SOCHI, Russia -- One of the most challenging things for former athletes transitioning to sports broadcasting is to fully excise themselves from their former teammates and coaches. But Tony Gonzalez, who was officially announced by CBS Sports on Tuesday as an analyst for The NFL Today pregame show, Showtime’s Inside The NFL and the CBS Sports Network’s Sunday pregame show (That Other Pregame Show), plans on being critical when criticism is warranted.
“When you are playing, at least for me the way I approached it, I wasn’t going to be that player calling people out,” Gonzalez told SI.com on Tuesday. “Not really calling people out, but more telling the whole truth. Because I don't believe in that while you are playing; it just doesn’t make sense because we are in that fraternity. But now that I am done, I am going to say exactly what is on my mind. I’m not there to go out and kill players, but if I believe something is true, I am going to say it and not hold back on it. It’s an opportunity to really speak up on issues and I’m going to be as fair as possible and hopefully make some good points people are interested in hearing.”
The hiring of the recently retired Gonzalez gives CBS something NFL-airing networks crave -- currency. Gonzalez retired in January after 17 years as a tight end and is the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns (111) and yards (15,127) by a tight end.
“It’s [broadcasting] something that I didn’t want to do up until about three years ago,” Gonzalez said. “I was always one of those players who said when I get done playing I’m going to detach myself from everything and spend time with my family every day. But about three years ago I started to think more about retirement and I started to do more television and I said to myself: ‘This is fun.’ What a great way for me to stay connected to the game and give back to the game. I don’t take this for granted at all. The jobs are hard to get and I am happy to get this one.”
CBS dually announced that Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe -- two longtime staffers on its pregame show -- were not being retained. The new cast of The NFL Today is current host James Brown and analysts Bill Cowher and Boomer Esiason and Gonzalez. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand on Tuesday that the network is in the process of hiring another analyst soon, but added that deal was not ready to be announced yet.
“While we welcome Tony, we want to acknowledge Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe who have contributed greatly to the success of The NFL Today for more than a decade,” McManus said in a statement. “Dan and Shannon are true Hall of Famers on the field and in front of the camera. As they pursue other professional opportunities, we thank them for their hard work and dedication and wish them nothing but the best.”
Why did Gonzalez choose CBS? He said The NFL Today was the show he watched most and that the fit with other staffers felt comfortable. His multi-year deal has been set for a couple of months. “I felt like they wanted me more than the other places I was talking to” said Gonzalez, who was courted by multiple outlets. “It was kind of a no-brainer when it came down to it to be on the main desk right away.”
Gonzalez cited many former players-turned broadcasters that he admires, including Esiason, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth and Fox’s Michael Strahan. “It’s those type of guys I am looking to model myself after if I can,” Gonzalez said. “I know that is reaching pretty high and I know it will take awhile to be as comfortable as they are and to articulate my thoughts as well as those guys do.”
Last month ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter re-signed a multi-year deal with ESPN after he was courted by CBS to be a part of Showtime's Inside The NFL show and possibly The NFL Today. There has been serious chatter among industry sources for months about CBS blowing up the current group on The NFL Today, including rumors of Gonzalez joining CBS. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead connected a lot of the dots in this Jan. 15 post. Why the changes? Outside of Marino and Sharpe’s contracts being up, CBS Sports management knows Fox NFL Sunday continues to increase its ratings lead over The NFL Today. As I noted for The MMQB last month, Fox NFL Sunday averaged 4.8 million viewers, up four percent in audience over last year and 39 percent higher than CBS' The NFL Today. Certainly, the pregame show with the NFC package (bigger cities) is going to win the noon pregame battle no matter what, but CBS needs to gain more of an audience for The NFL Today. The network brought in a new lead producer (Drew Kaliski) for the show last May and new producers often want to shape the show in their own image. That happens now.