In the final and third part of my Q&A with Dan McNeil, he talks about getting fired by ESPN, building The Score, the late, great Doug Buffone and how much longer Dan plans to be on the air.
Getting fired by ESPN 1000
Fishman: When ESPN tells you in January 2009 that they no longer need your services, how did that make you feel?
McNeil: I was crushed! It changed the way I would look at the business for the rest of my life. From that day on it would be nothing more than a job. I never again could commit myself emotionally 100% to a radio project. That place (ESPN 1000) was a dump when we walked in. It was billing $5 Million a year. We peaked, I think, at $26 Million/year in billing and it was because of “Mac, Jurko and Harry” it wasn’t anything else.
For them to, after a couple of bad fiscal quarters and disagreement with somebody coming in from the corporate nipple (ESPN) to kick me to the curb, I can’t say it was innocence lost, because that happened a long time ago. But it was a reminder of innocence lost.
What did Gordon Gekko tell Bud Fox (in the movie Wall Street)? “Never get emotional about a stock!” Never get emotional about a radio show. As counterintuitive as it seems, it might not be bad advice.
The Building of the Score in 1991
Fish: I’m not sure everyone is aware of your role in the building of The Score in Chicago even before it went on the air. Can you share that story?
Mac: I’m producing “Coppock on Sports” and Seth Mason calls me in the Summer of ‘91 and says he wants to meet at some clandestine location and talk about a project. He was with ‘XRT and I had always respected him. I meet with him and he tells me about this daytime only opportunity where I would do afternoons and I was ready to try my own thing, I thought.
I was just turning 30 that summer so I didn’t have a whole lot of life experience, yet, but I said “Shit, yeah!” I’ll take a chance on a daytime operation run by Diamond Broadcasting. I had a high regard for what they had done. I started working there in August of ‘91 about five months before we actually fired it up. My job was building a sound library and interviewing would-be producers.
Fish: So you go on the air and at the start of your show you had Terry Boers as a co-host some days and Brian Hanley some days, right?
Mac: Right. Terry didn’t commit full-time until August. So he and Brian Hanley were on utility duty with The Chicago Sun-Times covering college basketball, covering the Bulls. I was the most polygamous guy on the stations. There were days where neither of them was available and we’d roll in Kent McDill from The Daily Herald, Paul Ladewski from The Daily Southtown, or Tom Dore. I was given a lot of different faces those first six or seven months.
Fish: What was that first year like? You’re on a daytime only, brand new station in Chicago. What was that like in the initial stages?
Mac: We felt an immediate buzz in the community but the newspaper industry rallied hard against us. There was an old guard of sports writers, a lot of them who tried to dismiss what the project was, because it seemed bombastic for them. It wasn’t “The Sportswriters” on WGN. It wasn’t journalism. Here’s (Mike) North, a guy making cracks about point-spreads and gangster movies. It offended a lot of sensibilities among those who covered media.
Advertising dollars were scarce. The early sign-off…we all had bad feelings about some of the hurdles over which we had to leap. But I think because of that, there grew an authentic “us against the world” mentality. And despite of our occasional differences, there was a lot of pulling at the same end of the rope. There was a lot of team (effort) because we had a lot of things going against us.
We were running the most grass-roots level Ma and Pa operation in town. This wasn’t CBS. This wasn’t ESPN. This was Diamond Broadcasting. They had ‘XRT and a station in Oklahoma City. The owner is down the hall. We’re on the Northwest side of Chicago in a low-slung bunker across the street from Foreman High School. It really was a shoestring budget.
Fish: It seemed to me that the tight quarters helped create some of the great radio because everyone was right on top of each other. What do you think?
Mac: I’m sure that’s correct. We couldn’t get away from each other. The studio was a phone booth with George Ofman (update anchor) behind us in a closet with a window. We didn’t have a computer. When we got a phone call–Judd or whoever was producing would right it on a note card and hold it up through the glass “Joe is in Arlington Heights. Topic-Sox.” We were given away spots for 35 bucks a throw and we had two-minute commercial breaks. I ran the board the first six months so I would pad the breaks with a 40-second sound byte from Bull Durham so I could get a smoke break.
Fish: Terry Boers makes the decision to come aboard full time in August of 1992. Can you talk about the difference it made having him with you every day?
Mac: I had a real good level of comfort with Terry. We had three and a half years together when we would fill-in whenever Coppock was off. We had a head start on our partnership. That made me feel at ease. It’s got nothing to do with how I feel about Brian or anyone else. It’s just that Terry and I had a high level of comfort.
Then in the fall the station ponied up for “The Mike Ditka Show” and it was fortuitous because Ditka lost his mind in his final season. They went 5-11 and he was at the high end of “Mount Ditka” of his years. He didn’t talk to the media except for his Tuesday show on The Score. So we had these TV stations trying to get video of him outside that dumpy little restaurant he had on Bryn Mawr near the airport. We had exclusivity.
Among the things he went nuts about that year was when he denounced his friendship with Ed O’Bradovich. He said “I don’t know OB!” Ditka told a caller “Neal from Northlake” to meet him at his office and he’d “whip his ass!” I broke a story that (Bears Offensive Coordinator) Greg Landry was so pissed about Ditka berating him on the sideline that he moved up to the booth. Ditka was a nut-job that year and we had exclusivity on the f***er. Mike Ditka had as much to do with making the Score a success in its first year as anybody. Ditka and Mike North.
Fish: Having grown up listening to Sports in Chicago, what I hear on The Score was completely different than anything people had heard before.
Mac: Sports radio had been just that weekend kind of vanilla sports talk. This was much edgier. This was much more interactive. It was much more willing to hold the feet to the fire of the teams in town. That first summer, Mike North’s fight with Bears President Michael McCaskey over Jay Hilgenberg’s holdout. It was something different.
We gave people a fastball that they hadn’t seen before. It was a pretty solid lineup, too. It made a lot of sense. I thought North and (Dan) Jiggetts were a really, really good, fun midday show. I think Terry and I grew into a pretty damn good show, too.
Fish: Do you have one or two favorite memories of something that happened on the show?
Mac: I think our trip to Seattle with the Bulls in 1996. I was going on 35 and I had been wearing headphones for 14 years and I still wasn’t quite sure I belonged. We made the trip to Seattle and (PD Ron) Gleason had been tough on Terry for us not being positive enough about the Bears, Bulls and the Chicago teams. So when the Bulls lost unexpectedly on a Wednesday night, we were scheduled to fly home Thursday morning. They had another game in Seattle Friday at Key Arena. So I called Gleason and told him there’s no reason for us to come home. Let’s stay and do our show until the Larry O’Brien trophy is safely tucked in Jerry Krause’s suitcase.
We met back at the hotel–Terry, Alzy (Producer Mike Alzamora) and me. That night we were having drinks at the bar with Mike Tirico, Dan Patrick, and Brent Musburger. We’re sitting there at the hotel bar at 6th and Seneca at the Crown hotel. I’ve got these guys I admire with drinks in their hands laughing their asses off as I’m holding court. I remember my head hitting the pillow that night and thinking maybe I made the right choice. It was the first time I felt that I belonged. We had an awesome trip. Bernsy (Dan Bernstein) was out there. We had fun with him and I fell in love with Seattle.
Fish: Score Management decides to break up the shows in 1999. What was your reaction to what happened?
Mac: I was both pissed off and surprised. I felt as a founding father they certainly didn’t need my consent but I was owed a conversation before decisions were made. I was actually on vacation at the gas pump filling up my Expedition when Gleason called me with the news. He said “Starting Monday you’re going to be hosting with either Dan Jiggetts or Dan Bernstein.” I said, “Excuse me, what does that mean? And why are you doing this?”
We went back and forth for a while but I had to delude myself into thinking that it was good for the station. Terry and I opposed it but we went to work the next Monday on our new shows.
Fish: Terry really seemed to think that North had a lot to do with the lineup changes. What do you think?
Mac: I do, too. I talked to Mike about it on my show on ESPN in the Summer of ‘08 and he denied it. Mike had said something to Terry several months before the changes went down about Terry doing an 8 to Noon shift. Mike’s idea was to break up traditional time-slots you’re doing a 6-8am, 8-Noon, Noon-4 and 4-8pm. What the f**ck is that? And why would anyone decide Mike Murphy was good for the first two hours of morning drive. I was pissed about all of that. I thought they had taken our radio station and made it sick.
Fish: What was it like working with the late Doug Buffone?
Mac: I first met Doug when I was writing for The Hammond Times in 1986 or 87 and he was involved with an Arena league team locally–The Chicago Bruisers. One of the many short lived semi-professional football leagues in America that come and go like yogurt shops. I interviewed him about a couple of local athletes who played college ball. We talked football for about 15 minutes and he offers me a job in PR. Suggested I get a job in PR either with the Bruisers or with a team in Denver.
We became fast friends. He was very easy to approach. He was the real deal. People say that about so many guys, but he was. There wasn’t a pretentious bone in Doug’s body. He smelled like salami, he didn’t wear matching socks, he almost blew up his house by putting the wrong fuel in a lawnmower once. He embarrassed his parents in Pennsylvania by misspelling “apple” in a spelling bee.
More than anybody I’ve ever known, he had the ability to laugh at himself. He was a dear, sweet man who was a monster as a player but a true gentle giant. It was enormously sad for all of us when Doug passed away.
It was tough on me, too. I was at The Drive at the time. I didn’t really have anybody at The Score to grieve with. I didn’t go to the private dinner that night because I felt there was gonna be tension. I wanted to see Mike (North) and I wanted to see all of my Score teammates who I knew Doug with. It didn’t feel right the way ‘14 ended. So I grieved alone, except I had a nice visit with Doug’s sister. To my surprise, Doug had told her many stories about me. She knew as much about how long Doug and I worked together.
We get rained out and head back and he says pull over to the McDonald’s at the Des Plaines Oasis. Doug orders a double cheeseburger, a large fry, and a Diet Coke. Doug says, “You gotta know when to draw the line!”
Fish: Do you have any regrets looking back at your career?
Mac: I think living with regrets is kinda like inviting cancer. I regret the result of the decision to go to The Drive, but I don’t regret my decision. I regret anytimes that I’ve been disrespectful to co-workers or listeners or anybody I’ve dealt with in business because I’ve been no angel, that’s for sure. I didn’t want to leave anything unturned. If I get to 75 (years old) I don’t want to wake up one day and think “I wish I would’ve tried that guy-talk thing” but I tried it and it failed conclusively. I’m sure I would do some things different because now I have the benefit of the knowledge of how they turned out. But no, there isn’t a bad decision that I’ve made that has disabled me. Only temporarily.
Fish: Is there something that you have yet to do it your career that you would like to do before you hang it up?
Mac: Yeah. As a writer, I’ve gotta tell the story of the most important role I’ve had in my life as the father of Patrick, who is severely autistic. I’m halfway done with that book. It’s a tough book to write. I really need to get back to it because I have a message to share with millions of fathers who feel like they got a raw deal and take it out on the wrong people.
I’m also going to write the book about my career. On the air, I’m really heartened by the Chicago sports landscape. The Chicago sports teams that matter to me they’re pretty healthy right now. I’m eager to see this golden era of Cubs baseball play itself out even though I’m a Sox enthusiast. I think it’s a remarkable story and I’m on the Cubs flagship and that’s pretty good real estate in sports radio. I’m also looking forward to seeing (Bears Coach) Matt Nagy and (Bears GM) Ryan Pace finish what they started. I’ll be going out right around the time Jonathan Toews is skating his last shift in a Hawks uniform. That may be only 4-5 years from now and that’s all I’ve got left.
Dan McNeil can be heard weekdays from 2-6pm Central on “McNeil and Parkins” on 670 The Score in Chicago or nationwide on the Radio.com app.
Matt Fishman is a former columnist for BSM. The current PD of ESPN Cleveland has a lengthy resume in sports radio programming. His career stops include SiriusXM, 670 The Score in Chicago, and 610 Sports in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @FatMishman20 or you can email him at FishmanSolutions@gmail.com.
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
If Marty Smith doesn’t seem authentic to you, maybe it is because his version of “Southern” isn’t one you’re familiar with. Maybe it is a version of “Southern” that only exists in one dude on the entire planet.
Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.