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How CBS Sports landed respected NFL referee Mike Carey

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Recently retired NFL referee Mike Carey has worked 17 postseason games, including Super Bowl XLII between the New England Patriots and New York Giants.

Sean McManus’ courting of Mike Carey began at a most unlikely place — the CBS Sports production truck at the Augusta National Golf Club.

It was during last year’s Masters tournament where the CBS Sports chairman told the then-NFL referee how much he admired his work as an official over the years. Carey developed plenty of relationships with NFL broadcast staffers during his two decades as an NFL referee and McManus heard good things from his staffers about how Carey conducted himself when the officials met with CBS personnel before kickoff on Sundays.

“I’ve been a fan of Mike’s for years and during games I would often turn to [CBS Sports executive producer and senior vice president of production] Harold Bryant in the studio and say, 'Boy, if he ever retires, he would be a great in-studio analyst.' So at the Masters I said to Mike: 'You have no idea how many times I’ve watched you in our production studio during our NFL coverage and turned to someone and said, 'I love that guy.' He’s my favorite referee.' In fact, I asked Mike to pose for a picture with me, which is something I almost never do.”

That conversation eventually led to further discussion about Carey working at CBS as a rules analyst should he decide to leave the NFL. It was a possibility Carey had not considered before the last couple of months. He was hired by the NFL in 1990 to work as a side judge and was promoted to the referee position five years later.

During his 24 seasons in the league, according to the Football Zebras website, Carey worked 17 postseason assignments including nine wild card playoffs, five divisional playoffs, two conference championships and Super Bowl XLII (famous for the David Tyree catch), where he became the first African American referee for a Super Bowl.

“I felt very comfortable, felt at the top of my game, and I felt I had years ahead of me in the league,” Carey said in an interview with SI.com on Friday. “But this is a great opportunity to educate the fans and help officiating have a place of recognition that allows people to see the why’s and why nots, what is called and rule specifics. When I was a referee I talked to the fan when I was making the announcement. That was my whole projection.”

Last week, CBS made it official when it announced Carey had retired from the NFL to work as a rules analyst on the network’s Thursday night and Sunday games. McManus said Carey will be at the game site or work out of the NFL Network studios in Culver City, Ca., for the Thursday night game, and CBS’s studios in New York on Sundays.

“On Thursday night, we will insert him into the broadcast when we think it is necessary and when Mike has something to add,” McManus said. “If there was a noticeable or controversial call the previous Sunday or Monday, we will have Mike in the studio to give his perspective on it. It is not an opportunity for Mike just to second-guess what is going on the field. It’s an opportunity for him to explain the intricacies of what the rules might be.”

Carey said that earlier this month as the CBS job became more likely, he spoke with both NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino to let them know it was a possibility he would leave. On June 20, he told the league he was officially retiring. Carey has no experience with studio television work but he has done countless interviews, delivered tons of speeches, and obviously, has appeared on television over thousands of hours with his game calls.

Away from the NFL, he co-owns Seirus Innovation, a privately held company that manufactures ski and snowboarding gloves, face protection and other cold-weather accessories. He and his wife, Wendy, have two adult daughters Drisana and Danica (both played volleyball in college), and reside in San Diego.

“My oldest daughter (Drisana) is a Newhouse [Syracuse] graduate so she’s ecstatic about this,” the 64-year-old Carey said. “She’s already giving me lessons on the do's and don’t’s of public speaking.”

Why the demand for someone with Carey’s background? McManus (as well as every other non-Fox Sports television executive) had long admired how Fox Sports has used Mike Pereira after Pereira stepped down as the league’s vice president of officiating in 2010.

Pereira remains the template for the rules analyst position on television, a smart and entertaining broadcaster who can accurately explain calls and the rules for viewers. ESPN has since added former NFL referee Gerry Austin to the Monday Night Football booth and former NBA referee Steve Javie for its NBA coverage. Both NBC and the NFL Network have used Blandino.

McManus said adding the Thursday Night Football package was a catalyst for making aggressive moves such as hiring Carey. Another example: CBS has eschewed sideline reporters during the regular season for years, and they’ve now added Tracy Wolfson for that role on Thursday as well as others for Sunday.

Pereira told SI.com on Sunday that what Carey is about to embark on will be different than anything he has ever done. It will also be unlike when Pereira first started because the focus then was on the new role as opposed to how Carey will be judged, on performance only.

“It’s going to be much different for Mike than turning on the microphone and standing out in the middle field and having time to prepare to saying something inside a studio or a booth at the game site and having to react very quickly,” Pereira said. “But his personality is always something that got him through on the football field — that was one of his strongest points. I think he will do very well from that aspect and he was also a very good rules guy and I think he will be able to explain the rules in the most simplistic way and that’s what I try to do.

"He’s also been under the hood so his role will morph into more replay. He’ll be able to say, 'When I used to be under the hood, here’s what I would look at.' He has those credentials that even I did not have.”

Carey stunned Pereira last week in Menlo Park, Ca., when he told him during a golf tournament on behalf of Santa Clara University — the two were college classmates — that he was taking the CBS Sports job. Neither man considers the other a competitor.

“Our goals are similar — educate the fans and help the fans through this complicated game,” Pereira said. “On the subject of competing, the last thing we will ever get into is saying 'I’m 20 for 22 on replay' or some such. I think our goal, which we talked about it, is to converse during the week and talk about situations we run into and how we can present things better to the fan. As opposed to competing, we are talking about working together."

Would CBS have hired Carey without the existence of Periera? Unlikely.

“I give Fox a lot of credit for coming up with the idea,” McManus said. “They were the network that put an official in the studio and I think it has really worked out well. I don’t know if we would have had the idea if Fox had not done it but the fact is Mike (Pereria) is so good at what he does that it certainly was a motivating factor for us to find the right person for us.”

Carey said he will wear a coat and tie for his appearances, which will be a surprise for NFL fans given they have only seen him in his black and white outfit.

Said Carey, laughing: “Viewers might not even recognize me.”

The Noise Report

SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:

1. The time difference between Brazil and the eastern United States (Rio is one hour ahead) has proven to be an invaluable asset for ESPN’s World Cup viewership numbers. So, obviously, has been the success of the U.S. National team and the growth of world soccer in the U.S. ESPN said it averaged 3,653,000 viewers for the 50 games played during the group stage of the World Cup. That was up 31 percent from 2010 (2.791M).

1a. The top-rated viewing markets for ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC through 50 matches: 1. D.C.; 2. New York; 3. San Francisco; 4. Los Angeles and 5. Orlando; 6. Hartford/New Haven, Conn.; T6. San Diego; West Palm Beach; Miami/Fort Lauderdale; Richmond; Atlanta; Boston; and Columbus, Ohio.

1b. Univision Deportes said it averaged 2.9 million viewers for the group stage matches, which is an increase of 43 percent among total viewers.

1c. Univision said its stations out-delivered the average audience of ABC/ESPN/ESPN2’s group stage matches in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix.

1d. ESPN said it drew 10,771,000 viewers for its television coverage of the U.S.-Germany game, which ranks as ESPN’s most-viewed weekday, non-holiday, afternoon program ever. The network also set digital records for WatchESPN with 3.2 million unique visitors. The game peaked at 12,055,000 viewers.

1e. The U.S-Germany match drew 3.4 million total viewers on Univision including 1.7 million unique viewers on Univision Digital, a livestream event record for Univision Sports.

1f. ESPN said its top-10 metered markets for U.S.-Germany were: 1. New York; 2. San Diego; 3. Sacramento ; T4. Seattle/Tacoma; Orlando; Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio; 8. West Palm Beach; 9. Providence; T10. San Francisco and Austin, Texas.

1g. ESPN said WatchESPN averaged 737,000 viewers for the group stage matches.

1h. ESPN said it drew 6,142,000 viewers for Brazil-Chile and 5,362,000 for Colombia-Uruguay. The Brazil-Chile viewership is the highest ever in the Round of 16 for a non-U.S. match.

1i. Twitter Sports said there were 16.4 million tweets sent during the Brazil vs. Chile game, the most-tweeted about match so far during the tournament.

2. Don’t expect ESPN to make many staffing changes for its coverage of next year’s NBA draft. The network historically stays the course on remote events when ratings are up and this year’s viewership drew 3,451,000 viewers, the most-watched NBA draft since 1995 (3,626,000) and an increase of 15 percent over last year’s coverage (2,999,000 viewers).

2a. Some brief thoughts on the telecast:

• Jay Bilas, Rece Davis and Fran Fraschilla were outstanding (once again) during the coverage. Davis is a consummate professional who sets his analysts up at every turn and allows the broadcast to breathe. Bilas, like the best television draft analysts, showed you his value late in the draft when you can’t fake your way through as you can with the top prospects. Fraschilla has developed into a super-valuable resource as an international guru.

• Jay Williams, a good college basketball studio analyst, was badly miscast in the role of post-pick interviewer. Television executives get too caught up in the idea of having a name (Shane Battier, Deion Sanders, etc.) in this position as opposed to someone trained to ask questions (T.J. Quinn, Andy Katz, Doris Burke) or someone who could provide something fantastically offbeat (Kenny Mayne, John Buccigross or Michelle Beadle).

• The panel, especially Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose, fell into the trap of praising every pick as if they were the second coming of Oscar Robertson. Guest television critic Kevin Love accurately surmised that here. Drafts do not have to be a bash festival but some realism goes a long way.

• Simmons, as always, caught a lot of heat on social media during the draft, and took serious blasts from prominent journalists for a multitude of reasons. I know the overt Celtics rooting bothers some people but I tend to give him a pass because I’m not expecting Simmons to be Don Van Natta Jr. on a broadcast the network considers more entertainment than a news event. That’s not how I’d play the coverage of a draft, but that is the philosophy for ESPN during the NBA draft, as well as ESPN and the NFL Network for Day 1 of the NFL draft (See Berman, Chris).

If you want to crack on me for being too easy on Simmons here, that’s fair. Most importantly, what Simmons says during his television stints never comes off as manufactured or inauthentic, which I find a bigger sin than any whininess or overt rooting during a draft show.

• Strange we don’t see Chad Ford appear on the television broadcast. Or Zach Lowe. Or one of the TrueHoop staffers. ESPN has been at the mainstream forefront of NBA analytics coverage and that would be a cool element (even if small) for the broadcast coverage.

2b. The top-rated cities for ESPN’s NBA draft coverage, according to Nielsen: 1. Louisville; 2. Oklahoma City; 3. Memphis; 4. Raleigh-Durham; 5. Cleveland; 6. Greensboro, N.C.; 7. Philadelphia; 8. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; 9. Salt Lake City; 10. San Antonio.

3. How does Pereira stay current with the ever-changing NFL rules? He said he attends the three-day NFL officiating clinic every July and meets with Blandino on how to better explain the rules on TV. This year’s officiating conference will be held in July in Dallas. Carey will be there as well.  

“They don’t just present the rule changes but you go over all of the ramifications of those changes,” Pereira said. “The same thing in replay. The broadcast media gets invited so Mike and I and Gerald Austin will go. That’s where we stay up to date. Plus, we still have a few friends on the field and they are helpful in passing along interpretation onto us. The league needs to keep us up to the date because they know this can work out for their benefit. The last thing they want is for us to give out wrong information. It behooves them to invite us to their clinic.”

3a. CBS has clearly had a shift in philosophy when it comes to NFL sideline reporters given the additions of Jenny Dell and Evan Washburn — and giving Wolfson a prominent role on Thursday Night Football.

“I think it is a bit of a change for us and the motivation is Thursday Night Football,” McManus said. “When we got Thursday we said, “Let’s throw any preconceived notions that we had and start from scratch. What would we do to make the coverage on Thursday night the absolutely best it can be, and de facto what changes should we have with our Sunday afternoon coverage. During the playoffs, we have had sideline reporters and we thought this was the right thing to do. You can call it a change in philosophy and it’s an added element for Thursday coverage.”

3a. McManus said viewers will sometimes see local CBS sports reporters serving as sideline reporters on a Sunday broadcast on doubleheader weeks.

4. Sports pieces of note

• SI Video produced an awesome series that takes viewers on the field with athletes.

• This Tim Keown piece on A’s pitcher Scott Kazmir was terrific.

• Sports on Earth writer Aaron Gordon traveled to Ghana to watch the World Cup.  

• Carl Bialik of fivethirtyeight.com on the companies that track soccer analytics.

• Great work by Juliet Macur on how new stadiums for the World Cup and the Olympics rarely help benefit the region after the event ends. 

• Sports on Earth writer Patrick Hruby examines the history of four-year athletic scholarships.

Non-sports pieces of note

• The New York Times has an incredible interactive section on the 100-year legacy of WWI.

• Where are the hardest places to live in the U.S.

• Remarkable project by K.C.-based journalist Esther Honig: What Beauty Looks Like, From Argentina to Vietnam.

• A man discovers his great-great grandfather killed a man 125 years ago.

• Via Robert Seidman: Why it’s hard to measure watch parties for sporting events such as the World Cup.

• The divorce rate among people in the United States over 50 has doubled since 1990.

Remarkable, powerful, honest piece by Cincinnati Enquirer John Faherty on his pancreas transplant.

•Brilliant work by Washington Post writer Stephanie McCrummen on a man with a mental illness no one can help.

•James Andrew Miller on the legislative genius of Howard Baker.

5. My longtime SI colleague Michael Farber narrated and reported (along with producer Jeremy McElhanney) a fantastic 30-minute documentary for TSN Canada on and the Pittsburgh Penguins tanking in 1983-84 to get the first draft pick - Mario Lemieux.

5a. Fox Sports’ Jimmy Traina – a former SI staffer -- invited me onto his podcast for a long talk on sports media.

5b. This is a dream caption fail for any NBA writer.

5c. Nice work by ESPN PR to highlight some behind the scenes people including ESPN NBA coordinating producer Bruce Bernstein and the staffers behind the animation packages, graphics and other visual elements being used for the World Cup.

5d. Writer Kevin Draper charted which NBA reporter beat the field for each of the first round picks of this year’s NBA draft.

5e. The College World Series did very well as a property for ESPN, with the 17 broadcasts across ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU averaging 1,123,000 viewers, up 18 percent (vs. 949,000 viewers) over 14 telecasts in 2013. The championship game -- Vanderbilt over Virginia -- drew 2,388,000 viewers, the most-viewed College World Series game since 2009.

5f. Do yourself a favor and check out what Giovani Dos Santos’ second half goal for Mexico against the Netherlands sounded like on Mexico's Azteca Deportes TV.

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