Urban Meyer might be done coaching (for now), but he’s still got a clear mission each Saturday on FOX’s new college football pregame show, Big Noon Kickoff.
“We’re in direct competition with ESPN’s College GameDay,” he said. “They are the best, and they’ve had a 25-year head start. Our goal is to make a dent.”
Between coaching stops at Florida and Ohio State, Meyer worked at ESPN, but this time it was FOX that showed significantly more interest in the three-time national champion, with network executives contacting him prior to the Rose Bowl. After netting Meyer, FOX built a show around the coach, bringing together three younger ex-players by the end of February: Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Brady Quinn. Rob Stone will host the weekly 11 a.m. program.
Wow, that’s a hell of a team, Meyer said when executive producer Brad Zager passed along the names. That’s your team now, Zager responded.
FOX will also shuffle its scheduling strategy, putting more big games at noon this season in an effort to own that window—and to draw more viewers to its new pregame show. Last year, FOX’s five best college football ratings came at noon. This time around, Fox Sports executive vice president for research Mike Mulivhill said, “Our intention is if our best game of the day is in a time zone where we can play it at noon eastern, we will.”
The pregame show will obviously highlight the upcoming contest, but also discuss matchups happening on other channels. The model is not so much a FOX version of GameDay as much as it is a college version of FOX NFL Sunday.
Ultimately, Big Noon Kickoff usurping GameDay would be a major upset, but it’s up to Meyer to even give it a chance. To speak Meyer’s language, here would be my three keys for the show’s most relevant name—and thus the program overall—to win over viewers.
1. Earn some goodwill
Criticism of Meyer dates back to his time at Florida, when dozens of his players faced arrests for various crimes. At ESPN, Meyer was called out for a lack of openness with viewers before taking the Ohio State gig. And his last year leading the Buckeyes started with a three-game suspension for mishandling domestic assault allegations made against former assistant Zach Smith. Meyer apologized for giving Smith “the benefit of the doubt.”
Among the skeptics when Meyer’s hire was announced was SI’s very own Jimmy Traina. “His personality is the complete opposite of what you'd want someone to have if you're going to tune in and watch them on TV every week,” Traina wrote in March.
When it comes to changing people’s minds, though, Meyer doesn’t have to go far for inspiration. This offseason, he’s been watching clips of NFL Sunday to learn, but he’s also been studying Alex Rodriguez. Meyer wanted to see how someone recently removed from the game talked about and interviewed former teammates and opponents.
As for the fact that both men earned their share of critics—many of whom A-Rod seems to have won over as an analyst, “I really haven’t thought of it that way,” Meyer said. “There is a faction of people out there that maybe have certain opinions, and then there are other people that know me.”
Back in 2017, Rodriguez credited his reputation rehabilitation to “being accountable. When people can see that you're genuine, that's when they pay attention. You have to own your s***."
I wouldn’t expect radical transparency from Meyer. This spring, he did discuss the Smith saga with his students in a leadership class at Ohio State’s business school, but Meyer wouldn’t share what lessons he passed on to them—“that’s between us and the class,” he said.
Still, a little openness, along with some flat-out good TV work boosting his new teammates would go a long way.
2. Have at least a little bit of fun
This one might prove difficult...
When explaining why he believes Meyer will excel at FOX, Zager pointed to the company’s culture. “We believe we set a tone that sports are everyone else’s escape. They’re supposed to be fun,” he said. Earlier in our conversation, he emphasized his desire for Big Noon Kickoff to be “a fun hang.” But don’t expect Meyer to don any mascot heads this season. “Other people are comedians. Other people do crazy things,” he said. Meyer, meanwhile, is focused on educating viewers with “intelligent dialogue.”
Meyer also likely won’t be dropping pop culture references. Meyer told The Chicago Tribune that “Seinfeld” was the last TV show he watched. During a golf outing, Reggie Bush had to explain his two-year relationship with Kim Kardashian to his new colleague.
As Stone put it on the Nick Bahe podcast, “You’re going to get football talk out of [Meyer.] I don’t think you’re going to get Chuckle Hut time and laughs, but you’re going to get some behind-the-scenes moments that will strike you as a football fan.” It’ll be on Meyer’s new teammates, then, to make sure everyone is having a good time between insights.
Is college football fun?, I asked Meyer. I’m not sure what you mean, he said. After further clarification, he added, “When you’re responsible for the win or the loss, I don’t know if fun would be the right word. For the fans, absolutely. It’s America’s game right now.”
3. Embrace the new job—and stick with it.
Meyer has stayed on as an associate athletic director at Ohio State, making his allegiances clear. “What would it take for you to say the word ‘Michigan’?” Stone asks Meyer in the show’s trailer. “Not going to happen,” Meyer responds.
It’s a nice laugh line, but Meyer has to earn viewers’ trust that he can speak objectively about every team. Using GameDay as an example, each of ESPN’s analysts have strong associations to their alma mater, but their media identities have also evolved beyond those connections. “Of course I’m proud of Ohio State,” Kirk Herbstreit wrote in response to a critic last season. “I’m also proud of my 23-year career of being impartial and fair.”
To earn that trust, Meyer is going to have to actually do this job for several years, if not two dozen. This week, he once again said he thinks he’s done coaching, but the repeated questions are evidence that few seem to believe him.
Big Noon Kickoff will take time to develop a rhythm, and for fans to develop habits. Meyer might not singlehandedly be able to make the program work, but a quick departure could certainly endanger it. Rumors are going to fly starting early this season. It remains to be seen how Meyer will respond to them, if at all.
"The honest answer anytime somebody walks off the field from being a coach or player, you run the risk that they want to go back," Zager told Sporting News. “We try to create an environment here that makes that decision more difficult. We want to make this place as great as possible.”
NHL Networks’ Behind The Glass Series Heads to Philadelphia
Working as an adviser for the Devils last season, Chuck Fletcher watched each episode of the NHL’s Hard Knocks-style Behind the Glass series and got a glimpse into how the production worked. Now the Flyers’ general manager, it’s his turn to welcome the cameras. The four-episode show will debut Sept. 25.
“I think everyone’s first concern is, Is it going to be too intrusive? Are we going to be able to carry on our day-to-day activities like we normally do?,” Fletcher said. “If I hadn’t been through it last year, maybe I would’ve felt that way, but after being in New Jersey honestly there was a new normal very quickly. I think everybody embraced it and it put the Devils in a very positive light. I think there’s only upside.”
The show will include features on defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, newly acquired forward Kevin Hayes, and 21-year-old goalie Carter Hart as well as a look at forward Jakub Voracek ahead of Philadelphia’s season opener in Voracek’s native Czech Republic. Behind the Glass will also shadow new coach Alain Vigneault and Fletcher as they shape their roster and attempt to improve on a 37-37-8 record last season.
“It’s the new reality we’re dealing with,” Fletcher said. “We want to take any opportunity we have to show our fans our product and the people behind it.”
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