CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One thing is perfectly clear when touring the new SEC Network facility: ESPN sure isn’t treating the new entity like a startup. The all-seeing, all-knowing four letter network has poured vast resources into the SECN, including equipment and training at all the SEC member schools, a whole bunch of fiber optic cables and hiring a bunch of pretty high-profile talent.
The results so far before the “On Air” light has been turned on speak for themselves: Executives at the network have locked up development deals with just about every cable provider except for Verizon FIOS (as the DirecTV and Charter dominoes fell recently), and senior vice president Justin Connolly anticipates the SECN will be available in more than 90 million homes when it debuts Aug. 14.
That’s a big launch with a lot of eyes on it, but as ESPN stalwart and new "SEC Nation" host Joe Tessitore told SI.com on Wednesday, “this is the biggest punch I’ve ever seen ESPN throw.”
The "SEC Nation" show will probably be the most visible original programming the network has. Touring SEC country in the same vein as "College GameDay," "SEC Nation" has the goal to illustrate just how unique and unquestionably fanatical SEC diehards are – from campus to campus. The team the SEC Network assembled for the show, including LSU great Marcus Spears and constant lightning rod Paul Finebaum, seems to get along, and that rapport will be important as the show tries to build a viewership.
Reporter Kaylee Hartung, who was brought over from the Longhorn Network, says the group has one common thread, and that’s a passion for the SEC.
“When they announced the SEC Network,” Hartung said, “my grandfather, who lives in Louisiana, cut out the article in the paper and sent it to me and asked me ‘When are you going to be a part of this?’ Everybody at "SEC Nation" has a connection to the SEC, whether it’s family, having lived there or played there.”
And plenty of people are going to care about another "SEC Nation" analyst – former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. There aren’t many who are agnostic towards Tebow, and getting him back in the SEC was a no-brainer for ESPN. Tebow had a tryout during the national championship, and although he seemed a little overwhelmed at times, the potential was there for him to do well if he calmed down and got comfortable.
SI.com had a few minutes to talk with Tebow about the new gig, the adjustment from player to media member and more.
SI: Did you expect the transition to be this smooth for you?
TT: I didn’t really know what to expect. I did know most everyone before we all came together. It helped that I had a great rapport with these guys. Everybody’s been awesome. Kaylee and Marcus and Paul and Joe. No one takes themselves too seriously. They also really love what they do and work hard. We’ve really studied a lot, watched a lot of film and talked to a lot of people. We really want to do our work as best we can. Everybody feels like that. Plus we have a lot of fun together, and that helps build the chemistry.
SI: It’s a situation here where you don’t just have one school like the Longhorn Network or all the teams like ESPN. You focus on 14 teams. What does it mean that everyone has a connection to the SEC?
TT: The important thing is that you don’t take you being a fan, your bias or your past experiences into account as far as me rooting for Florida. Obviously I’ll be a Florida fan my entire life. But when I’m evaluating teams, I’m not going to be evaluating as a fan of Florida. I’m going to be evaluating as a quarterback in the SEC, someone who grew up watching it, someone who has had a lot of experience and has been in every situation. That’s the premise I’m going to be looking from. Everybody’s going to be able to do that. It’ll be hard for Marcus not to root for LSU, but he can do that. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I know he really likes Alabama. That can’t be easy for him to say. You can kind of take one hat off and put on another one and that’s your focus.
SI: What’s been your biggest surprise so far?
TT: I don’t know that anything’s been such a big surprise. My relationships with everyone at ESPN were really good, and they kind of told me how it was going to be. Nothing has really caught me by surprise.
SI: How much do you think your experience during the national title game helped to prepare you?
TT: I think it really helped. That was a great opportunity. Before and after games there were certain times I was on "GameDay," and that helped. But really doing the national championship and doing it all day gave me a great amount of experience. I knew what to expect with this.
SI: Going from the playing side to the media side, is there an adjustment there?
TT: I really don’t view it like I have to change how I view things. I’m going to view it how I viewed it my entire life as a football player. I’m going to analyze and break it down like I’m going to play this team. What would I do? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Take all the ways I’ve been coached from all these great coaches that I played for and analyze it that way – as an opposing player or an opposing coach. Tell them their strengths and weaknesses and who’s good or who’s doing bad and really be honest and open about that.
SI: What are you most looking forward to in the next few weeks?
TT: The environments. The hype. Obviously if you know me and you’ve seen me play and have been around me, you know I’m very passionate. I get excited. I get emotional. The SEC is all about this passion. Every place we go has so many fans who love their team so much regardless of whether they’re 1-10 or 10-0. That’s what’s exciting about this.