Danielson learns to appreciate critics, NBC's Olympics trouble, more

Monday August 5th, 2013

About to start his eighth year at CBS, Gary Danielson has grown accustomed to viewers' criticism.
John Filo/ CBS/Getty Images

Gary Danielson knows that some of you dislike him immensely. He also knows that some of you think he is the biggest grump in college football. And, yes, he definitely knows that some of you believe he is in the tank for Alabama, LSU, South Carolina or whatever SEC team is not yours.

"No one likes to be criticized," said Danielson, who has called SEC games for CBS since 2006. "Everybody likes to be loved. I heard someone once say that the most pure sound anyone hears in the world is the sound of their own name. I'm not much concerned with being liked but I do want to be respected.

"A lot of this goes back to 2006 [when he started with CBS]. I can do a game and have the rest of the country saying I am an SEC shill, and have the SEC fans saying "Why isn't he for us?" I consider that a good job. You have to be a disciplined, balanced, disinterested, passionate observer of the game. If you want a lot of friends, don't go in for this job."

As one of the preeminent broadcasting voices associated with the most successful college football conference in the nation, not to mention the one with the most rabid fan base from top to bottom of the conference, Danielson's analysis each week is excavated as if it were an archeology dig. He reads some of the critiques but stays away from the message boards. The spotlight will be particularly hot at the start of the coming season as CBS opens its SEC coverage with a mega-showdown between Alabama and Texas A&M on Sept. 14 at College Station. It is arguably the biggest college football opener CBS has ever done.

Danielson worked for ABC and ESPN from 1990 to 2006 before becoming the main analyst for CBS's SEC prime-time package after Todd Blackledge moved to ESPN. Upon leaving ESPN, Danielson said he wanted to go to an impassioned conference that he had no connections to after playing his college ball at Purdue and 11 seasons in the NFL with Detroit and Cleveland.

Much as he did as a quarterback, Danielson tries to execute a game plan with each broadcast. "I want to heighten the pleasure of the game," he said. "I'm a big hockey fan and if it is a game I am really interested in, like the Red Wings in the playoffs against the Blackhawks, I have to have the sound on. I want to show people things they don't see. My experience of playing professional football and doing this for 20 years gives me an advantage to see things that other people do not see."

Danielson said college football fans in the South are extremely polite to him, especially one on one. Still, he enjoys the dialogue about his work and tries to make himself available to people by going on radio shows, including his former weekly spot on the popular Paul Finebaum radio show. "One of my main frustrations when I critique myself is, 'How come I can't say this better because I know in my own heart I could care less who wins? So why are so many people so sure that I do care? Because I don't care. I think it is somewhat of a failing and I really critique myself hard about that ... I know I don't care if Alabama wins. I know I don't care if LSU wins. But somehow, with these very passionate fan bases, they kind of hear what they want to hear."

Something you likely did not know about Danielson is that he never watches broadcasts of SEC games with the sound on. When preparing for a game, he doesn't want to be influenced by other broadcasters or analysts. "In the back of your head you hear what other people say -- respected people -- and when the pressure gets on in the game, you just repeat what someone else says," Danielson said. "When I'm doing my study, I never put the sound on. I want all my ideas to be my ideas."

The veteran broadcaster, who will celebrate his 62nd birthday four days before the Alabama-Texas A&M game, says he has no plans to step way from the booth anytime soon.

"I grew up in a small house in Detroit and my biggest goal was I wanted a garage attached to my house," Danielson said. "I thought that would be the neatest thing. I thought if I could ever buy a house with an attached garage, I would have it made. When I played in the NFL, I worked every offseason in another job, and I've worked in my career as a broadcaster. My goal was to retire at 55. I saved money, I worked hard, and ironically, when I turned 55, my new goal became to last until I'm 70. So I have been working as hard as I can to stay on top of the game. Can I make it to 70? I think I can accomplish it."

The Noise Report

(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)

1. Former NFL general managers and personnel heads continue to find landing spots on sports television, which is a good-news trend for viewers. When you find a former executive who takes broadcasting seriously (e.g. doing the prep work and providing honest opinions about former employers), viewers get educated on a facet of pro sports that's often undercovered. To that end, ESPN's new "NFL Insiders" show -- which debuts Monday, Aug. 5 at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN -- is employing three former NFL executives, including former Rams GM Billy Devaney, former Browns GM Phil Savage and former Eagles director of pro personnel Louis Riddick.

"We'll try to answer what teams are thinking when they have to make the decisions they make every day," Devaney said.

Devaney worked the NFL draft for ESPN in 2000 after the Chargers relieved him of his director of pro personnel responsibilities and kept his contacts with the network. A couple of months after he was let go by the Rams at the end of the 2011 season, his agent informed him that ESPN was putting together a new NFL studio show. Devaney ended up speaking with ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees all studio shows for ESPN, and struck a deal with the network. He'll make his debut Aug. 19 and will commute from Suwanee, Ga. to Bristol when he appears on the show.

1a. On the topic of being critical of former colleagues, Devaney said there are a ton of people in the NFL "that I root for dearly," but "at the end of the day, as long as I am honest and not taking a shot at someone just for taking a shot, I hope they realize it is not meant to be personal. I am on this side of the business now and this is what I am supposed to do."

1b. In assessing what team has the best 53-man roster in terms of personnel, Devaney said, "It is so close between Seattle and San Francisco -- and this is talking about the whole 53 and coaching. Atlanta is close but not as strong defensively as those other two things.

To Gary Danielson, broadcaster Verne Lundquist has been one of the architects in the rise of the SEC.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

2a. Some additional Danielson items that will be of interest to college football fans:

I asked Danielson how he viewed his relationship with play-by-play man Verne Lundquist: "Verne is so important to our broadcast," he said. "I am trying to do hard data and a lot of times saying uncomfortable things -- and that just means pointing out stuff. Verne is likable and a storyteller. I think we mesh really well because we balance each other out. He looks to me for Xs and Os and I look to him for big picture and a calming influence. I have worked with, for big chunks of my career, three really great broadcasters. I worked with Brad Nessler for seven years, Brent Musburger for seven years and now Verne ... What is important in the SEC is meeting all the people before the game, going to the cocktail parties on Friday, the cookouts, meeting the old alums, having them in the booth. I really don't get turned on by doing that stuff. I am kind of grinding, going over my notes, but Verne works the room. He will smile at me and we both know we are each doing exactly what we can do to make the broadcast successful."

2b. On life one day without Lundquist: "About three years ago Verne had a stumble on the air in an Alabama game. It was a name [Alabama defense end Lorenzo Washington] he missed six or eight times that he just had wrong. He had it on his board wrong. He had it in his mind wrong. I felt bad because none of us heard it. The Alabama fans and sports-talk radio just went crazy. I went on Finebaum's show and said, "You guys realize how much this man loves this conference and how much he enjoys doing these SEC games? Are you sure that you have no compassion?" He made a mistake. Big deal.

"Listen to the way he talks, his enjoyment of the game, and what he brings Saturday afternoon. You hear his voice and you think, 'Man, that is an SEC game.' It is unmistakable when you turn it on, and he is an important building block of how the SEC rose. There are a lot of people who made this 3:30 p.m. (kickoff) gamble by CBS work, from [SEC Commissioner] Mike Slive to [former CBS Sports executive] Mike Aresco to [CBS Sports Chairman] Sean McManus. But maybe No. 1 might have been Verne Lundquist, who made this thing go. For me, he is like Vin Scully. He gets to walk away when he wants to walk away."

2c. Danielson also weighed in on the upcoming SEC Network: "I think there is some danger in that these networks, instead of buying the rights, are now partnering with the conference, and not just the SEC. They are sharing in profits. We are entering uncharted waters and all of us have to work harder to make sure we are telling the story as straight as possible."

3. If you love world soccer (and especially the Premier League), you will love this NBC Sports piece from last May's Championship playoff final between Crystal Palace and Watford. The cameras followed around fans prior, during and after the game, won by Crystal Palace, who jumped up to the Premier League with the win. It's great work, and the behind-the-scenes people deserve props: Credit Brett Strycharz, an associate producer in marketing at NBC Sports, for pitching the concept, and Josh Shelov, a senior manager in original programming, who oversaw the project. The piece was edited by Chris McGlynn and producers included Anthony Howard and Bobby Reed.

3a. ESPN announced its analysts for its upcoming daily ESPN FC on TV studio soccer show. The broadcast will have a mix of former players, writers and broadcasters that will be familiar to soccer fans. It's a very strong group. The show debuts Aug. 11 at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT) on ESPN2 and I'm optimistic this will be done well.

3b. Canadian broadcaster Julie Stewart-Binks, who previously worked as a reporter on Fox Soccer Channel, will be the host of the upcoming Fox Soccer Daily. She'll also keep her role as an update anchor for Fox Sports 1. The primary analysts will be Eric Wynalda, Warren Barton and Brian McBride. Fox will also use SI's Grant Wahl, former Sky Sports presenter Georgie Thompson and Dr. Joe Machnik as contributors. The show will air Monday to Friday (4-4:30 p.m. ET) on Fox Sports 1 except when preempted by Champions League and UEFA Europa League pregame and postgame shows.

3c. Fox's coverage of last week's CONCACAF Gold Cup final tied the 2011 Champions League final as the network's highest-rated soccer broadcast ever. The game -- the U.S. defeated Panama 1-0 for the title -- averaged 2.4 million viewers, the most for a soccer match on Fox since 2.6 million watched the 2011 Champions League final.

3d. Dial Global will be the exclusive terrestrial U.S. radio rights holder for the Premier League FA Cup and Capital One Cup for the next three seasons. A Dial Global press release said EPL broadcasts will be available in both English and Spanish languages on a soon-to-be-announced digital platform. Listeners will have access to talkSPORT's official play-by-play commentary live from the UK.

3e. Props to NBC Sports for this EPL campaign on the subways of New York City.

4. Given NBC's near-invisible coverage of China's human rights issues and air pollution during the Beijing Olympics, my faith in the network covering Russia's draconian anti-gay laws during the Sochi Olympics next February is not high. The Human Rights Watch sent a letter to NBC executives in July asking them to focus on the issue, a reasonable request given the news value and the number of gay athletes who will compete at the Games, not to mention NBC should be interested in this issue given they have proclaimed they are a company that supports equal rights. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus addressed the question at the Television Critics Association, and while I like and respect Lazarus a lot, I wished he would have gone much further than he did.

4a. It's tough for a non-rights holder to get any kind of viewer traction (outside of an online audience) for Olympic coverage, but Fox Sports 1 is staffing up for Sochi. The network has hired Michelle Kwan and Chris Chelios to serve as Olympic analysts, joining a roster that includes previous additions, Picabo Street and Andy Finch, who will work the Games onsite as well. The analysts will focus on the sports in which they competed -- figure skating for Kwan, hockey for Chelios, alpine skiing for Street and snowboarding for Finch -- but they'll also be part of group discussions on general Olympic topics. "I targeted people with personalities," said Rick Jaffe, senior vice president of news operations for Fox Sports. "I sold them on 'Hey, we will let you be you here. You can come here and let your personality show and have fun.'"

(As this column has previously stated, all Fox Sports 1 executives are contractually required to use the word "fun" at least once in interviews.)

Jaffe said the Olympic analysts will do features and interviews in addition to analysis for both Fox Sports 1 and FoxSports.com. If judged on how they performed in interviews as athletes, all four have potential as broadcasters.

4b. Jaffe said Chelios will also be the NHL analyst for Fox Sports 1. He'll work through the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs and will have an in-home camera when breaking news occurs. "I think he can be great," Jaffe said.

Rookie tight end Tyler Eifert is likely to play a starring role in the newest version of HBO's Hard Knocks.
Al Behrman/AP

5. HBO's popular "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals" begins its five episode season on Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. I'll have plenty about this show for the MMQB.com in the upcoming weeks but I can tell you rookies Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Margus Hunt wore microphones often last week, so I'd expect them to be featured over the first two weeks. Same with coaches Jay Gruden, the team's offensive coordinator, and Mike Zimmer, the team's defensive coordinator. The replays of the opening episode will re-air on HBO on Aug. 7 (6:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m.), Aug. 8 (2:00 p.m., 1:00 a.m.), Aug. 9 (10:00 a.m., midnight), Aug. 10 (8:00 a.m., 11:45 p.m.), Aug. 11 (11:45 a.m.) and Aug. 12 (10:30 p.m., 2:45 a.m.).

6. CBS Sports will air live 18-hole third and fourth coverage of the 2013 PGA Championship from Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11 (2:00-7:00 PM, ET, both days). Last year Rory McIlroy ran away from the field with an eight-stroke victory. Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo will serve as host and lead analyst. The hole correspondents include Ian Baker-Finch (17th hole), Gary McCord (16th hole), Peter Oosterhuis (15th hole), Lundquist (14th hole) and Bill Macatee (13th hole). David Feherty, Peter Kostis and Billy Kratzert will serve as on-course reporters. (Note: As of this writing, Time Warner had dropped CBS in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and several other cities).

6a. TNT will televise 18 hours from the PGA Championship, including six hours each day on Thursday and Friday (1-7 p.m. ET.) The network will also have live coverage of the third and fourth rounds (11 a.m.-2 p.m.). The TNT commentators include Ernie Johnson, analysts Ian Baker-Finch, Billy Kratzert and reporter Vince Cellini.

7. Sports pieces of note this week:

• Mashable.com's Sam Laird highlighted Roger Federer interacting with a fan. It's an amazing story.

• SI's Chris Ballard has a terrific feature story on a young Peace Corps volunteer who turned a ragtag high school basketball squad in Afghanistan into a winner.

• Robert Lipsyte offered his thoughts on the self-indulgence of the ESPYs, and the ESPN hires of Nate Silver hire and Keith Olbermann.

• Worthwhile read from Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports on Riley Cooper.

Non sports pieces of note:

• Sensational piece by Miram Elder of Buzzfeed on why Russia is enacting anti-gay legislation.

• Is reporting misdeeds an act of heroism or betrayal? Researchers examine the question.

• The winners of the 2013 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest.

The Guardian had an awesome gallery of celebrity passport photos.

•GQ had a remarkable piece on a Swedish serial killer

8. My second piece for The MMQB.com profiled Kevin Burkhardt, who will team with John Lynch this fall to form a new NFL broadcast team for Fox. Anyone who has struggled to get a career break will relate to Burkhardt. Ten years ago, nearing 30, nearly broke, and frustrated by his lack of broadcasting opportunities, he started selling cars for a Chevy dealership in Eatontown, New Jersey. But Burkhardt never quit on his broadcasting dream and eventually landed small radio gigs that led to his hiring as the roving reporter on SportsNetNewYork's New York Mets broadcasts. From there, he got on Fox's radar.

9. Mike Freeman's resume contains plenty of traditional journalism outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and Florida Times-Union. That's what makes the longtime sportswriter's latest move interesting: He's leaving CBSSports.com, where he has worked for the last six years, for Bleacher Report. Awful Announcing first had the news last week -- the site's biggest hire to date in terms of a mainstream sports writer.

How did this move come about? Freeman said a friend in the business (whom he declined to name) contacted him about the job. "I was intrigued immediately," he said in an email. "I've been a fan of the site and I think the potential for Bleacher Report is as great as any sports website today."

Freeman said he starts with B/R on Aug. 12. He'll write NFL columns as well as appear in video. He'll also be doing investigative reporting and longer features. "It was a chance to diversify myself as a journalist," Freeman said. "I've done television -- mostly on the Jim Rome Show -- but I want to do more and I'll be doing a great deal of video for B/R. A number of sports sites are moving heavily into video and I think B/R does that as well as anyone and we'll only get better."

10. Miscellaneous: Fox Sports announced last week it had added the rights to three additional NASCAR Sprint Cup series events as well as the first 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series events of each season. Fox now holds rights to the first 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup series races, including the Daytona 500, the first 14 NASCAR Nationwide Series races and the entire NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. In addition, Fox and NASCAR reached agreement on a extension that will run from 2015 to 2024. (Sports Business Daily reported the deal was worth $3.8 billion.) Fox said it will air nine Sprint Cup races on Fox and seven on Fox Sports 1.

10a. The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism recently created The Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith Award, which will be awarded to a sports journalist or broadcaster who has made significant contributions to racial and gender equality in sports.

10b. The next Nine for IX documentary from ESPN Films is The Diplomat, which examines the story of figure skater Katarina Witt, one of the most famous athletes in the East German sports machine. The film, co-directed by Senain Kheshgi and Jennifer Arnold, premieres Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

10c. The Golf Channel has brought in well-regarded ESPN producer Adam Hertzog as its new vice president of news and studio productions. He was recently a coordinating producer and writer for Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown. Prior to working at ESPN, Hertzog served as the play-by-play voice of Penn's men's basketball on WXPN-FM.

10d. Jason McIntyre of Big Lead Sports reported longtime Chicago Tribune NFL writer Dan Pompei had quit the paper. The news came the same week Pompei was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the Dick McCann Memorial Award, the highest honor an NFL writer can receive from that body.

10e. James Andrew Miller of the New York Times reported Brian Rolapp will replace Steve Bornstein as the president and chief executive of the NFL Network in the spring of 2014.

10f. How the Boston Globe covers the Boston Red Sox in the wake of Red Sox principal owner John Henry buying the newspaper and its assets is a media story worth watching.

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