If Jets owner Woody Johnson no longer has eyes for Rex Ryan, the coach will have plenty of suitors waiting for him among football-airing networks. Interviews last week with sports television executives confirmed the obvious: Ryan has a golden ticket for an NFL analyst job next year if he is not retained by the Jets, unable to find another coaching job or simply wants a year away from the All-22 life.
“He pretty much has everything TV networks would look for. He has personality, he’s not shy about his opinions, and he’s a colorful character,” said ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, the executive in charge of hiring ESPN’s NFL studio talent. “I think he would be successful whether it is in studio or doing games. When I close my eyes and listen to him I hear a little bit of John Madden in him. There is going to be a lot of interest in Rex if that is what he wants to do.”
That’s significant praise from a respected sports television exec who has made plenty of talent hires over the years, including Ray Lewis in 2013. The optics and credentials Ryan brings are promising. He is a sound-bite machine with two AFC Championship Games on his coaching resume and longterm experience in the toughest media market in sports. He was also the breakout star of the 2010 edition of HBO’s Hard Knocks thanks to his prodigious swearing and hilarious rants, including the famed “lets go eat a goddamn snack” speech.
You can distill it to four simple words: he makes good television.
Networks will reach out very quickly if Ryan gets fired and some have likely passed along word through emissaries to his business representatives. ESPN would be among the favorites to land him given how many platforms and NFL-related shows it airs. It doesn’t take a leap to see Ryan slotting into Mike Ditka’s current role. CBS has long ties to Ryan given the network airs the AFC package and the coach has been in a ton of CBS NFL production meetings over the years. The network declined comment on Ryan this week.
Fox Sports Media Group executive producer John Entz previously told Sports Illustrated that Ryan was high on his list. The NFL Network certainly has the programming to fit in Ryan and asked about interest in Ryan, an NFL Network spokesperson said, “Our policy is we don’t comment on NFL personnel who are currently under contract to a team or the league.” NBC is the one over-the-air network unlikely to switch any of its major talent but it is located close to Ryan’s New Jersey home.
“Rex will command a big role on a big show and there are only so many of those chairs,” Markman said.
That big role is not going to be cheap. Industry sources put Ryan’s price at $3 to $5 million per year as a broadcaster, and it may only be a one-year rental in the end. People in Markman’s position have a very tricky proposition. While Ryan could be an entertaining and valuable hire, he’s unlikely to stay in television for long given he’s just 51 years old and says he wants to coach again.
“If you think the guy is a one year guy, there are a few things you want to make sure of,” Markman said. “First, you want to make sure he will not be afraid to say what is on his mind and having never talked to Rex, I don’t know that. Now he appears to be that kind of guy but I don’t know. I have experience with other coaches I’ve met who clearly want to get back to coaching and will let you know, 'Hey, I’m not going to criticize other coaches or owners.' When you hear that, it should set off an alarm that you don’t want to go down that road. The second thing is you have a guy that might be a short-term rental and you don’t want to blow up your shows. I feel our shows [Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown] have great chemistry, so if we were going to explore Rex, how do we add him to what we already have and use him properly? Our philosophy has always been do the best show that day for our audience. So what is the best show we can do that day and if Rex is a part of it, that’s fine. But I do think you have to be wary of what the longterm effect is if you hire a certain guy and get rid of someone else. If he leaves a year later, you have lost two people.
"Finally, you have to be careful about your own evaluation. I was in the first meeting where we talked to Jon Gruden about Monday Night Football. My opinion at the time was this is going to be a one- or two-year deal at the most. I listened to him in the room and I was like, 'Man, this is a football coach. He loves football.' Now how many years later is Gruden doing this, and he loves it and is great at it. So you don’t want to draw conclusions that you think the guy is definitely going back because you never know.”
The Jets season ends Dec. 28 in Miami. After that, the silly season for Ryan really starts to begin.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the more notable stories of the week in sports media.
1. On Friday ESPN.com ran a compelling first-person piece by Janay Rice, wife of former Ravens running back Ray Rice, on what happened that night in Atlantic City and in the months that followed. The piece was done in an “As Told To" format with ESPN staffer Jemele Hill interviewing Rice and writing the piece in her voice. ESPN said Janay Rice was given approval over the content of the piece and the release date. The piece was also edited down for space.
The "As Told To" format has been used often in journalism including a Sports Illustrated piece last July with LeBron James and SI writer Lee Jenkins. James did not place any conditions on SI before his piece was published, but he and his team did see the story before it was published because it carried his byline. What’s interesting, in all these situations, is how much editorial say the outlet has prior to publication.
Hill discussed how the interview came to be in this His & Her podcast and on Saturday I emailed her some additional questions on the subject.
SI.com: You had to interview to get the interview and traveled to New York to meet with Janay Rice and her mother. How did you sell yourself?
Hill: As you know, in these situations, there's a lot of competition to land interviews of this magnitude. I didn't want to "sell" myself, but rather give them an opportunity to get them to know me and for me to know them. I didn't have some PowerPoint presentation, or do anything formal. I was just myself. I was honest. I assumed they'd seen my commentary on this issue, so I didn't try to sugarcoat anything I said. I also didn't promise them anything, other than fairness. I wanted them to understand that a big reason I became a journalist was to tell other people's stories. And from them, I mostly wanted to know what they hoped to accomplish with an interview and a piece in this format, and why Janay felt the need to talk now. The one tactic I didn't want to use is denigrating other networks to make myself or ESPN look better. The goal was to hear from Janay.
How many people (and who) were in the room when you interviewed Janay Rice?
It was me, (Janay’s) PR strategist Matthew Hiltzik, Janay, her mother, Candy, and Ray Rice's manager.
How long was the interview in total?
The interview itself lasted about 2 1/2 hours. But after the interview ended I lingered and spent some time with her and her family.
Did you or ESPN at any point attempt to change or renegotiate the terms at all?
There always were ongoing conversations, most of which were above my pay grade.
How did you prepare for the interview?
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to conduct an interview like this. I had my own list of questions, but I met with our interview guru John Sawatsky and had a series of conversations with Greg Amante, an Outside The Lines producer I'd worked with before who also was helping out on this. Between the three of us, we made sure everything was covered. In fact, Greg accompanied me to the interview and asked a few additional follow-ups once I finished with my questioning. That's typically what happens with a television piece, but again, we wanted to be sure we covered our bases. I didn't have to read much additional material on their situation because we've talked about this for months on our show, His & Hers. I did start following Janay on Instagram to get a better feel for her, and also get a sense of how people viewed her.
How many questions did you ask Janay Rice?
It was a three-page question list, broken down into segments: that night in Atlantic City, the history of their relationship, her reaction to the release of the first and second video, the suspension, Roger Goodell, among other things. There also were natural follow-ups to things she said in the moment. The interview transcript was about 70 pages. We also had two follow-up conversations after the initial face-to-face interview -- one after she had an opportunity to read the first draft and the other after Ray Rice was reinstated.
Were there any questions she refused to answer?
No. She answered everything. People have incorrectly assumed that because of the format, it meant that she did not undergo the same scrutiny and questions she would have had this been done as a traditional story. That couldn't be further from the truth. I re-directed questions and pressed her on what she remembered from that night in Atlantic City and if physical violence had occurred in their relationship before last February. She never wavered. There were other times during the interview where she was very emotional. She cried when I asked her about how she felt when she saw that first video of her husband, how she felt about how people viewed Ray Rice now and what she's learned about herself during this ordeal.
She went into this process wanting to be transparent because she obviously was aware of what we'd all seen in those videos. That doesn't mean that hearing her side would change some people's opinions about her, Ray Rice or their relationship, but she just wanted to finally have her say. It's difficult to be silent when the whole world is dissecting your life.
What is the one question, if any, you wished you could have asked her after the fact?
The things I'm left wondering aren't questions she could answer in that interview. I wonder mostly how she'll view all of this five or 10 years from now. I did ask her what she would say to her daughter about this but in the future, I'd really like to know what that conversation is like. I can't begin to imagine how difficult that will be.
As far as you know, was this first-person piece seen or vetted by Ray Rice prior to publication?
We had no interaction with Ray Rice. He was not present during the interview, either.
Who at ESPN other than you had to greenlight the terms of publication?
[Senior VP and News Director] Vince Doria was the primary point man.
How were you informed that the story would be published on Friday?
I follow Adam Schefter on Twitter, and once he tweeted that Ray Rice had won the appeal, I knew the time had come. Conversations about publishing started immediately once the news broke. It just made more sense to publish after a decision had been rendered, especially since him winning his appeal seemed like a real possibility. It also gave us the option of including her reaction to whatever decision was made. In fact, I spoke with Janay after the news of the decision broke, so that I could report her reaction in the moment.
Did interviewing Janay Rice change how you approached talking about the Ray Rice case between the date you interviewed her and publication date?
No. I've been consistent. I assumed Janay and her family had seen some of my commentary before this interview was a possibility. But when I first met them, I reiterated those opinions, just so they knew where I stood. It would have been disingenuous of me to change how I felt to curry favor. I told Janay and her family that I was horrified by Ray Rice's actions and thought the initial two-game suspension was a joke.
But I also said on air that Ray Rice had a great case for an appeal and should be allowed to play again. There are NFL players that have killed people and been allowed to play again (Josh Brent, Dante Stallworth, Leonard Little). There's a long history of the NFL providing second chances. The only thing that changed was the video. And for Roger Goodell to respond with an indefinite suspension based off the intense public reaction only crystallized what was wrong with this entire process from the beginning. The NFL needed a video to understand the severity of domestic violence. That says it all. Interview with Janay or not, my opinions remain unchanged.
How comfortable were you writing the piece in Janay's voice, as opposed to incorporating her answers into a third-person narrative into which you could have infused additional reporting?
The partnership was unusual for me because I'd never done it before, but it's not really unusual in these times. Sports Illustrated has published as-told-to pieces with Jason Collins and LeBron James, for example. In my case, it was truly a collaboration. It was not a dictatorship. The piece that was published is very close to the original draft that she received. The piece was edited by our editors and any changes she suggested either involved accuracy, her giving more information or offering a more concise explanation.
I know people are skeptical because Janay had approval over the final product. But I take a lot of pride in being a journalist. I would never have been comfortable with leaving out anything that compromised my journalistic integrity. As a network, we wouldn't have stood for that. Throughout this process, everyone at ESPN had the unofficial pact that we would walk away from this if we felt it jeopardized our credibility. And for her perspective, it would have not have done her any good to undermine the process. At some point, she was going to have to face these questions. She wanted the same thing I wanted -- to tell the most complete story.
Is there anything you wish to add?
Some people may not like her perspective or her answers, but trust me, the right questions were asked.
2. NBC said its telecast of the Seahawks-Niners on Thanksgiving night drew 22.9 million viewers, topping last year’s Thanksgiving primetime game by nine percent (21.1 million, Baltimore-Pittsburgh).
2a. CBS said its Lions-Bears broadcast was the network’s highest-rated Thanksgiving Day game since the network re-acquired the NFL broadcast rights in 1998.
2b. Great work by ESPN producers Dominique Goodridge and Michael O'Connor and reporter Chris Connelly on how a Massachusetts youth football team rallied around a seven-year-old water boy who was being bullied at school.
2c. CBS Sports producer Charlie Bloom, one of the best in the business, had a feature on Bears defensive end Jared Allen’s involvement with the Wounded Warriors Project.
3. Last week I reported that in addition to ESPN broadcasting Alabama-Auburn, the first Iron Bowl on ESPN since 2007, the SEC Network was airing a special edition of Paul Finebaum’s radio show during the same broadcast window. The special, Finebaum Film Room: Iron Bowl Live, featured the host and a number of SEC analysts taking live calls and sitting around watching the game. I was unable to watch the show live but I did see some clips and the show looked like fun. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand, whose opinion I trust, emailed to say how much he enjoyed it, saying a friend of his told him he thought it was a cross between Mystery Science Theater 3000 and talk radio. There is little downside for such additive programming during big events and the format was helped immensely by a back-and-forth game and a ton of scoring.
I emailed Finebaum Saturday night and he thought the show went very well. He said the highlight of his night was when gamecaller Brent Musburger called into the show at halftime. “Early on, we leaned heavily on our analysts and sprinkled in callers,” Finebaum said. “I thought I was going to have a coronary when the first caller asked about Fordham. There’s a first for everything. Obviously, I’ll need to brush up on the Fordham-New Hampshire playoff.
“The tone and tenor of the game really provided the most drama. The end of the first half was extraordinary to watch and talk about it real time. Alabama callers immediately started bailing on [Alabama quarterback] Blake Sims and wanted him pulled. It was a classic meltdown of the fan base. Some were even calling for [Alabama defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart’s firing and questioning Nick Saban’s ability to beat Gus Malzahn. Auburn fans naturally were trash talking. I think if Auburn had won, it would have the most dramatic college football show in history and probably lasted all night.”
Finebaum said he’d be interested in doing something similar again and it’s a good idea as a potential Megacast component if an SEC team makes the playoffs. What makes Finebaum's show unique is his cadre of callers, whose passion for their SEC teams is, shall we say, intense. Obviously, Finebaum needs these people to get through to make the show entertaining and he said his producer, John Hayes, who was in the next studio, screening calls, started receiving potential callers about 45 minutes before the opening kick.
“Early in the third quarter, the phone system melted down,” Finebaum said. “This happened last year on the Monday after the Iron Bowl when we did a show on ESPNU. Our guess is we had so many calls at once the system simply blew up again. The engineers worked feverishly to fix the problem. About the moment Alabama took the lead, the phones came back. The phone engineers must have been Bama fans. As for callers, we worked hard to get a sample from around the country, but also to include the most famous or infamous, which we did. Almost all of the Mercury Seven got in. That’s my name for the original and most legendary Finebaum callers.”
3a. Some Saturday overnight ratings:
Alabama-Auburn (ESPN): 7.2
Ohio State-Michigan (ABC): 5.5
Florida State-Florida (ESPN): 4.1
Ole Miss-Miss State (CBS): 3.3 (projected).
3b. Michigan-Ohio State (noon, ABC), Florida-Florida State (ESPN 3:30pm) and Alabama-Auburn (7:45 p.m., ESPN) were the highest rated games of the day in their windows.
3c. ESPN’s Iron Bowl broadcast tied (w. Ohio State-USC in 2009) for the highest regular-season overnight rating for an ESPN CFB game. It averaged a 51.8 rating in Birmingham, the highest ever for an ESPN regular-season CFB game in that market. The network said the game attracted 475,000 viewers on WatchESPN, a regular-season CFB record.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• Buffalo News writer Tim Graham wrote a devastating feature on the struggles of former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley.
• Saints tight end Benjamin Watson on the aftermath of Ferguson.
• One of my favorite SI stories was re-released last week: "Raised By Women To Conquer Men," a 1974 profile of Jimmy Connors by Frank Deford. Cannot recommend enough.
• Impressive interactive work by the Denver Post sports section as staffers spent the season with Denver’s worst high school football team, which hadn’t won a game in six years prior to this year.
• Former WWE wrestler CM Punk says he was fired from the WWE on his wedding day in a fascinating Art of Wrestling podcast with Colt Cabana.
• Idaho Statesman writer Chadd Cripe profiled Boise State football player Jeremy Ioane and his hopes for a kidney transplant.
• Loved this piece by my colleague Greg Bishop on Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith.
• Boston Globe writer Chad Finn on how Twitter has changed baseball coverage.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Sensational New Yorker profile of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman on the planet.
•This Chris Rock Q&A in New York Magazine is tremendous .
• The Guardian had an amazing piece of digital journalism on Ferguson.
• Diana Moskovitz on the courage of former Temple women’s basketball staffer Andrea Constand to take on Bill Cosby.
• Via Jacqueline Woodson: The Pain Of The Watermelon Joke.
• The band that lost $11,819 on tour and had an amazing time doing it.
5. NBC said its 19 F-1 races on NBC, NBCN and CNBC averaged 477,000 viewers, up 30 percent over 2013 (366,000). NBCSN averaged 385,000 viewers for its live coverage of 12 races this season, the best F1 season ever for a single cable network, surpassing the previous record held by SPEED in 2007 (379,000 for 13 races). The network’s numbers were boosted by NBC’s airing of the Canadian Grand Prix on June 8, which averaged 1.462 million viewers, the most-watched F1 race in the U.S. in seven years (2007 Canadian Grand Prix, FOX, 1.494 million).
5a. NBC announced it will air 67 hours of U.S. ski and snowboarding events across its platforms this year, including the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Vail/Beaver Creek. NBC will broadcast 18 hours of USSA coverage this season, the most ever for the network; NBCSN will televise 27 hours, while Universal Sports will present 22 hours.