Good morning, Dawg fans! Today brings the conclusion of my series previewing the SEC Network. In the first two entries, I discussed the experience of being in Charlotte for the media open house day and the new graphics and infrastructure investment that that ESPN has ponied up ahead of the launch of the network. Today, I'm going to cover the conversations I was able to have with the network executives and the on-air talent that we'll be seeing on the SEC Network.
But before I launch into the recap of my discussions, I feel the need to include a couple of disclaimers:
First, I am not a "real journalist," nor do I play one on the internet. I'm "just a blogger," and although I tried to do my research and be as professional as possible, the end product here probably reflects my non-journalist background. Some of my questions might have been dumb, and I definitely asked at least some of them rather poorly. Because of that, some of the answers were not as applicable to the questions I intended to ask as I would've liked, and I probably unintentionally put a couple of folks on the defensive with the wording I used. I apologize in advance for my shortcomings. (Specifically, I did a really piss-poor job with Paul Finebaum. I fully admit that I was intimidated by him. I mean, I'm interviewing other people that are more famous than him, but I get intimidated by PAAAAWWWLLL? And the thing is, Finebaum is a genuinely likeable guy in person... or, at least, that was my impression of the man. But hey, interviewing Finebaum is like interviewing the SEC's version of Howard Stern. I just couldn't help it. Also, I literally had only about 90 seconds to talk to him because of the time I spent with other people on the SEC Nation set, and the time crunch probably flustered me a bit.) Thankfully, all of the folks I talked to were eager to speak about their experiences and their perspectives, so they overlooked my ham-handed approach.
Second, in many cases I have transcribed the discussion I had pretty much verbatim, but in a few cases, I did paraphrase the discussion for brevity and clarity (while remaining true to the actual answer given).
Also, on all pictures below, you can click on them to get a larger view. With those things said, let's get to it!
From L-R:Charlie Hussey, Justin Connolly, and Stephanie Druley (to whom we spoke in a different session)
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive had been scheduled to be in Charlotte this day, but unfortunately, he had a last-minute situation that kept him in Birmingham. (I can't help but wonder if that "last second situation" had something to do with the announcement about autonomy for the Power 5 conferences that came out the next day.) So, instead of Commissioner Slive, we got to speak with Charlie Hussey, who is the Assistant Commissioner charged with day-to-day collaboration with the SEC Network team. Charlie is originally an Ole Miss man, and his enthusiasm about the network and the SEC itself was very apparent. If you watched the SEC Storied: Miracle 3 documentary about Georgia's improbable run in the tornado-stricken SEC basketball tournament in 2008, you might recognize Charlie as the SEC official who was in charge of that tournament, and who was on screen quite a bit describing how they had to scramble around just to be able to host the tournament after the Georgia Dome was hit by a tornado. We started out discussing that event.
VineyardDawg: Hi Charlie... I remember seeing you in the Miracle 3 documentary. What a heck of an event that was.
Charlie Hussey: Oh yeah, it was surreal!
VYD: That was a surprise result for everybody. I know it was a tough situation for you guys to deal with, and certainly nobody expected Dennis Felton['s team] to come out of that a winner.
CH: Absolutely not! Georgia fans especially, right?
VYD: Definitely. Especially having to play Kentucky and dealing with the Kentucky fans... how was that experience?
CH: Oh my gosh! This is a quick story, it's funny. At that time, my role was more dealing with championships, and when [the tornado] hit, we didn't know what had happened. We knew the Dome had come apart, and they told us pretty early on that we could finish the game, [Mississippi] State vs. Alabama, we could finish the game, but from a safety standpoint, there was more weather in the area, and it probably would be better to not play any more at the Dome.
So we go back to making calls. The first call was to Dan Radakovich, who was the AD at Tech (and is at Clemson now). He'd previously been at LSU so we had a connection with him there. We also called the [Arena at Gwinnett], but we called Tech first. Tech had just lost in the ACC Tournament that year, and so their facilities guy was on a motorcycle riding back, and Radakovich gave us his phone number, we tried to call him but he couldn't hear because he was on his motorcycle and there was weather. So we started packing up all the stuff, and I'm in the first van that pulls up to Georgia Tech. There's 3 of us, and we're going to determine things like where the entrance is, where are the basketballs, and generally see what we can do. And as soon as we get out there we saw, Tech has redone their coliseum now, but there was a Kentucky fan, and he was boosting another Kentucky fan up through the old classroom-style windows [to get into the arena]. Two younger UK fans, and they were trying to boost themselves up to get through the windows. I just didn't say anything to them. They deserved it... just let it go!
VYD: (LOL) Catlanta, right?
CH: Yeah, Catlanta! But that tournament was unreal.
VYD: So, turning to today's business, what is your role now at the SEC office as Assistant Commissioner?
CH: Commissioner Slive, when he announced the network, decided to put someone on our staff to serve as the liason between ESPN and the schools and that's my role. I work on a daily basis with Justin [Connolly, SEC Network head] and his team and all the member schools and serve as the go-between.
VYD: How much "editorial control" does the SEC office have with the Network?
CH: Well, we think to be relevant you've got to report the news, so the Network will be objective when reporting news. We're going to obviously showcase our great student athletes and teams, but be objective when it comes to news and reporting, and we'll leave it up to [the ESPN team] to do that.
VYD: How do you answer critics who say that ESPN's close involvement with the network might affect neutrality when it comes to CFB playoff spots or NCAA basketball tourney spots?
CH: I don't think we're going to worry about that too much, really. When you talk about the network, really, we had an opportunity when expansion happened to reexamine our TV plans. With ESPN already being one of our primary partners, it just made a lot of sense. That is why we have partnered with them to create the Network, and all the other stuff I guess is out there, but we're just focused on getting the fans SEC content, and we gotta do that.
VYD: Great... thank you for your time, Charlie.
I was also briefly able to speak with Justin Connolly (no relation to SB Nation's preview-and-stats-master Bill Connelly, whose name is spelled differently so why would you even ask that question?). Justin is the ESPN Senior VP in charge of college networks, which means he has control over both the SEC Network and the Longhorn Network. When I stepped up to Justin, he was in the middle of a conversation with some South Carolina media, and I caught a fragment of the conversation. Connolly was in the middle of discussing the Texas A&M vs. South Carolina Thursday night game on August 28, which will be the SEC opener and the first game shown on the SEC Network.
Justin Connolly: ... I'm very excited about the first matchup with South Carolina vs. Texas A&M. It's fantastic to have a national marquee matchup like this as our first televised game. Williams-Brice Stadium is a great Thursday night atmosphere, possibly the best in the conference, and we think the crowd is going to be absolutely electric.
We're also excited about the number of events we'll be covering digitally (ed. note: This means via online streaming). Our initial target was to provide 560 exclusive digital events in our first year, and we plan to blow that number out of the water. We'll have 240 events in the fall alone.
AMM (Another Media Member): Can you talk about how having the SEC Network will help with Gamecock recruiting?
JC: Well, I'll let the individual schools talk about their own recruiting strategies. But I will say that the national reach of the SEC Network is extremely important, both to us and to the member schools. One of the things we're excited about is that, for example, an 8th grade football player in Oregon will be able to see the SEC environment on a weekly basis on the SEC Network, and will want to be a part of that experience.
VYD: Hi Justin. I have a question about your team's production background. A lot of your team has come over or had previous experience at the Longhorn Network. Do you think that scales up well as a model to the SEC Network? Or are we talking about a completely different animal in terms of the preparation and the production?
JC: Yeah, I think that, if you look at our staff, some have LHN experience, some have other ESPN experience, and many from LHN have experience on other ESPN shows before that. I think where it helps us is understanding the dynamic in terms of interacting with the schools. You know, what's it like to deal with the SID's on a daily basis. What's it like to deal with the coaches. How do you maneuver those waters. I think that'll help us.
VYD: (getting the signal that our time was up) Thanks for your time, Justin.
The SEC Now Studio
From L-R: Pete Watters, (the chair where Peter Burns was not sitting, for some reason, when I took this picture), Maria Taylor, Dari Nowkhah, Stephanie Druley)
One of the two studios we were able to visit on the tour was the set for the daily show that will appear on SECN, called "SEC Now." I've got to be honest, when I first heard that name, I thought it sounded a little hokey. But one of the first things we got to see in the studio was some footage of the practice sessions of Maria Taylor and Dari Nowkhah getting ready for the launch, and I liked how Dari used the phrase as the show was opening. For example, in the teaser at the beginning, he'd say something like... "And there's a big controversy brewing about (something). Let's talk about it... NOW!" That probably doesn't really translate well to print, but it worked for me as I listened to it.
As with everything you see on ESPN nowadays, the set is super-high-tech. There are giant touchscreens, lots of video boards, a customizable ticker above one of the desks, and movable walls to create different visual settings. Also, you get this view when you're walking down the hall to the studio, so that helps pump you up. (This is every single Division I-A team's football helmet hanging on the wall, roughly arranged by conference.)
Yep... an entire (long) hallway full of helmets. You can sort-of see where the SEC helmets start right next to the door halfway down the hall. A&M and Vandy are the ones visible.
The cast and crew that were available to talk to us were the 3 personalities who are currently set to rotate hosting duties, Dari Nowkhah, Maria Taylor, and Peter Burns, along with Stephanie Druley, who is the VP in charge of the entire SEC Network production, and Pete Watters, who is the producer of the SEC Now show. Former Alabama QB Greg McElroy and former LSU DT Booger McFarland (along with other current ESPNU regulars like UGA great Matt Stinchcomb) will also be significant contributors, but were not available on the day. And yes, they're going to call Booger McFarland "Booger." Booger. Booger. (I am now 10 years old again. Sorry.)
We also got to see an intro clip for the "classic games" feature they'll do regularly called "SEC Rewind," and it was pretty slick. The first SEC Rewind feature that's aired will be the 1980 Georgia vs. South Carolina game (where Herschel showed the world that he was better than George Rogers). So, apparently we'll actually be getting to see some classic games that Georgia wins on the SEC Network, which is a nice change of pace from what I usually end up seeing on channels like ESPN Classic.
Finally, before we got to the interviews, we got to see a promo of the all-access specials, which showed a quick cut-clip of Nick Saban smiling. Immediately after that we were asked who would like to ask the first question. Naturally, being an idiot, I volunteered to ask the first question, which I admitted was a "stupid question."
VYD: How'd you get Saban to smile in the promo? Was it photoshop or what?
Stephanie Druley: (pauses, smiling) I have no comment.
(One of the other reporters commented that the shot of Saban in the Luigi cap is the best work they've ever done.) (There was no disagreement from any party in the room.)
VYD: Ok, I do actually have a serious question. Certainly, we're familiar with Dari and Maria and their previous work with the main ESPN networks, but behind the scenes the production team and you yourself also came from Longhorn Network.
SD: (Interrupts) I've been with ESPN for 23 years.
VYD: Ok. Do you think some of the work at the Longhorn Network scales up to the SEC Network level? And if so, how well does it scale when you're going from 1 school to 14, or does it not?
SD: I think it's different. 14 vs. 1. It's a little bit... the number of shows and the sheer number of events. We're at 1,000 events, so it doesn't. It's completely different. How you prepare for it and how you staff for it. How it works on TV. I think it's going to be... you can't really compare the two entities.
Another media member then asked Dari about "downsizing" from 128 (the total number of Division I-A schools) to 14 schools when he's previously had a national perspective before coming to the SEC Network.
Dari visibly bristled a little bit at the notion of "downsizing." ("There's nothing "small" about the SEC.") He said it wasn't downsizing because you have to know the game nationwide to understand how it impacts the teams in this conference, and how this conference impacts the national landscape. Dari also mentioned that he will still do his Saturday "Dari and Mel" ESPN Radio show with Mel Kiper, so he'll still have to be keeping up with the entire national perspective for that, too.
Pete Watters also said that the passion of the fans means that you have to really know everything about your subject, too. As an example, he said that if you mispronounce someone's name on a random team during ESPNU coverage, somebody might or might not notice it. If you do that on the SEC Network, half of that team's fanbase will probably call/tweet into the network and complain about it. (I later used that excuse to take the opportunity to teach Dari Nowkhah how to pronounce "Shattle Fenteng.")
Dari agreed, saying that this is going to be a great network because of the fans' passion. He followed by saying (half-jokingly) "I anticipate a lot of controversy the first time we spend one more minute talking about Alabama than Auburn."
After that, we broke out into individual interviews, and I was able to get some time with UGA alumna Maria Taylor.
VYD: So, Maria, how are you enjoying getting into the ground level of a big launch like this?
Maria Taylor: That was really the biggest thing for me: to be a part of something just on the ground floor. Because you can help to put your stamp on it and you can be a part of something that's going to be very, very, big. I think, coming into it, I didn't even know how huge it was going to be. I didn't know we were going to be in 87 million homes. I was just excited to be a part of something that was going to be labeled "SEC." So, now, it's turned into this bigger-than-life thing that I was was fortunate enough to walk/stumble into! You know what I mean? "Right time and place" is kind of how I'm feeling right now.
VYD: As we know, you played volleyball at UGA...
MT: And one year of basketball, too!
VYD: Oh, right! One year of basketball, too! So, what's your opinion of Andy Landers?
MT: Coach Landers! That's my boy! I love him. I called him when I was first offered this job and figuring out what I wanted to do. He's one of the guys that I still call because he's an advisor to me. He's like my second dad. He knows everything by now about the SEC Network... probably more than he wants to know! But, he still has to be able to keep giving me advice!
VYD: That's great... certainly, Coach Landers has a great reputation for keeping in touch with his former players and having lifelong contacts with them.
MT: Yeah, and that's the best thing about him. He'll stay in touch... he'll check up on me. Just call out of the blue to see how I'm doing.
VYD: Have you had a chance to keep up with Coach Lizzy Stemke and the UGA Volleyball program?
MT: Oh, yes. Two years ago, I came back and hosted their Volleyball banquet, and I would have gone back last year, too, but I had a spring [football] game to cover, so I do definitely stay in touch. I've also had a couple of Georgia games over the years, and it's kind of interesting because last year was the first year where there weren't girls that I was actually in school with. So I think it's important to still stay plugged in. In fact, I think my first volleyball game of the season might be a Georgia game. [When covering a Georgia game] I always try to go in and speak to the girls and always tell them if they ever need anything, then as an alumni I'm there for 'em. We want to stay close.
VYD: What do you think about the direction in which Coach Stemke has been taking the program?
MT: Well, she took 'em to the NCAA for the first time since 2004, so I don't think you can ask much more than that. They got a pretty tough draw against American [University, in the NCAA tournament first round last year], but I can only imagine that the sky's the limit with all the talent that she's bringing in and her knowledge and background from Nebraska.
VYD: Great, thank you for your time, Maria.
At that point, I was running short on time again, but I was able to get in on the last portion of an interview Dari was doing with some other media members:
AMM: What's it like getting in on something like this on the very ground level? (ed. note: It's kind of funny that we separately asked pretty much the same question of Dari and Maria.)
Dari Nowkhah: At this point, we're just ready to go. We've been rehearsing, and we're ready for these shows to count. It seems like every week, we're hearing about "so and so" has picked us up. Last week it was DirecTV, couple of days ago. You start seeing 87 million as the number of homes we're in. There has never been a cable network with the kind of launch and buzz around it that this one's had. Ever. So, you've got all that, plus the fact that we're in an area with the most passionate fans, and they're going to care what we do, [so we think ] they're going to spend a lot of time listening and watching us. It's great! We're ready to go.
AMM: When you marry the brand of the SEC with the brand of ESPN, you just can't get anymore bigger and powerful than what this entity is going to be. A lot of people don't even understand what it's going to be until you hit the airwaves on the 14th.
DN: You look at again, the distribution thing. What does the SEC and ESPN mean together? It means that you have interest coast to coast. We're really big about this. We don't ever want it to be called a "regional network" or the "southeastern network." It's a national network. You don't hop into almost 90 million homes right out of the gate, and that's assuming we don't get any more [before the 8/14 launch date], and it not be a true national network. And then you can see what ESPN and the SEC together means.
AMM: Obviously you were at the SEC media days last month. The buzz seems to be Auburn and Alabama in the west and South Carolina and Georgia in the East, give or take another team or two. How do you see this thing shaking out?
DN: I thought it was Alabama and South Carolina, which is not really going away from what the media as a whole said, but those were the two teams that I chose. Surprises are always possible, and that's certainly not out of the question, but those were my choices.
(Time is then called, but just before we're ushered out the door, I'm able to teach Dari how to say "Shattle Fenteng." He was suitably grateful.)
SEC Nation show/Paul Finebaum studio
Sorry for the poor quality. It was really hard to get a picture of the studio and crew. They weren't sitting for long, either. From L-R: Brett Austin (Coordinating Producer),Bob Rauscher (VP, Production), (not sure, my call sheet says Joe Disney, but that's not him), Joe Tessitore (partially obscured), Tim Tebow, Kaylee Hartung, Marcus Spears, a blurry Paul Finebaum
The second studio we visited was the set for the Paul Finebaum show, which will be simulcast every day on the SEC Network from 3-7 PM Eastern. It was in this studio that they had the cast of the SEC Nation show talking to us. (And it's a pretty large studio... I'd say roughly the same size as the SEC Now setup, so surely they'll be using it for more than just a simple radio simulcast. We didn't really get into that, though.)
We got to see a mockup/design of what the on-campus SEC Nation set will look like, and I thought it looked pretty cool. (We're not able to share it yet, though.) It's going to have quite a few nods to "having a southern look," which is hard to describe in print, but I liked the look of it. Also, the set is going to be pretty close to ground-level so they can be closer to the fans and have "tailgate environment." (As opposed to the Gameday set, which is pretty high off the ground... about 10-12 feet, at least... and is pretty well-separated from the actual fans that are there. The SEC Nation set is apparently going to be designed to intentionally be closer to the fans, both literally and figuratively.)
The overall vibe I got a lot from both the SEC Nation crew and the SEC Network as a whole is that they really want to play up to the passion that SEC fans have for their teams and their conference. Their analysts are designed to reflect that passion, and quite a bit of their programming is designed to tap into that, as well. The SEC Nation crew has been spending a lot of time "hanging out" and getting to know each other, as well, and you could tell that they're trying to build a kind of "NBA on TNT" or "Fox NFL Sunday" on-set camraderie and informality between the cast.
It seemed that they were also intentionally trying to portray the cast as very "accessible" and informal. This was probably most evident in the fact that, after the initial promos they showed us, the cast basically just all stood up and walked over to the media and started talking to them. By chance based on where I happened to be standing, I got to talk to former LSU (and Dallas Cowboys) star Marcus Spears first.
VYD: So, Marcus, how has it been for you getting started and getting to know your group of co-hosts at SEC Nation?
Marcus Spears: It's amazing, man. I'm comfortable. Team's settin', you know. Being here with Tim [Tebow] and Joe [Tessitore] and Kaylee [Hartung] and Paul [Finebaum], we come from such different backgrounds, but the things we have in common is crazy. The love for football, the respect for people. Honesty, and kind of raw and to the point. So, I've enjoyed that more than anything. And you know, I'm just happy to be doing something, man! When I retired [from the NFL, after last season], I thought I was just going to be fishing and hunting, you know? So, it's good to be here, and I'm excited. I don't think I actually realized how big of a deal it would be when I was in the process of trying to get the job, but it's been great.
VYD: As you're going through the show preparations, do you think you'll try to be a little bit a more neutral like the Gameday folks, or will you each have your own rooting interests that come out? Like you, for example, might be a little bit "more LSU" or even "more Nick Saban?"
MS: I'll always be loyal to LSU, but it's not difficult for me to talk football because football is an honest game. You talk about what you see, you know? I can't make LSU good if they're not good. I can't make Bama be national champions if they're not. That's the great thing about it. You know, we get that question pretty often, "Are you going to be biased?" Nawww. I mean, bias in football, for a smart guy that knows the game, that takes my credibility away from doing the game. I just want to be honest, and tell people what I think about their team. Everybody won't like it, some people will love it, but that's what I'm looking forward to.
VYD: So, then, are you ready to get your first mad tweet from an enraged LSU fan about something you said on-air?
MS: Hey, it's already started, man! Playing in the League, you get a little immune to fans and stuff like that. For me, it just can't touch you personally. It has to be [professional]. I have a healthy respect for fans in this conference, and I know what they go through. You know, I've been a fan of the SEC the last 9 years, and I've played, too, so I understand their feelings and how passionate they are. They get angry when you say something they don't like, and I'm fine with that. If they wanna fight, let's do it, and then we'll get back to the show, you know? (laughs)
(During this exchange, Joe Tessitore meanders up to us.)
VYD: Thanks for your time Marcus, and Joe, I wanted to chat with you for a moment, if I could, too.
Joe Tessitore: Hey, you don't want to walk away from this man! (points to Marcus)
VYD: (laughs) I certainly don't! I don't think I could!
(A quick discussion ensued about how Marcus Spears could clean and jerk my fat blob of a self, and then we turned to the fact that he could pick Paul Finebaum up and do curls with him all day long. I'm only about 60% sure that he was kidding. But I would pay real, actual money to see that.)
I mean, just look at how big Marcus Spears' hand is on Tessitore's shoulder. That man is HUGE. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
JT: (Asks me who I'm with, since we didn't really have an introduction. When I tell him "SB Nation," he complimented our work and said, "Oh yeah, I love SB Nation.")
VYD: Thanks, Joe. You know, we frequently talk about the "Tess Effect" that you tend to get at your games.
JT: Oh, man. I get texts sometimes, or I'll get tweets, when even when I'm not doing football. Like, for example, when I'm hosting SportsCenter at the Belmont Stakes with California Chrome, undefeated, going for the triple crown, and literally there's hundreds of "Tess Effect" comments saying things like "Tessitore's here... this horse has no shot!" Horse finishes fifth, and there we go.
VYD: I did have a question about SEC Nation, and was talking with Marcus about how the group dynamic on SEC Nation will or won't be different than Gameday.
JT: Wait, which show is that?
VYD: (stunned silence for a beat)
JT: Never heard of it.
VYD: (Finally gets the joke and chuckles, but is still a little knocked off-balance. Finally manages to sputter something about asking him if he's going to be the Chris Fowler role or if he's going to try to be less "neutral/above the fray.")
JT: Chris and I have worked together for years. When I do the BCS games and national championship game, Rece Davis and Chris and I split up the duties for SportsCenter and doing all the Gameday shows. We['ve] do[ne] the Heisman Trophy presentation together for years. We used to do, even going back to doing the ABC Triple Crown horse racing together. So, Chris is a friend, and I know him very, very well. Strangely enough, we have somewhat similar broadcasting styles. He's probably known a little better for being a studio host, an event host, and I'm probably known better for being a primetime play by play guy. Our skillsets are similar, but where Chris is not bashful about challenging somebody on a set or giving it back to them or making sure that we're not just traffic-copping. We're both fairly opinionated, and we're both not bashful to let it be known. We're not teleprompter jockeys, we're out there as experts ourselves. So, I take it as a compliment to be asked, "How do you compare yourself to Chris Fowler." The thought of being compared to Chris Fowler is a compliment.
VYD: Are you going to be doing just SEC Nation, or are you still going to be calling games, as well?
JT: Well, my play by play work is the foundation of my career, and that's never going away. So, in this new chapter of my career, it's SEC Nation and all the premier hosting duties that go along with it. And I'm still maintaining my Saturday night primetime spot on either ABC or ESPN or ESPN2, whatever.
VYD: So you're going to be doing the [Kirk] Herbstreit thing [of flying from the on-site set after the show to another location, where he'll call a different game that night]?
JT: As is Fowler this year, too! On most days, I'll do SEC Nation and go off the air at noon, and then I'll head off and they'll have a jet waiting and I'll go to my primetime game. But on days when wherever SEC Nation is also the location of a primetime game on ESPN, then I get to just stay there. I won't be doing SEC Network [games]... Brent [Musburger] will be doing the SEC Network games.
VYD: So for the first show, will you be calling that game or flying to another game after the show?
JT: Well, the first show is on Thursday, of course, for the Texas A&M-South Carolina game, and we'll be doing the SEC Nation show before the game and at halftime. Then we're all getting in a bus and going to Auburn for the Saturday game between Auburn and Arkansas. Then after the Saturday show, I'll be getting in a plane and going to do a game. (ed. note: He didn't say which game.)
VYD: So you're not calling the Auburn-Arkansas game? (ed. note: This was actually the question I'd intended to ask before. Bad question formatting by VineyardDawg.)
JT: No, that's on the SEC Network. I'm doing the ABC or ESPN games. So, it's a busy schedule.
AMM: So are you already loaded with film or do you get that on the road?
JT: Well, when I arrive in town, I'm ready to broadcast a game. On Sunday - Wednesday, I watch film, I make all my coaches' calls, all my SID calls, assistant coaches. I prep everything Sunday - Wednesday. When I get on the plane and leave Connecticut to come to SEC Nation and to go to my game, wherever those two spots are, I get off the plane ready to broadcast everything. The only prep work that's happening on site is meeting with coaches and confirming/getting some last details. I'm a preparation nut. A crazy preparation nut. In my business, if you're showing up to a location and preparing there, you haven't done your job.
AMM: How is it on a personal basis for you?
JT: Oh, I never stop preparing for football season. If you caught me in March or April, I'm either at a spring practice, watching film with coaches, watching film or at a spring practice somewhere around the country.
(At this point, I see that Tim Tebow only has 1 other reporter around him, so I thank Joe for his time and move on.)
As the chief executive in charge of Hating Florida® at Dawg Sports, I would like to personally apologize for all of the orange and blue in this picture. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
(I arrived at the tail end of another media member's interview)
AMM: I've asked a couple of other people, and they've kind of tap-danced around it: Do you want to be the face of SEC Network?
Tim Tebow: (Surprised) Do I want to be the face? I want to enjoy the opportunity. I want to go out there and to the best I can, and obviously be the best that I can. I want to enjoy the moment... enjoy the opportunities that I have. (Starts getting into "Tebow making "the speech"" rah-rah mode) Also, because I'm one of them, give these fans an opportunity to enjoy this show and this network, because it is different, and it is more about the fans. It's because they want it! It's because they are the BEST. FANS. in the country!
AMM: (disinterested "mmhhmm")
TT: And I'm one of those fans! So, they deserve it! (Takes a breath.) I get fired up about that.
AMM: Have you had any nerves at all, about what you're getting ready to do?
TT: Sure! But that's me. I'm an emotional, passionate, fired up person, and I get nerves for every practice I've ever had, for every game I've ever had, for every TV show I've ever done, and for every... everything! I always get nervous. That's just me. But I feel like when you care about something, you get nervous. If you didn't... If I didn't get nervous, it would be kind of an alarming thing to me, because that's the way I say, "I care about this," you know?
AMM: There are still some rumblings out there about you wanting to give the NFL one more shot. Where does that stand for you?
TT: I'm continuing to train and continuing to work hard. You never know what opportunities you'll have, and you just have to honestly, not look too far forward and not look in the past, but take each opportunity you get, and if you get an opportunity, look at it.
AMM: Have you talked that over with [the SEC Network] folks? Is there some sort of scenario that you've discussed with them?
TT: When we were talking about this last December and January, [the executives] were awesome. We had these conversations, and they totally understood who I am and my makeup and what makes me tick. They know I love playing ball, and they also know that I love doing [ESPN analyst work]. I. LOVE. FOOTBALL. I really do, and I love the SEC. I love it and I care about it. So they know that and they know I want to do this for a long time.
VYD: Hi Tim, I have a follow-up question to that: Would you consider going into coaching if playing doesn't work out? Is that something you're interested in doing?
TT: I have thought about it. I'm not really sure. I couldn't say a yes or a no, I'd have to say I'd have to look at it when the time comes. You know, it's not something I'm ready for yet, but I also, I love, umm, you know, when you have a lot of experience, for me, personally, I really... sometimes I love sharing that with people. If you can help them with something, if I can help a quarterback or a fellow player get better, I do that. And that's really how I'm wired. That's my nature. So obviously that fits into coaching. But there's other things that I'm just not ready for right now in coaching. And a lot of other things that I want to do and accomplish.
VYD: So, you feel like you have something you can give in terms of coaching to younger football players?
TT: Yeah. I don't know if that's just in camps, I don't know if that's just in high school, or in college, or what that would be. I feel that as of right now, there's so many other things that I want to do with my foundation, with helping people, with this show, that right now this is the best fit for me.
VYD: Ok. So, have you been keeping track of the Gators as they get ready for the new season?
TT: Oh, yeah. Of course!
VYD: How do you think they're going to do this year?
TT: It's going to be really interesting. I'm a believer in Will Muschamp. I think he's a great coach and he will make it happen. I've watched his schemes. You look at what he coaches. Every year, they're one of the best defenses in the country, including last year even though they had all those injuries. I got to play against him when I was in college, and his game plan versus me was one of the best game plans I ever went against in my 4 years in college. So I have a lot of respect for coach Muschamp. I think he made a great hire in Kurt Roper. I think he's going to do a great job. I feel like Jeff Driskel... this is going to be... out of his years there, this will be the most opportunity where he can play in a position to show his strengths. To show his size, his strength, his athletic ability. And also build his confidence. It's amazing what happens to an athlete when their confidence soars. It can change how they play and how they lead and everything. It's going to be really interesting and I look forward to them having a bounce-back season.
VYD: What do you think for the Gators... 10 wins? SEC Championship contender?
TT: We'll see! You'll have to watch the show to find out.
VYD: (laughs) Fair enough. So, you've been getting to know your SEC Nation colleagues? How has that been going? I've seen the tweets of y'all playing putt-putt and fishing.
TT: Oh, it's been great. We had about 3 days of commercials in LA. We had a 2-day seminar in Connecticut, we had good times where we just got together to meet and hang and watch and study. And I did a lot with Joe at the national championship. Been around Marcus a good amount. Got to know Kaylee in LA, and so it's just been great. Obviously, Paul, you hear him all the time, and he's great.
VYD: Great! Thanks for your time, Tim.
TT: Thank you.
(At this point, we got the 2-minute warning, so I made my way around to Paul Finebaum, and jumped in while he was still talking with another media member.)
Paul Finebaum (in the middle of an answer): ... obviously, I'll be on the set most of the time. So, no, we don't know. But I think the conference will be pretty predictable. Texas A&M's got a new quarterback, Carolina's got a new quarterback, Spurrier's trash talking. Is he ever going to retire? I think we're going to get a lot of familiar themes that you hear walking around Columbia every day.
AMM: Is this a particularly good game to be the launch game for the SEC Network?
PF: I think it is. I think particularly because if you had to pick a site for a Thursday night game, I think Columbia is the best. It's a tradition there. The stadium is electric. It won't be dark, but it'll be getting close to dusk, and I think from all the drama that comes with the introduction of the game at Williams-Brice, I think it's a great setting. You could argue, "Is there a better opponent?" Well, I don't think so. You can't put Georgia that night. That's a traditional game. I think you needed a crossover, and A&M is a premier team. And I think the curiosity about A&M is really high, post Johnny Football.
AMM: Is Spurrier kind of "the story" any time you cover a South Carolina game, at least early in the year?
PF: I think so. I think Spurrier has become an even bigger story this year. [I] have covered him a long time, and he's back to "old Spurrier." I was somewhat stunned by his comments in relation to Saban this year. It almost seemed like beginning in spring and going up until kickoff, he's determined to get under Nick Saban's skin. And he has succeeded.
AMM: He has?
PF: I interviewed Coach Saban at the SEC media days, and read him what Spurrier had said about him in the Columbia papers, and he looked at me like a puppy dog out in the cold that you finally let in. He goes, "It's like some people think we failed here." Thing is, you're looking at, in my mind one of the greatest coaches in college football history, who has won 3 out of the last 5 national championships. He's making $7.5 million a year. And he's reacting like a hurt schoolchild about something Steve Spurrier said. I said to myself, "Steve Spurrier has won this battle." And I don't know what Steve's goal was, but I know one thing: you're not supposed to cheer in the press box, but I am begging... BEGGING for a South Carolina-Alabama SEC Championship Game, because that week would just be delicious.
(The other writer then yields the floor to me, right about the time they yell "last question.")
VYD: First of all, congratulations on your new book, Paul. (ed. note: Which was just released this past Monday, and contains some truly impressive SEC chest-thumping in the first chapter.)
PF: Thank you.
VYD: Do you consider the book more of a memoir or more of an intro to the SEC for the uninitiated?
PF: It's two books... well, really three books in one. It is a memoir, but it's also a manifesto on why the SEC is the best. And I think we back it up. I've argued that if you read the first chapter and can't win a bar fight or an argument against an Ohio State fan, an FSU fan, a Clemson fan, an Oklahoma fan, an Ohio State fan (ed note: again), or an Oregon fan, you simply can't read. Because I lay it out. Just carry it around with you, because there's no arguing why the SEC's the best. The other part of it, it's a narrative of my season on Gameday, which started in Clemson, and carried all the way to Pasadena, and just, what a 57-year-old rookie on Gameday experiences when suddenly you're sitting there with the Four Horsemen of sports television history, and you look around and go, "What am I doing here? Whose idea was this?" And "Will that person still be employed, because I don't think I will be after this." (chuckles) It's really a fun book, though.
VYD: I have one last question, and I know we're losing our time, but (I stutter and stumble through a very poorly-communicated question, but the point of the question is whether he thinks the SEC should have a league-wide discipline policy for drug-related offenses and domestic violence offenses, and whether the lack of a uniform policy creates a competitive advantage for some schools).
PF: I think it's a fair question. I hate to sound like the commissioner here, but it's something that will likely be addressed more substantively in the future. But I would be hard-pressed to say that it gives someone an unfair advantage. I really would.
VYD: Thank you for your time, PAAAAWWWWLL. Imma hang up an' lissen. (I didn't actually say this.)
Based on the time constraints we had, I didn't get a chance to speak with Kaylee Hartung, though I wish I'd had time to do so. I also didn't get to speak with Joe Disney, the Athens native and producer of the SEC Nation show, and with whom MaconDawg got to chat at the filming of the SEC Nation opening sequence they did at Mercer. Time management, man. It's a cruel mistress.
I've said this before in my previous two posts, but it's worth saying again: I was very impressed by the work the ESPN and SEC Network team have been putting in on this effort. Every person I spoke with seemed genuinely excited about the opportunity to be involved with the SEC, and they seem committed to reaching out to the fans and connecting with them in a way other networks have not yet done. We'll see how those plans work out, but from this blogger's perspective, the SEC Network could hardly be off to a better start.
Thanks for reading! And, of course...