Hire 'im, fire 'im. Look, a guy's either got it or doesn't. He's going to sink or swim by Year 2 anyway, so what's the use of working with 'im? He's got a big name? He's hot? Put 'im on.
Unfortunately, such has been the network way when it comes to the use of former players and coaches as football commentators. You could form an NFL Hall of Fame squad with the athletes who have gone on the air cold turkey only to be cashiered by TV within a few years. However, that pattern may be changing, at least at NBC, with the quiet appointment of a tube coach. Here's a boffo idea that television should have come up with back around the time the instant replay was introduced.
The tutor's credentials as a respected broadcaster and former athlete are A + , and at 66 he's no threat to bounce one of his star pupils out of a job. He's also independent enough in semiretirement to need the network less than it needs him, a circumstance that allows him to employ candor, something big-name commentators rarely hear. His name is Marty Glickman. He played tailback at Syracuse from 1936 through '38 and was a member of the U.S. track team at the '36 Olympics. For eons Glickman called New York Giant, Jet and Knick games on radio. Whenever a Knick shot went through the basket, he would say, "Good—like Nedick's," referring to the orange-drink company that sponsored the broadcasts. To hear him was to love him.
What Glickman does with NBC's 10 football commentators—everybody from the estimable Merlin Olsen to a neophyte like Bob Chandler—is much the same as what their football coaches did with them after every game in darkened screening rooms. He picks the replays of their games apart, praising and criticizing them one-on-one. His opening advice to Olsen, who had been urging NBC to hire a coach for years: Establish eye contact with the camera when doing stand-ups alongside Dick Enberg. Glickman has encouraged John Brodie to let more of his ebullient personality come through. He has told the improving Bob Griese to either explain or drop such footballese as "They went weakside on double coverage" and—get this—"It was a slant against a three-step drop as the line fired out."
October 9, 1983
"I tell them, 'You can reject everything I say, or you can accept everything I say—I'm just going to tell you,' " says Glickman. Some other notations on his screening-room pad: Too many commentators fail to talk "on picture," that is, they don't relate what they're saying to what's being shown on the screen. Former quarterbacks and others need to offer more personal anecdotes, such as how it feels when the receiver drops a perfect third-down pass. Most erstwhile jocks, perhaps because they were taught to mask their emotions on the field, avoid expressions of joy or frustration once they're in the booth. As for play-by-play men, says Glickman, most need to give the time and score more often for the benefit of late viewers and channel hoppers.
Response to Glickman's critiques has been positive, attesting to the facts that most former players are 1) accustomed to blunt criticism from their coaches and 2) chagrined by the lack of sincere feedback from the network. "I've been at NBC six years, and this is the first time I've had somebody to call and say, 'Let's work on this, let's do this better,' " says former Cincinnati Bengal Tight End Bob Trumpy, who has been cautioned by Glickman about footballese. "It's as though on Day 2 of indoctrination at a network they hand the executives a set of instructions. On Line 6 it says that when the talent calls and asks how they did on the ball game you say, 'Great job.' That's all they say: 'Great job.' It got to the point where it was difficult to trust people who were in charge of my career because that's all I heard."
Exhibit A of the hang-'im-out-to-dry tradition at the networks is Johnny Unitas, who worked at CBS in the mid-'70s solely because of his name value. Says Unitas, "It's like taking an executive from CBS and putting him at quarterback and saying, 'O.K., here's the football. You're facing the New York Giants today. Go get 'em.' " That's a system NBC and its coach may change. Before long, a few more network football commentators may be good—like Nedick's, and like Glickman.