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Lack of a plan, "indifference," "befuddlement": Ryen Russillo on leaving ESPN for The Ringer.

By Jimmy Traina
September 11, 2019

1. Whenever someone leaves ESPN, it's a big story. The goal for most people who get into sports media is to work at the World Wide Leader. Ryen Russillo was no different. But the popular personality left ESPN last month to join Bill Simmons and The Ringer.

Russillo opened up about this decision when he joined me on the latest edition of the SI Media Podcast.

Russillo, who co-hosted a radio show with Scott Van Pelt for six years, said the end of is tenure at ESPN was not nasty, but based on his comments, I think it's fair to say there was at least some confusion. Here's a partial transcript of Russillo explaining why he moved on from ESPN and now works for The Ringer.

"Once I was there, like all of us that are on air, it's always like 'what's the next thing?'

"And the next things were happening. After a few years, Scott left for a much bigger deal to be the face of SportsCenter and then I think there was some debate as to whether I could carry the show as a headliner, which was always bullshit to me, and then I was with Danny [Kanell] and we still did fine and then we went through some real tough stuff, which I totally understand from a corporate side, with my friends losing their jobs and I kind of hung out there by myself for seven months and the show still did really well.

"Going to back to December 2017 when we talked about it, and they were like, 'Look, we're putting Stephen A. in your slot and we're gonna slide you down' and I said, 'Well, I don't really wanna do that, I don't deserve it,' and they were like, 'It's just the way things work,' which I totally understand because I'm sure every decision maker in the building looked at Stephen A. as a bigger star than me and I understand that. I think I'm right there with him radio-wise. TV-wise I can't hang with Stephen A. He's just a different dude who's good at TV and I'm a guy who I think is good in the way I do things.

"This isn't about leaving a couple of weeks ago. This is about leaving in December of 2017 because I knew once I left the radio show that I wasn't gonna make myself as valuable to the company. December 2017 is when I felt like I left ESPN. But I still had time left on my contract and instead of not working, we did the podcast and the podcast ended up being one of the two best podcasts at ESPN. Then I got re-signed last summer and that was after I already lived in L.A....

"ESPN still made some offers this summer. I didn't really feel like there was much of a plan. In a way, I feel really lucky ESPN still wanted me around enough to extend me. They even offered me an extension back in December 2017 for three years to keep me around, so it wasn't really hard feelings. It was just that I knew Bill had a plan, I knew Bill knew I was crushing it. And I think I ended up doing a lot better than a lot of people thought I would do on my own. And Bill spent five minutes with me talking about the plan and I was like, 'OK this is what I wanna do.' That's pretty much it. It's really not about, 'Oh, I finally wanted to leave ESPN.' It was that I was that psyched to go to The Ringer and go work for somebody I think understands that I'm one of the bigger voices."

I followed up Russillo's comments by saying the timing of everything was strange because ESPN had launched the SVP & Russillo Show podcast in June and then in August, he was gone. He addressed that situation as well.

"It is weird. Scott and I are still kind of befuddled by that one. We had talked about it. Instead of me stopping by, let's figure out something. Let's do a once-a-week thing. It can be its own feed. Like, I don't care. I struggled with some of the ego stuff early on with Scott. Everybody thought early on I was his buddy that they didn't want on the air. There was always some kind of holdover stuff with that. And I resented that. But this time around, I didn't care if they called it The Scott Super Fantastic Happy Hour. I don't give a shit. Let's just do a podcast together and crush it and have fun because we'd talk on the phone for an hour on Saturdays during the college football season anyway. Let's just make it a podcast.

"Four years removed from doing the radio show and people still bring it up, people stop us to talk about it. And then we started doing the pod and it was like, in a weird way, 'man this thing was really popular,' and then the numbers come in and we only did three episodes and the first three downloads doubled up the best podcast at ESPN.

"But I said, 'Hey, reminder here, I want to do this. I'm up in a couple of months.' And they were like, 'We'll figure it out, we'll figure it out.'

"I was like, 'Alright, no problem.' And then, I don't know, man. Honestly, it was gonna be up there with the biggest sports podcasts in the country and it just felt like there was indifference. It's one thing when there's indifference towards me, but Scott's a whole other tier."

You can hear much more from Russillo on why he's pumped up to join The Ringer, what he thinks makes a good podcast, being joined by former star Chris Long for his show each Monday, why he still thinks Pam Beesley is the worst, and much more. You can download the podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.

2. Final numbers for Week 1 in the NFL show that this country was more than ready for some football.

Giants-Cowboys on FOX averaged 23.9 million viewers—FOX's best rating for a season opener since 2016. Thurday's Packers-Bears game averaged 22.2 million viewers and Sunday night's unwatchable Steelers-Patriots game also pulled in 22.2 million viewers. And ESPN's numbers for its opening Monday night doubleheader also saw big increases in viewers.

3. Bill Belichick press conferences were already must-watch thanks to the tension that comes with Bill despising the media, but now that he has to answer Antonio Brown questions, things have gone to another level.

4. This Dodgers radio reporter needs to invest in some goggles in case L.A wins its playoff series and has another celebration.

5. Russell Westbrook found out his NBA 2K20 rating Tuesday night via Jimmy Fallon and the Rockets guard was not impressed.

6. There's really nothing better in the world than '80s WWF TV.

7. RANDOM YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE DAY: I've had a daily column since 2007 and each year on Sep. 11, I post David Letterman's monologue from his first show back on the air after that surreal day. If you've never seen it before, it's one of the most powerful things you'll ever see from a television program.

Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on iTunes, Spotify or Google Play. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.

IN CLOSING: Regardless of whether Antonio Brown is guilty or innocent, that e-mail he sent to his accuser and confessing to doing some vile things should get him suspended.

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