Charles Davis was working at the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship in Lancaster, P.A. earlier this month—the Fox Sports analyst was hosting coverage of a Featured Group for the company’s digital coverage—when he received a call from John Entz, the executive producer for Fox Sports and Fox Sports 1. Davis thought Entz wanted to talk a little golf, but Entz had an entirely different reason for calling:
He was moving Davis from college football to the NFL.
“I had heard about Donovan McNabb’s unfortunate trouble and had wondered how and if things might be affected on the NFL side,” Davis said. “I knew that Donovan had been tabbed to call games this fall. But nowhere in my grey matter, my frontal lobe, did it ever occur to me that if McNabb was not going to call games, I would get the call. Normally, there’s an inkling, some talk about moves before they occur, but this happened so fast that the grapevine never even got activated. There was never a thought that if an opening occurred my name would be part of the discussion. I was already happily part of the lead college football broadcast team for Fox Sports and prepping to attend conference media days and for the season. I cannot emphasize just how surprised I was to get that call from John Entz. My legs literally buckled for a second.”
Davis is being assigned to work with Thom Brennaman on what will be Fox’s No. 3 or No. 4 team depending on your own subjective analysis. It is not a new partnership. Davis and Brennaman have worked together for about 35 to 40 games, including seven bowl games and two full seasons together with the Big Ten Network.
With Davis getting the bump to the NFL, Fox has named Joel Klatt as its lead college football analyst. Klatt will work with Gus Johnson and reporter Molly McGrath on the network’s top college team. The new group’s first assignment comes on Thursday, Sept. 3, whens Utah hosts Michigan on Fox Sports 1 (7:30 PM ET) in Jim Harbaugh’s first game as the head coach of the Wolverines.
Klatt had previously called Thursday and Friday college football games on Fox Sports 1 and last year worked in studio for the network’s lead college football pregame, halftime and postgame shows.
“This one is by far the biggest opportunity I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have,” Klatt said. “I could not be more excited, and this has been a career-long goal and dream of mine. I’m still on Cloud Nine. It’s a big opportunity, and I’m over the moon excited. This is something I dreamed of for a long time.”
Like Davis, Klatt said the news came out of the blue. He said he was expected to be working with the studio group this season before receiving a text last week from Fox Sports vice president of productions Brad Zager asking him to come to the office. Klatt came in with his three-year-old son, Henry, and while young Henry was being given a tour by production assistants, Zager and Entz gave Klatt the news.
Klatt said he has never worked on-air with Gus Johnson but they spoke last week and have plans to call a practice game together when both are in Los Angeles for Fox’s college football seminar. Klatt is tight with Davis and said he would talk to Davis about what it was like working with Johnson. “I’ll respect what Charles says but I also don’t want it to create an expectation or perception for myself before we actually develop chemistry and timing,” Klatt said.
Davis has always done an excellent job on the NFL Network’s draft coverage, and calling NFL games is not new for him. He called two full seasons of NFL games for Fox in 2009 and ’10 where he was paired with Dick Stockton. He also called assorted NFL games at the end of each season with Gus Johnson.
“There’s no difference in preparation” Davis said. “I will of course have to brush up on the rules differences between the college and NFL game, but having done so much draft coverage over the years for NFL Network, there is a good familiarity with the NFL team rosters already. The good thing? NFL rosters are a bit easier to study for than college rosters that can number over 100 for non-league games, and 60-65 for conference games. There are also no duplicate numbers in the NFL. It’s not fun calling the wrong player’s name and then realizing that the other player wearing the same number is who made the play. You know it’s a possibility going into the game, and you prepare for it, but it can still jump up and bite you. I did a bowl game once where a college team put every kicker on the roster in the same number. Ugh.”
I asked both Davis and Klatt if they are approaching the move as a one-year deal or for the long haul?
“I approach all assignments as long term, and this is no different,” Davis said. “My leaders at Fox Sports have the final say, of course, but I don’t believe they made these moves as a short-term solution. It is my intention to work for as long as possible as an analyst on NFL games for Fox Sports. As motivated as I am by this recent change in assignments, I am saddened to leave my team, my family, on the lead college football game. Producer Chuck McDonald and director Rich Dewey head up a team, a group, and yes, a family of teammates that is as good as it gets. Molly McGrath is a rising star, and was terrific as our sideline reporter and as a colleague in 2014. And, I cannot express my gratitude to and for Gus Johnson enough. We began as partners, and he became my brother. That’s special to me, and I’m extremely appreciative and cannot thank him enough, having been next to him for college and NFL games for the last four seasons. Many people tuned in because of Gus’s talent, and riding shotgun next to him was very good for me and our package of games.”
Klatt looks at it differently. He said he is only focused on this year and does not want to assume the assignment is for the long haul. “I draw a lot from the way I was a player,” Klatt said. “I was a walk-on at the University of Colorado, and I want to prepare and approach this season as if I am a walk-on and trying to earn something. You want to maintain that working motivation. I am hoping this lasts for a long time, but I believe that’s on us to call great games.”
With Klatt moving to games on Saturdays, Fox will soon announce that Matt Leinart will be Klatt’s studio replacement on Fox’s college football pregame, halftime and postgame shows, along with Dave Wannstedt and host Rob Stone.
Other personnel moves include Brady Quinn getting a full season of analyst assignments this year. He’ll work with announcer Joe Davis and sideline reporter Kris Budden. While Fox’s college football coverage still can’t be taken wholly seriously given some of its talent decisions, it’s made some solid moves for better credibility. Here’s hoping some of the money found for Colin Cowherd can also be pushed for insiders Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel to travel this year.
Fox said it will air 100 college football games in 2015 on its national and regional platforms, including games from the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the week’s biggest sports media stories
1. Sports Business Daily media writer Jon Ourand reported that Fox will move the “Fox NFL Kickoff” studio show from Fox Sports 1 to Fox, where it will lead into the network’s “Fox NFL Sunday.” Ourand reported that network affiliates have been asked to clear an extra hour on Sunday mornings so that Fox’s NFL programming can start at 11 a.m. ET. Ourand said that Fox executives have not made any decisions about the show’s cast or format except that it will be separate talent from its well-known “Fox NFL Sunday” team. Multiple writers, including Ourand, have suggested Colin Cowherd might have a possible role in the show.
2. My Monday column included an interview with Traug Keller, who runs ESPN Radio, on what that network will do in the wake of Colin Cowherd leaving for Fox Sports. It also touches on what Cowherd might do for Fox Sports.
3. The 11th episode of the SI Media Podcast features ESPN reporter Shelley Smith. In the podcast Smith discusses her public battle with breast cancer, ESPN nearly dropping her in 2014, being a woman in her 50s on sports television, counseling colleague Britt McHenry after McHenry appeared on a videotape berating a towing company worker, producing an upcoming 30 for 30 on the 2006 college football national title game between Texas and USC and missing Stuart Scott and Bryan Burwell. A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here.
4. Kurt Wagner of Re/code on the ESPN/Draft Kings deal.
5. Kenny Albert makes his network TV debut as a boxing blow-by-blow announcer Saturday as he calls the primetime (9 p.m. ET) Premier Boxing Champions show on NBCSN. That means Albert has called baseball, football, hockey and boxing in the calendar year.
5a. Longtime Dallas Cowboys voice Brad Sham will miss just his second game in 37 seasons to celebrate the first night of the Jewish New Year on Sept. 13. His replacement? Verne Lundquist.