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Vitale sounds off; Gruden signs on

Each week SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.

Last May ESPN's Dick Vitale hosted his fourth annual Dick Vitale Gala, a glitzy evening featuring dozens of college basketball coaches -- including bold-face names such as John Calipari, Billy Donovan, and Rick Pitino -- schmoozing amid a well-heeled crowd at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. The coaches paid their own transportation costs as well as lodging -- the tickets were $1,000 per pop -- and the result of the gala was more than $1.1 million being raised for St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center.

The night spoke to Vitale's passion for raising money for cancer research.

It also spoke to how close Vitale is to the people he covers.

One of the longtime criticisms of Vitale -- and it is a valid one -- is that he is an inveterate butt-smoocher of coaches. Calipari and Pitino are among his favorites. Ten years ago, Sports Illustrated's Tim Crothers wrote a lead paragraph in a profile of Vitale that remains basically true today: "Dick Vitale is a very nice man, let us say that right up front. And let us give him the benefit of the doubt by saying that his geniality is the reason he does such a disservice to his viewers by extolling every person and product that comes into his head while degrading the language with ceaseless superlatives."

With the college basketball season upon us and Vitale back to broadcast some the biggest games featuring the biggest coaches, SI.com asked he and fellow ESPN commentator Jay Bilas how they navigate between personal relationships they have with coaches and programs, and the responsibilities they have to the viewer. Bilas played for Duke and later served as an assistant coach for the program. He is also an instructor at the Nike Skills Academy, and the Nike/LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, which annually features appearances by some of the nation's best college players.

Dick Vitale: "I have been accused of singing the praises of Duke and singing the praises of North Carolina and I will never apologize for that. No. 1, I think I am being honest for that and very candid in my evaluation. If I am singing the praises of a program that has 14 wins a year, then you have a right to complain. But when I am talking about a team and program that year after year is winning games, graduating players, in the challenge for a national championship, I have no problem with that whatsoever. I try to be balanced, very simply. We try to be as honest as we can. We are doing a game. We are not in the business of a show like The Sports Reporters. ... But I will tell you this, there is no doubt that we try to be honest and try to be fair and I am always dealing with the best of the best.

"Probably one of the toughest moments I ever had in all my years of broadcasting, I opened the show up [in 1988] with Kentucky against Duke at the Hall of Fame game [the Tip-Off Classic]. I came on that night to open the show about a good friend of mine, a really good friend of mine, Eddie Sutton. We did clinics did together when we were young coaches. But it had gotten so embarrassing what was happening at Kentucky, I said it's time for Eddie Sutton to step down. (You can find SI's Alex Wolff's description of that moment here.) But people want to hear what they want to hear. You can't please everybody in this business. You try to look in the mirror, prepare, and do as best as you can. And that's all I've done and I'm 70 now, and hell, I'm not going to change now."

Jay Bilas: "To me, the key issue is saying what I see and saying what I know to be true. There is the opinion side of what we do, letting people know, here's how good I think this team, player or coach is and here is what they do well, what they do poorly, and why they win or here is why they lose. I say what I think there and what the situation dictates.

"I have situations where I've second-guessed a coach on the air and I try not to even consider what the coaches' feelings will be about it. There are times in dealing with coaches and players you have a relationship with and dealing with comments you get off the record. That's where you hope your best judgment comes in. I worked with Manny Harris of Michigan two summers ago. I have not worked with or been around a better kid. Last year, he was involved in an elbowing incident and I was pretty hard on him. I could have sat there and said, 'Great kid, let's dismiss it,' but I didn't. I said what I thought and I had a lot of critical comments from Michigan fans. But I didn't know any other way to handle it. I worked with Manny again this summer and we joked about it. Adults don't handle that situation better than he handled it. I wish I had the poise that kid has.

"One other example: Sometimes when a kid gets suspended or leaves the team for personal reasons, there are times when a coach will confide in us and say, 'Off the record, here is what it is.' There was one where a kid left the team several years ago for severe depression issues. I knew it and I decided not to broadcast this because it was a personal issue for the kid. I don't know whether from a journalistic standpoint I was right or wrong. That's the balancing act you have. Luckily, we are not dealing with state secrets or Pentagon Papers type of stuff where we have to go into court and they'd throw us into jail if we didn't reveal our sources.

"If I criticize Duke when I think it's warranted, I don't particular care whether they like it or not. As long as I am confident in what I say and the judgment I made, I will stick up for what I say. If I am wrong, I will say I'm wrong, and I am wrong on occasion. But because I may know a coach, or played for this guy or I played against this guy, nobody is going to get any favors as a result of relationships when it comes to what we do on the air."

• Fox Sports' Jay Glazer delivered the goods this week with his report that the NFL players' association will visit the Browns on Wednesday to investigate coach Eric Mangini's practice methods. "They are absolutely exhausted," Glazer reported of Browns players. "It's not just Jamal Lewis. It's funny Eric Mangini said this week, 'I just practice these guys for two hours.' The players I talked to said, 'Two hours? What practices is he talking about?' He's giving these guys three hours. Sometimes, like this past week, one guy said practice was for three hours and 25 minutes in full pads. They were completely exhausted."

• When NBC Sports sideline reporter Andrea Kremer told Sunday Night Football producer Fred Gaudelli last Monday that she wanted to track down the 20 living Hall of Fame quarterback to poll them on who was better between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Gaudelli was blunt: "This will be an uphill putt," said Gaudelli, who conceived the idea. Over the next six days, Kremer and producer Michele Froman went to work, finally landing No. 20 on Saturday when they got an answer from 97-year-old Ace Parker at his home in Portsmouth, Va. The results were presented during the Colts-Patriots broadcast on Sunday night. Manning won with 13.5 votes, Brady received 2.5 votes and there were four abstentions (Dan Marino, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, and Steve Young). Joe Montana was responsible for the half votes, saying he would start Brady in the first half and Manning in the second.

• ESPN announced Monday that Jon Gruden had agreed to a multiyear deal. Along with his role on Monday Night Football, where he has injected some healthy enthusiasm and content in his first year, Gruden will appear on the network's NFL draft coverage and as an analyst for ESPN Radio's 2010 Rose Bowl and Bowl Championship Series. For now, given the plum jobs in the marketplace, we'll take such information cautiously, but here's some thoughts from ESPN executive vice president of production Norby Williamson, who spoke with SI.com Monday afternoon: • "He's displayed great chemistry with Mike [Tirico] and Jaws [Ron Jaworski] and he's been a great listen. I felt good about it when we originally signed him and he's delivered on that expectations and beyond that. Fans have said the same thing. The feedback we have gotten has been exceptionally positive...There was a getting to know you stage from Jon's perspective. A lot of it is about relationship building. All along we wanted to extend our relationship with him and it was just a matter of time with him getting comfortable with us and him understanding he could be exceptionally good at this"• "We are very comfortable moving forward that he is going to put coaching aside and concentrate on this for his career at the moment. We will have him, Jaws and Mike for years to come.He is committed to ESPN to be in the booth for the foreseeable future. He is putting pro coaching and coaching in general out of his mind and is not going to entertain any more inquiries for at least the next few years. We hope that he is going to be here for years and years and years to come. For the immediate future, for the next few years, he is not going to entertain coaching inquiries.•"I can tell you that Jon and myself have looked each other in the eye and he has committed that he's going to make this his discipline for the foreseeable future and he is going to be a driving part of Monday Night Football. I can't speak to 10 years from now. Nobody can...I understand why people ask that but I'm sure way back when John Madden retired at a very young age the same suspicions was banging around out there. I just know right now for the foreseeable future he is committed to Monday Night Football...I can just tell you I am not worried about. I am very comfortable announcing this today and talking to you next year about Jon Gruden's position on Monday Night Football for years to come. •"He's a big golf guy. Who knows? Maybe he contributes in some ways to some of our golf properties, whether it's the U.S. Open or British Open. Whether it's on TV, radio or something else, who knows? But I know the guy has a passion for golf so that's one opportunity. But we have all the BCS coming exclusively to ESPN so having Jon Gruden do a BCS game on television is not much of a stretch or a leap. Those are the type of things longer term he could grow into and have fun with."

Finally, I asked Williamson if Gruden will be at ESPN in 2011? "In 2011? Yes, he'll be here, he said. "Absolutely." Clip and save.

• On Sunday NFL Countdown, ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson had some harsh words for the Bengals: "I hate to be the guy that spoils the party for the Cincinnati Bengals but I don't think they can seize this moment. It is going to be a little big for them." Final score: Bengals 18, Steelers 12.

• In what is likely to be a YouTube favorite in the future, NFL Today analyst Dan Marino appears to drop an s-bomb while describing Miami's win over Tampa Bay.

• "I thought it was awkward firing four questions at [Tony] Sparano about [Joey] Porter today. Patriots writers have me beat. This is a brutal presser!!!"-- Miami Herald Dolphins reporter Jeff Darlington, Nov. 15, 11:56 p.m.

• "I'm big time, lol! RT @petitiononline: "Fire Jemele Hill " petition has reached 100 signatures!"-- ESPN columnist Jemele Hill, retweeting a petition calling for her to be fired, Nov. 14, 4:03 p.m.

• "Thumbs-up to the press box popcorn tonight. It's particularly salty and buttery, much more than normal. That's how i like it."-- Buffalo News sportswriterMike Harrington, channeling his inner Orville Redenbacher, Nov. 11, 8:01 p.m.

"I have been around [Bill] Belichick a long time and he has made a lot of great coaching decisions, but this is the worst coaching decision that I've ever seen Bill Belichick make."-- NBC Football Night In America analyst (and former Patriot) Rodney Harrison reacts to Belichick's failed fourth-down gamble in the Patriots' loss at Indianapolis on Sunday.

We asked SI reporter Pablo S. Torre, who recently profiled Freddie Roach for the magazine, to file his thoughts on HBO Pay Per View's coverage of the Manny Pacquiao-MiguelCotto fight. Given his desperation to build his Twitter followers, feel free to follow him here.

When it comes to pay-per-view boxing on HBO, there can be no criticisms like the ones that laid siege to TBS' Chip Caray during the MLB postseason. The familiar announcing triad of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and veteran cornerman Emanuel Steward is as seasoned as it gets. And on Saturday night, in calling the Pacquiao-Cotto welterweight title fight, the entire production noticeably used that experience to smartly zero in on one storyline as quickly as it emerged in the fourth round: How long can Miguel Cotto last?

The in-ring cameras focused almost exclusively on Cotto's corner in the timeouts between rounds, whereupon the talk of quitting emerged. We saw shots of Cotto's wife, Melissa, shielding her eyes with the back of her young son's head (and then heard of her leaving the arena before fight's end, which those on press row likely wouldn't have noticed at the time). After the 11th, we heard a bloody Cotto dazedly wonder, "One more round?" as his young trainer, Joe Santiago, 32, stubbornly refused to throw in the towel despite the opinion of Cotto's father. And while broadcasters usually like to gin up an event to keep viewers, it turns out that a perk of paying $54.99 for a bout is that HBO's crew doesn't need to persuade you to stay -- instead, it began the night by eviscerating the soporific undercard and was bluntly honest when it thought the main event was over.

The fight itself was finally stopped in the 12th. And if you had the requisite $54.99 in discretionary spending -- not to mention a tolerance for blood -- it was hard not to appreciate what you saw and heard.

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