Someone once said the show is most compelling when the wheels come off. And if the wheels came off one day, they were back on the next, with callers backed up on the hold line, eager to talk to Finebaum … until his contract expired in January 2013 and he was off the air.

“I decided not to renew it and became a free agent, so to speak,” he said.

During his four-month layoff, he signed a contract with HarperCollins for $650,000 to write a book, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference,” which spent six months on The New York Times bestseller list.

As listeners waited eagerly to find out what Finebaum would do next, the announcement that he would go to ESPN with a five-year contract was surprising.

“I could see a change coming, but not this,” he said. “There are days I still can’t believe it.”

And with the promotion to ESPN, Finebaum has been on his best behavior … most of the time.

“After a while, you don’t want to keep being a bull in a china shop every day,” he said. “As I’ve gone through changes, I now try to elicit comments more from listeners.”

But he can still be combative. Recently a caller from Ohio argued that the Big Ten was better than the SEC. After bickering back and forth, Finebaum called him a “blithering idiot.”

The same person called back a day or two later and apologized. “Aw, that’s OK,” Finebaum said.

The caller asked, If Ohio State played in the SEC West, who would win the division? Finebaum thought about it and replied, “Ohio State.”

“At the core, Paul is a good person and he very much believes in the good of the people,” said Joe Tessitore, Finebaum’s colleague at ESPN. “He is brilliant in ways that aren’t obvious … he’s flat-out smart and perceptive and analytical. He is a craftsman at the unique craft he himself seemingly created.”

Tessitore added, “His ability to listen well to both callers and guests is superb” and his understanding of Southern football and life has “blossomed to mega success.”

Off the air, Finebaum is mild-mannered and reserved.

“He is less confrontational, very comfortable, and smiles and laughs more,” Tessitore said.

Chris Vernon, a sports radio host in Memphis, once said “Outside of Nick Saban, Paul Finebaum is the most famous person in Alabama.” To which Saban replied, “I don’t think you can function in the Southeast and not know who Paul is.”

Finebaum’s reaction: “Any time you hear something like that it’s flattering, but I don’t take it seriously.”

Saban and Finebaum are friends. They met when Saban was head coach at LSU.

“He was involved in some controversy there involving (former Alabama coach) Dennis Franchione, and I was extremely fair to him,” Finebaum said. “Later, the day after he left the Miami Dolphins to go to Alabama, he came on our show. It was his way of saying thanks, I remember what you did.”

Finebaum majored in political science at Tennessee but, after reading a biography of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, he developed a keen interest in sports.

He became sports editor of the Daily Beacon, UT’s student newspaper, where he stirred the pot just as he did later in Birmingham.

“No doubt, that’s where it all started,” he said.

In 1978, the year after Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King left Tennessee for the NBA, the Vols lost at home to a small-school team they should have beaten.

“I wrote a story that said the Tennessee basketball program died that night. We bordered it in black in the paper,” Finebaum recalled. “I was banned from traveling with the team.”

Last year, he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from his alma mater. He returned to Knoxville to accept it and speak to students in the school of communications.

Mike Slive, who retired recently after 13 years as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, calls Finebaum “a renaissance man,” explaining that he has a broad range of intellectual interests including literature, politics, philosophy and history.

When Finebaum lived in Birmingham, he and Slive would shop for books and meet for lunch.

“We seldom talked sports, but we would share books,” Slive said. “He liked books about important media personalities such as Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Tom Brokaw and others.

“He has a great sense of humor and he is extremely bright,” Slive said. “He’s a private person while at the same time a very good friend. And he is uniquely skilled at what he does.”

So when you turn on ESPN and The Paul Finebaum Show, you’ll still hear Tammy from Clanton and Legend from Hueytown. But more and more, callers from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa and even California are checking in with the man The Wall Street Journal once called “the Oprah Winfrey of college football.”

ESPN wants to expand his role, according to Rosalyn Durant, head of the SEC Network. She recently told AL.com, “We want to continue to grow his brand on television. … You can expect to see more of Paul.”

Finebaum met his wife, Dr. Linda Hudson, when they lived in the same Birmingham apartment complex. Married for 25 years now, they sold their house in Shoal Creek and moved to Charlotte, home of the SEC Network, where she is an internist for the Carolinas HealthCare System.

With football fast approaching, Finebaum made these predictions for the 2015 season:

SEC championship game: Alabama over Georgia. College Football Playoff: Alabama, TCU, Ohio State and Southern California. National champion: Ohio State.

Credit to the Anniston Star who originally published this article

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Peter Schrager: ‘Next Good Morning Football Host Has Massive Shoes To Fill’

“I don’t know where they are going for that and I don’t play coach or GM. I’m just going to sit back and if they ask my opinion, I’ll give it.”

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This week, Good Morning Football ended up winning a Sports Emmy for the best daily studio show. It is a show that has turned into part most football fans’ morning routines. However, there will be new people on the panel eventually with the departures of Nate Burleson and Kay Adams

This week, one of those left, Peter Schrager, was on The Pat McAfee Show. He did not have a name for McAfee that would fill the role Adams leaves behind and he isn’t going to interfere in the process of the executives picking the next host. 

“I would think that there is going to be a long line of people who will want that,” he said. “Those are massive shoes to fill. I don’t know where they are going for that and I don’t play coach or GM. I’m just going to sit back and if they ask my opinion, I’ll give it. But, for now, I trust the executives to hire someone who is going to take care of that hosting job.” 

As for Burleson’s seat, the show has used a number of ex-players to fill-in. Schrager likes it that way because he can learn many different stories each week: 

“Nate and I can finish each other’s sentences. Now, you have a guy I don’t know the story this player is going to tell. I don’t know where he’s going to take it and I think it’s kind of cool for us.” 

Last summer, Schrager hosted The Flying Coach podcast on The Ringer with Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. Unfortunately, there will be no season 2 of that show this summer. That doesn’t mean there won’t be another season of the podcast in the future though. 

“I won’t do it without McVay. I begged him. He’s just out….He’s getting married this offseason. He’s got his honeymoon. He’s like, we’ll pick it up another offseason. I’m upset. I love doing it. All these new coaches, Sean and I would have had a good time with it and we talked about it, but it’s his decision and he’s saying no and I totally get it. He’s really good at it and he liked it. He’ll have opportunities and you see some of these numbers that these guys are getting. Trust me, he’s aware.”

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Shan & RJ: ‘Inside The NBA Was Trying To Prevent A Riot Last Night’

“You know that moment? Everyone’s joking around. Everyone’s having fun, then someone doesn’t take the joke as a joke anymore and all the fun is sucked out of the room and things are awkward and serious?”

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Things were very far from normal on Thursday night on the set of Inside the NBA. During the postgame show, Warriors fans threw objects at Charles Barkley as TNT was broadcasting live outside of the Chase Center in San Francisco.

Friday morning on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Shan and RJ discussed the scene and said things felt out of the ordinary long before anything was even thrown.

“You know that moment? Everyone’s joking around. Everyone’s having fun, then someone doesn’t take the joke as a joke anymore and all the fun is sucked out of the room and things are awkward and serious?” Shan Shariff said. “That’s what happened yesterday on Inside the NBA both in the pregame and the postgame.”

Barkley had been picking on Warriors fans calling them annoying and describing San Francisco as having “dirty ass streets full of homeless people” throughout the series.

Shariff said even in the pregame show, it seemed that the Inside the NBA crew was wary of the crowd gathered behind them.

“It felt like yesterday instead of having fun and cutting loose, it felt like they were trying to prevent a riot.”

After a rolled-up t-shirt struck Barkley, he got up and acted as if he was going to throw a ceramic coffee mug into the crowd. Shariff said it was clear that Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith thought Barkley was about to be involved in an altercation of some sort.

RJ Choppy disagreed though. His immediate thought in seeing the video was that Barkley was just taking his ribbing of the crowd to the next level like a WWE superstar might.

“I think he knew the wrestling role, but I don’t think the other guys did,” Choppy said.

Sean and RJ expounded on the wrestling comparison, saying that he had a specific event in mind. He compared the way the crowd treated Barkley on Thursday night to how the crowd at ECW’s One Night Stand in 2006 treated John Cena. Cena and security may have thought they knew what was coming, but it was clear when fans started throwing chairs at the WWE champ that their ire was more serious than anticipated.

There can be peace for the time being. TNT’s NBA season ends at the conclusion of the Western Conference Finals. It will be interesting to see if this animosity returns in the 2022-23 season.

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Sports Radio News

Don La Greca: ‘Howie Rose Was The Only Sports Talk Host As Passionate About Hockey As Me’

“When you look at the history of sports radio, the only person that I can think of that called games and was [as] passionate about hockey as I am that had a regular radio show was Howie Rose.”

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Don LaGreca has been working on Rangers radio broadcasts since 2005, and has served as the backup play-by-play announcer for the last few seasons, filling in for Kenny Albert when he is unable to be on the call. Because of Albert’s responsibilities in calling national playoff games on television amid the new media rights agreement between the league and its partners (ESPN and Turner Sports), La Greca has called more Rangers games of late, and received positive reviews.

Yesterday on The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 ESPN New York, Kay mentioned the compliments callers have been giving La Greca for his ability to call hockey games, some of whom credit him for introducing them to the sport.

“The one thing hockey is is underexposed,” said La Greca. “Because you hear a lot of people say, ‘Boy, I didn’t realize how much fun this sport is; how great it is to go to a game,’ because a lot of us don’t grow up around it.”

La Greca realizes that he is in a unique position being the co-host of a sports radio show and an NHL play-by-play announcer, giving him a responsibility to communicate and opine on the game of hockey to his listening audience at large. He considers himself the second person to have such a distinction – the pioneer of which, while he may no longer be calling hockey games, still frequently discusses the sport on Twitter.

“When you look at the history of sports radio, the only person that I can think of that called games and was [as] passionate about hockey as I am that had a regular radio show was Howie Rose,” said La Greca. “And Howie Rose has been out of the sports radio game for 25 years.”

Rose was with WFAN from its launch on July 1, 1987 as its weekday nighttime host. Additionally, he served in the same role as La Greca, backing up Kenny Albert’s father Marv on Rangers radio broadcasts – where, in 1994, he delivered the illustrious call of Stephane Matteau’s game-winning, double-overtime goal in game 7 that sent the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. One year later, Rose left WFAN to begin calling games for the NHL’s New York Islanders on Sportschannel, and did not host a sports radio show during his time as a lead hockey play-by-play announcer.

While there are other sports radio hosts in the New York marketplace that exhibit a passion for hockey such as Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti, La Greca is the only one who actively calls the games – akin to how Michael Kay is the only active New York sports radio host who regularly calls professional baseball.

“You don’t have somebody who is as close to the sport as I am to have this kind of forum, so maybe there are a few people like, ‘Hey, I’m a fan of Don. I really don’t like hockey, but he calls a few games so let me listen,’ and it kind of opened a door that otherwise wouldn’t have been opened” said La Greca. “….I don’t think it’s anything that I’m doing. It’s just an opportunity that I have, and it is humbling and it’s pretty cool to hear and I hope those people stick with the sport.”

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