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Nigel Burton Wants Listeners To Stop Spinning Their Wheels

“It’s kind of all the good stuff. It’s the fun stuff. But the stuff that’s rewarding is the hard stuff and that’s the stuff that you miss.”

Brian Noe

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The sports radio medium isn’t crawling with hosts that have 15 years of college football coaching experience under their belt. Nigel Burton is one of the few who does. It’s part of a noteworthy background that Nigel brings to the airwaves in Portland, Oregon.

Coaches obviously have to be knowledgeable, but they also need to possess the ability to explain what they know in ways that other people can easily understand. It sounds like the foundation of a good sports radio host, doesn’t it?

Nigel hosts morning drive with Dan Sheldon on 620 Rip City Radio. Making the transition from the sideline to the studio is a topic of conversation below. Nigel also hits on many other interesting subjects like football being played during a pandemic, the most rewarding aspect of coaching, and how Colin Kaepernick surprised him following their days together at Nevada. Nigel is a compelling dude. He’s got an assortment of life experiences that help shape his wise perspective. His words and examples can help open eyes and minds. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What does your coaching resume look like?

Nigel Burton: I coached for about 15 years, all Division I, FBS or FCS. I did a grad assistant at South Florida. I coached the secondary at Portland State. Then I coached the secondary at Oregon State. I was the defensive coordinator at Nevada and then I was the head coach at Portland State.

BN: What did you learn most from coaching?

NB: I think the one thing I learned was if you keep your standards high, like 99 percent of people will try to rise to whatever standard you keep. The other 1 percent will probably just go to jail. [Laughs] So don’t worry about it.

In terms of X’s and O’s, man, that’s a never-ending deal. You may think you have it down but that’s why all these coaches that have been doing it for 50 years are still doing clinics. You can always learn something new or a different way to do it. There are guys who can win championships running triple option or the Air Raid. There are guys who have won championships doing spread and guys will do it doing Two-Back Pro West Coast. It’s a never-ending process.

BN: What does your sports radio resume look like?  

NB: That’s a little shorter. Sports radio has just been Rip City Radio since 2016. Obviously I had done interviews and things like that before. Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Northwest — actually it started with NBC Sports Northwest, that’s how I kind of even got in. After I got fired from Portland State is when the Ducks made their run in the CFP and beat Florida State in Mariota’s last year there. That’s how I got into doing TV. Then I got Pac-12 Network that fall and then Rip City Radio the following fall.

BN: What did you learn early on about sports radio that you hadn’t known before you did it?

NB: Well I had to learn other sports as well as I knew football. The amount of study and prep, I guess I didn’t know getting into it. I’ve got a great co-host that I get along with even though sometimes it seems like we don’t. But I trust him. He just does a good job of bringing the best out of me in terms of knowing when to tell personal stories, when to get on the soapbox, and when to crack jokes. We just have good timing and good rapport.

BN: Is there anything you learned from Dan [Sheldon] just by doing a show alongside him for so long?

NB: A ton. I’ve learned a lot about basketball because that’s his forte. I learned a lot of just how to analyze it. I’ve learned a lot in terms of how things are seen from a media perspective. A lot of things I still see as a student-athlete or as a coach and he sees them from a media perspective. It’s just interesting how we can see the same thing, and yet from different angles.

BN: What’s something about football that media members who never coached tend to get wrong?

NB: I think a lot of media and people in general are just really jaded about the motivating factors of coaches. They see the Pete Carroll’s, the Nick Saban’s, and Jim Harbaugh making 9 million dollars. What they don’t realize is the amount of work and $10,000 jobs that are out there. The reason that these guys are coaching for the most part is because they love kids and they love the game.

There are clearly business aspects to it, but I’ve yet to meet somebody who got into it thinking “I’m doing this so I can make money.” Anybody who’s gotten into it for that doesn’t last very long.

I think they see a coach do something, a certain type of behavior, or make a decision and they automatically go to, oh it was because he made a business decision. A lot of times you have to make tough decisions that are actually in the best interest of either the team or the kids. I think people just think that it’s cut and dry, like “what’s best for me?” and things like that. I haven’t met a whole lot of guys who got into coaching and that’s the way they think.

BN: What’s the toughest decision you ever had to make as a coach?  

NB: When to dismiss a kid or suspend him. Those are hard deals. I had to fire a guy that I was really close to on my staff. That might have actually been the worst because we were damn near best friends. Those are the hardest because — at least I did — I felt like I wanted to save everybody. When you finally get to the point where you’re like this is not salvageable, it’s just hard to come to that realization and then have to pull the trigger.

I suspended a kid one time who had just — it was like a thousand small cuts and after a while it had gotten to the other players and it had gotten to other guys on the staff. I suspended him for his last game as a senior. Looking back on it I actually regret it. I listened to some other people and as opposed to saying you know what, it’s the last game, he’s going to be gone, and maybe he grows up. I feel like now that’s something that will never be repairable. That’s unfortunate because my favorite part about coaching is seeing who they become after they leave and having that great relationship. That one will be soiled forever.

BN: Many players who retire try to fill that void with something else. How does it break down for you as a former coach? Does sports radio fill some of that void?

NB: It will never fill what coaching did because it’s like raising a kid versus babysitting. You raise a child, you can see all the hard work and all the crap you went through and all the good times. They’re your responsibility, and then you put them out in the world and you see them succeed, or even when they fail and they have to come back and they need help. It’s not the same as doing it from afar or stepping in every now and again. But I still get a fix. I still get to watch sports for a living and talk about it and have fun. It’s kind of all the good stuff. It’s the fun stuff. But the stuff that’s rewarding is the hard stuff and that’s the stuff that you miss.

BN: What’s your opinion about college football and the NFL playing during the pandemic?

NB: I totally understand the NFL because it’s a business. I think the NFL was going to play no matter what. As long as they can keep their players relatively safe; they’re getting paid for a risky job anyway.

College is a different animal because you have a responsibility to those kids’ parents and they’re still quasi kids. You have a different level of responsibility there. I feel like for the most part the way that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten handled things was the right way to do it.

I think there was a level of irresponsibility by just saying well we’re just going to play through it. All the quotes we heard about “we’ve got to run money through the state of Oklahoma” and “more concerned with guys playing than their long-term health.” There were too many questions to just forge ahead the way that a lot of conferences did.

You’ve got teams that now have a hundred kids who had COVID. That’s insane. Especially when you don’t know. You don’t really know what the long-term consequences are going to be. I think with what the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are doing now with daily tests and all these other built-in protocols to help with some of the long-term issues that we at least know about at this point. I think it was a much more responsible way to approach it.

BN: Are you good with college football moving ahead now that technology has changed?

NB: If everybody could have done what the NFL did and tested every single day back in July, then we would have been good. You could have isolated somebody quickly enough where that you didn’t get these issues that we’re seeing at – name the school – Kansas State, Syracuse, Florida State, Colorado State, LSU, Oklahoma, Missouri, Houston. It’s crazy.

When you’re only testing a portion of the student-athletes, not all of them, and you’re only doing it every couple of days or whatever; there was just too much time where someone could be put in harm’s way.

With that changing, I feel better about it. I don’t feel good with, “oh we’ll just all get in and it’ll be fine.” I think that’s asinine. That’s why to me I’ve always been against high school playing until this gets under control because high schools can’t test at all. The only reason that you haven’t seen bad results is because they’re not testing those kids at all. You just don’t even know. Unfortunately there are a lot of kids that I recruited who live with their grandparents, live with all kinds of people who are susceptible to this virus or dying. I scratch my head at that one, man. For what? Just play five months later. Who cares?

BN: What are you thoughts on player protests in the NFL and NBA, and the reaction to it? 

NB: As long as they’re in America, they can do whatever the hell they want to do. This idea that you’re here to entertain me and I don’t want anything else – I don’t care about your family, I don’t care about what you go through, I just think it’s rooted in this idea that some people are only here for other people’s entertainment and I don’t care about your humanity. I think that’s rooted in — I’m sorry, I’m going to go ahead and say it — I think it’s rooted in white supremacy, that I don’t identify with you. I see you as different and you’re only here for this reason. So I don’t want to know anything else about you.

They don’t mind when they hear about these feel good parts of their story. What they don’t want to hear about are the things that a lot of these student-athletes and professional athletes have to go through when the lights turn off. That then changes their narrative of what a lot of people have been told their whole lives about America. “I would rather stay deaf, dumb, and blind to it” is what I think a lot of people’s rationale is, because it makes me sleep better at night or it makes me feel good about what my grandparents achieved or whatever.

I don’t know what their deal is. I could really give a crap about the reaction. If someone wants to talk about the things that are affecting their life and it’s rooted in truth, even if it’s their personal truth, then I’m all for it.

BN: Have you noticed a change in tone with how the sports media talks about social issues following George Floyd’s death?

NB: Yeah, night and day, because the bosses are listening. When Kap took a knee, I was coaching at Nevada when Kap played there. We’ve got all kinds of Kap stories.

There were like two offensive players that would come to my house all the time, Kap and this kid Marko Mitchell. Everybody else was all defensive guys. When Kap took a knee, it was personal for me because I know him. I heard all of these discouraging things — I had little white kids in Lake Oswego telling me how they hated Colin Kaepernick. I was like “What? You don’t even know who he is! Man, sit down, little boy; let me tell you who this kid is.”

There was this adamant, heels dug in, I don’t care what I’ve seen, and I think what changed with George Floyd and what changed with America was we didn’t have any distractions. We’re all in our homes and we had to deal with it. I couldn’t turn the channel and just watch sports because there were no sports to watch. I couldn’t turn the TV off and go to the movie theater and just watch a movie or watch a play because all of that was gone. We had to deal with it and that was different. Once the bosses couldn’t turn it off either, people started halfway paying attention and halfway listening. Now sports media was allowed to talk about it more because where else could people go?

BN: What would be the ideal reaction from white America to the things that have gone on in this country and player protests — what would you want it to be in a perfect world?

NB: I think everything that’s wrong with our country begins with a lack of acknowledgement. There are certain people in this country who want minorities, or people who deal with racial issues, or the Me Too movement or whatever, to just move on. It’s whataboutisms and all these other things. It’s like asking a sexual assault victim to just move on with their life without acknowledging what happened to them. That would never work.

The part that’s crazy is you use that analogy and people understand that. But somehow when it comes to race because we’re in such denial in this country about race and racism and our history that somehow it applies to sexual assault, it applies to domestic violence because those are issues that white people also deal with, but racism? No no no! That’s got to be something different. It’s like “No dude, not only is it the same, it might be worse.”

If you just ask me what would the perfect world be, it starts with acknowledgement. If America would ever acknowledge that and if white people would ever acknowledge it, then once you acknowledge it and you accept it, now we can start to talk about real remedies. But if you continue to lie to yourself that that’s not really what it is, you’re kind of spinning your wheels. You’ll never get to the real crux of the issue or how to fix things.

BN: When you go back to Colin Kaepernick and knowing him, was it the least bit surprising seeing what he did in 2016 by kneeling for the anthem?

NB: I was surprised actually. It’s different because I was a coach so I didn’t hang out with him. It’s like our kids. You know your kids, but do you know who they are when you’re not around? I don’t know ‘em. He wasn’t like a super boisterous guy. He was kind of a quiet, thoughtful dude. So that part wasn’t surprising, but I don’t recall hearing about a whole lot of conversations involving race. I don’t remember him being a political thought leader or anything like that. But when you look at his background, being biracial, being adopted by a white family, and if you know anything about [his hometown] Turlock [California], you can definitely see how his experiences will start to mold this person who would recognize that there are a lot of wrongs in the world.

He was always highly intelligent, one of the smartest dudes on our team. Everybody respected him. It was just surprising to see him put himself out there like that because that just wasn’t who he was. He wasn’t a guy who would try to stick out at an event. That wasn’t him. But then there are all of these other things that make you go “okay I get why he came to this conclusion.” A lot of us have. But that fortitude to put himself out there like that was wild.

BN: Looking forward in your career, is there anything that you would specifically like to do in sports media or beyond?

NB: I think I’d like to call games eventually. I’ve done it a few times, like the spring games and things. Mainly because I get tired of hearing guys who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. [Laughs] It’s funny because I’ve sat in so many different production meetings and when you get players who do analysis, they know their position. They might know something else, but they definitely don’t know all of it. It’s clear.

The beauty of being a coach is I’ve coached linebackers. I’ve coached secondary. I’ve had to school myself up on d-line play. I’ve had to study o-line play so I knew how to attack it. I had to understand how quarterbacks go through different progressions in different systems. I coached wide receivers for a short period of time. I coached every special team that there was.

You have this intricate knowledge of everything and so when I’ll listen to a d-lineman talk about how to catch a football, I’m like “Oh my God dude! What are you talking about?” That’s why I love quarterbacks because for the most part a quarterback has to have some understanding of what everybody is doing, getting guys lined up and how to read defenses, but even half the time they screw up. That’s why coaches to me are always really fun to listen to in the box because if you’ve got somebody who can communicate well, they can really tell you what’s happening. So I’d like to call games.

BN: What’s the percentage chance that you’d ever be a coach again?

NB: I don’t know, man. I’m still helping. I coach my kid’s youth teams. I’m going to coach at my kid’s high school and help to coach my daughter in basketball. I still get some of those little fixes. I don’t need to go back to working 100-hour weeks.

I coached a 6th grade football team and there was this one kid who drove everybody insane. I just kept talking to him. He would drive me nuts but I just kept talking to him. At the end of the year he ended up being a pretty good little player and he wrote me a card. I swear to God, I damn near started crying when I read this card. I still have that card. It was four years ago. The reason you do it is to affect young people’s lives and to get that fix of competitiveness. But it’s mainly about helping other kids achieve more than they could have on their own and being a positive influence on their lives. I can still get that. I don’t need to be making six figures or out recruiting to get that. So I don’t know, man. If I can still get it this way, then maybe not ever. We’ll see.

BSM Writers

What Tom Brady Needs To Know Before His First Fox Broadcast

“Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tom Brady announced he is retiring from the NFL today. It happened literally a year to the day since the last time he retired.

The last retirement lasted just 40 days. Before the end of March of last year, Tom Brady had decided he was done pretending to be happy about embracing life off of the field and announced he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third season.

I guess we cannot rule out that that will happen again. The difference this time around, at least for Tom Brady’s professional life, is that he has a plan for his future. Now that his playing days are over, it is time for him to start his ten-year deal with FOX to be the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth.

Audiences do not know what to expect. No one can deny that Brady brings star power. He is the GOAT after all, but we cannot say for sure if he will be any good.

The pressure is tremendous too. Not only is Tom Brady embarking on a new career, but football fans seem to have taken a liking to the guy he is about to unseat. Whether Greg Olsen gets kicked back down to the number two booth or he is forced to share the spotlight in a three-man booth, plenty of people will look at Brady as the reason we hear less from the guy regarded by many as the best analyst on TV right now.

Brady does not have much room for error here. Since that is the case, I thought I would get some perspectives from people that can help him out. I asked three people to give me their best advice for Tom Brady.

Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.

THE PLAYER TURNED ANALYST: ANTHONY BECHT

In 2000, the New York Jets used the 27th pick of the NFL Draft to select Anthony Becht. He played for five different teams during his twelve NFL seasons.

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Courtesy USA Today

His broadcasting career began in 2013. Becht worked on ESPN for eight years as an analyst on the network’s college football games. He has since abandoned the booth to return to the sidelines. He will be the head coach of the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL starts its third first season this month.

I texted and asked him to look back on his broadcasting career. What does he wish he knew before he started? Here are the three pieces of advice that he had for Tom Brady.

1. Less is more. Folks want to watch the game and just know the “why”. Providing tangible information in a five or six second window is key.

2. Fans want to know about your personal experiences as a player – information and stories they can’t get or wouldn’t even know about because they never did it at the level we did. Share those when the time comes in a game.

3. Have a strong opinion about what you agree or disagree with, but be able to voice it without being demeaning towards players and coaches. It’s an art form and takes time to articulate that in a way that’s done right. I never bash any player or coach because a lot of work goes into be a professional athlete and coach. That needs to be respected but critiqued appropriately.

Anthony Becht via text message

THE PLAY-BY-PLAY LEGEND: TIM BRANDO

Tim Brando has worked with a lot of people. That happens when you have been calling football and basketball action on TV for as long as he has. When I called him on Wednesday to discuss what is ahead for Tom Brady, he drew on his experience with another Brady.

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Courtesy FOX Sports

Brando was working with Jole Klatt in his early days at FOX, but he and Klatt were not going to be an exclusive team. He remembers Brady Quinn coming in to their booth shortly after his NFL career had eneded. Quinn was about to make his debut for FOX. Before they were ready to turn him loose, the network wanted the former quarterback to get a feel for the pace and atmosphere of a broadcast booth.

I do think it’s important that you have a new talent understand what that workplace is like in the booth – the choreography that takes place, because there is choreography. If the ball is deflected, your spotter’s hands are coming together like a bad clap. If there’s a hit, who caused the hit? Who stripped it? So there’s a hand signal for stripping the ball and then recovering the ball with the arms closing together. So who got the recovery? Who caused the fumble? Those things are always helpful.

There are things that are going on frantically in the booth, but you as a broadcaster have to remain calm, understand it, and sound succinct and confident. That just takes time and it takes reps. 

That’s one of the great things I think that Greg (Olsen) probably had an advantage in, as do a lot of analysts that get better over time. They do games of lesser importance that maybe the whole world is not watching. 

Tim Brando via Telephone

Tom Brady won’t have the luxury of time or of reps under the radar. He may get to do a few practice games, but the first time he will be calling a game on live television, it will be one of the biggest of the week.

Brando says in that case, it is really important that Brady use his instincts to his advantage in the booth the way he did on the field.

I don’t know Tom well, but I know him well enough to know that he prides himself on preparation. I don’t doubt for one minute that he will be prepared. He’s obviously an incredible competitor. You know, this is a this is a business of competition too. 

If you’re a great player, just like a coach, you love the ecstasy of victory. You don’t want to admit it, but you love the agony of the defeat as well. That feeling of defeat is something we feed on to motivate you for your next performance. In television and sports television, you don’t get that in terms of winning and losing, but you do get it if you look at it as a great performance, 

I believe that all great broadcasters are performers at heart. It takes a certain level of of a theater. It’s live. It’s not scripted. 

I think some players that get in the booth that are looking to have that same, you know, euphoria that they have after playing and winning a game. Some of them get that and understand that in broadcasting and get out of that the same thing and others don’t.

Tim Brando via Telephone

THE BROADCASTING COACH: GUS RAMSEY

Plenty of broadcasters turn to Gus Ramsey for critiques and advice. The Program Director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting at Full Sail University is also a broadcasting coach working with clients at all levels of the business. They trust his opinion because of his professional experience.

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Courtesy Full Sail University

In a prior life, Ramsey was the producer of SportsCenter on ESPN. He has worked with a number of incredibly talented people and been tasked with taking newbies to new heights, so I asked him what he would be thinking if it were his job to get Tom Brady ready for his first FOX broadcast.

Sometimes great athletes forget that most humans don’t know what the athletes know. Things that are basic or simple or even mundane to the athlete are incredible pieces of wisdom or insight to the average fan.

When I was at ESPN we had Tony Gwynn in for an episode of Baseball Tonight. In our show meeting, Tony was explaining why a hitter was slumping because we was cupping his wrist. He went on explaining it for 30 seconds or so. The room was in total silence, eating up every word. The greatest hitter of our generation was doing a deep-dive on hitting. It was amazing.

Tony suddenly got a little self-conscious, stopped explaining and apologized for “going on too long” and we were all like “No!! Keep going!” Tony thought is was boring. It was just the opposite.

Athletes can think things they’ve learned and repeated their whole lives are common knowledge so sometimes they don’t share that info because they think “everyone knows this.”

I want to walk away from a broadcast feeling like I learned something. Sometimes the ex-athlete doesn’t realize how much educating they can do in a broadcast.

The other thing I always encourage former athletes or coaches to do is to take the viewer where they’ve never been; on the field, in the locker room, in a contract negotiation, etc. If you can get that viewer to fully appreciate the feelings and emotions of what goes on in those places, you enhance the experience for us.

Terrell Davis was an analyst on NFL Network for a bit after his career. He once described Champ Bailey running back an interception 100 yards by saying as Bailey got to the 50 yard line “right here it feels like someone put sandbags on your ankles.” I’ve never run 100 yards in a football uniform in Denver’s altitude, but Terrell’s line helped me better understand what it feels like.

Gus ramsey via text message

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BSM Writers

Mark Packer Loves Reading Your Memories & Tributes to Billy Packer

“I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports.”

Tyler McComas

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It still stands today as one of the most iconic moments in the storied history of Arizona basketball. Three simple words said it all as the Wildcats celebrated an overtime win over Duke to win the 1997 national championship. “Simon says championship.” Those were the words of legendary broadcaster Billy Packer as Miles Simon fell to the floor with the ball in his hands. It’s one of many lines his son, Mark Packer, has been reminded of recently.

It was the perfect three words after the country just watched Simon carry Arizona to college basketball glory. Packer captured the moment perfectly, just like he did during every Final Four for 34 years.

Packer passed away last Thursday at the age of 82 but his legacy and impact in sports broadcasting will never perish. He was heard during every NCAA Tournament from 1975 to 2008 and was on the call for some of college basketball’s most iconic moments, including Michael Jordan’s shot to win the 1982 National Championship, Bird vs Magic in 1979, and even Kansas completing an improbable comeback to win the 2008 championship in his last broadcast. And the best part of it all was that Packer did it his own way, with his own unique style.

“It has really been remarkable,” said Mark Packer. “When Billy passed Thursday night we put it out on Twitter and it took off but I didn’t really know what to expect on Friday and Saturday as far as reaction. But the tributes have been fantastic and our family has loved it.

“I have heard from just about everybody and their brother. Folks I never thought I’d hear from, I’ve heard from them, such as commissioners, whether it be the NBA, whether it be other Power 5 leagues, I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports. To me, that’s been comforting to all of us. It just reinforced all the stuff we knew he was about and brings back special memories.”

Packer’s style of broadcasting has been well-documented over the years. He was honest about what he saw and always spoke his mind. Granted, that didn’t always sit well with college basketball fans, but Packer wasn’t concerned about that. He was honest because he cared. 

“He wanted the game of college basketball to be the best it possibly could be,” said Mark.  “When he saw things he did not like, the one thing he always did was speak his mind. He ruffled feathers and he didn’t care. His intent was to make the game the No. 1 priority. You realize now he didn’t have it out for your team, he was just speaking his mind.”

That style meant fans would often yell at games, ‘You hate Duke! You hate North Carolina!’ Packer’s honesty was often taken by fans as he hated their favorite team. He used to laugh at that, just as Mark does know when he thinks about those moments. That’s because Mark can remember feeling the same way as other fanbases as a kid growing up rooting for NC State. 

“When he was calling an NC State game I thought he was always out to get my team,” laughed Mark. “He’d be doing a game in Raleigh — we grew up in Winston-Salem — and the next morning after the game I would be eating breakfast before school and I would say ‘Man, Billy, you really got on so-and-so last night, what’s your problem with NC State?’

“He used to just laugh, because I thought he had an agenda against my team. Of course the funny thing is, we’d go on trips with him to other games and you’d hear fans say, ‘Billy Packer hates my team!’ It almost became a laughing joke, even amongst the family members, that Billy Packer was out to ruin your team’s day when he does a ballgame.”

Mark has always referred to his dad the same his television partners did. That goes for his two other siblings, as well. “Dad” was rarely, if ever, said in the Packer household. Instead, the legendary broadcaster was called by his first name.

“The fact they called him Billy on television, we never called him dad,” said Mark. “We just called him Billy.”

As you can imagine, ‘Billy’ had a lot of stories. That’s normally the case when you’re around the game’s greatest players and broadcast the legendary games we still talk about today. Packer was always quick to share those stories with his family, which made for an entertaining childhood.

Out of the hundreds of messages Mark has received since his dad’s passing, he says he hasn’t heard any stories he’s never heard before. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been telling him stories about his father.

“We’ve heard them all, quite frankly,” laughed Mark. “Maybe the thing that was so funny about it was that it reinforced some that we thought were total BS when we heard them the first time.”

Packer will always be synonymous with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. He was the voice of the sport during its golden era and helped bring the magic to TV sets across the world. If Mark had to guess what his dad is most proud of regarding his broadcasting career, he says it would be just that. 

“From a broadcasting standpoint, probably the Final Fours,” said Mark. “When you, I think the number was 34 I heard, and he did so many of them, for us, we kind of took it for granted. It was just something he did. It was March and Billy is about to go do March Madness. It was just fabric for not only him personally, but also the family. He just loved the sport and wanted it to be good.”

Mark has carved out an incredible broadcasting career of his own. He’s hosted both radio and TV shows with outlets such as the ACC Network, WFNZ in Charlotte, and ESPNU. Having a front row seat to one of the most iconic careers in broadcasting, undoubtedly helped shape his career. Mark is very forthcoming as to what lesson he took from his dad the most. 

“Oh, that’s easy,” Mark said. “That’s prep. He always studied. He was always coming up with notes and angles and facts. I have always done that with the radio and TV shows, that you constantly prep, you constantly read and make notes. You may not use but 10 percent of whatever you’ve been studying, but somewhere down the road you’ll use it again.

“When we were cleaning out his closet I ran into an entire box of old notes that he had from games from yesteryear. I kept every one of them and I can’t wait to look at them and relive those games and see his prep work and point of detail for all those games.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”

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Basketball and Doris Burke have been synonymous for many years. At the age of 7, she started to play the game that would eventually get her to the top of her profession. Along the way she’s recorded many firsts for women in this field which I’ll detail later. Burke has also become an inspiration to other women already in broadcasting and those thinking about a career in media. Pretty impressive. 

Burke was raised in Manasquan, New Jersey. She was the youngest of eight children, and started playing basketball in the second grade. She starred at Providence, where she was the team’s point guard all four of her years there and made an impact immediately. 

During her freshman year, Doris Burke led the Big East in assists. She was a second-team All-Big East player once and twice made the all-tourney team of the Big East Women’s basketball tournament. Burke held seven records upon graduation, including finishing her career as the school and conference’s all-time assists leader, a record that has since been broken. She served as an assistant coach for her alma mater for two years from 1988-90.

From there it was time to embark on a Hall of Fame career.

ROAD TO ESPN/ABC

Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for women’s games for Providence on radio. That same year, she began working in the same role on Big East Women’s games on television, and in 1996 she began working Big East men’s games. 

Doris Burke has been working for ESPN covering basketball in different roles since 1991. It has also allowed her to do other things along the way that were unchartered for women in the business. In 2000, Burke became the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on radio and on television; she is also the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game, and the first woman to be the primary commentator on a men’s college basketball conference package.  In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full regular-season role. 

If that wasn’t enough, from 2009 to 2019 she served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals on ABC. I mentioned it was a Hall of Fame career and it was officially deemed as such in 2018. Burke was selected to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Media Award winner.

AS AN ANALYST

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.” Relying on her past experiences in the game as a player and coach, the information she brings her audience is relatable. Some analysts struggle to bring home a point in a way that a casual fan will understand. Burke has no trouble with this. Her ability to spell it out, concisely and conversationally sets her apart from most analysts, male or female. 

Burke attacks her job, knowing that some will question her authority when it comes to commentary on the NBA. She doesn’t mind steering into the skid.

“I am mindful of the fact that I have not played or coached in the NBA,” Burke said to Sportscasting.com last year. “It doesn’t mean that I can’t do a very competent job. I think I try to do that every single night, and I’m never afraid to ask questions.” 

It’s all about the information to Burke, and has nothing to do with the fact she’s a woman covering the NBA.

“If you enhance a viewer’s experience, it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she said. “As long as you are competent and put in the work … you’re going to be accepted.”

Doris Burke learned the ropes so to speak from several women that came before her. In an NBA.com piece from January of last year, she outlined how much she enjoyed watching former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Gayle Gardner. Early on in her career at ESPN, Burke got to work with Robin Roberts on WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts along with Ann Meyers Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman. Roberts was Burke’s inspiration as she started her career path. She admired the professionalism that each displayed. 

“Working alongside Robin Roberts … the one thing I would tell you is the most powerful means to change or impact somebody is by your actions,” Burke said. “She was the epitome of professionalism and competency and garnered the respect of the people around her because of the work habits she had. Watching Robin early on let me know that the basis for everything is the work you put into something.”

While Roberts may have been influential to Burke, Burke has been a beacon for other woman that are getting opportunities in broadcasting.  When asked about their role model, YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok, 76ers play-by-play broadcaster Kate Scott and former WNBA player and current Miami Heat studio analyst Ruth Riley Hunter all mentioned Burke by name.

“Burke is the best example for anyone — male or female,” Hunter told NBA.com. “I love the way she describes the game. She adds so much to every broadcast, and when I was playing in the WNBA I was always really inspired by her work.”

Burke is popular amongst her colleagues at ESPN/ABC, thanks to a tireless work ethic an ability to adapt to whichever sport she may be calling that day. Count Jeff Van Gundy among her biggest fans.

“She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN,” Van Gundy said of Doris Burke in 2017 via Deadspin. “She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”

Burke is equally a big fan of Van Gundy and the top broadcast crew for ESPN/ABC’s NBA coverage. That includes Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as well. 

“We are talking about three of the best to ever do it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have held down the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary that is the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All of those men have been nothing but gracious and supportive of me,” Burke told the Athletic. 

Doris Burke is considered one of the best NBA analysts around.  Her bosses at ESPN made sure to re-sign her to a multi-year deal and promised she will be involved in “high profile” NBA games in both the regular season and playoffs. Burke will also call finals games on ESPN Radio and appear on the NBA Sunday Showcase program on ABC.

Good for her and good for fans of the NBA on ESPN/ABC.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2010, she was featured as the new sideline reporter for 2K Sports ‘NBA 2K11’ video game. She has appeared in every version since, including the latest ‘NBA 2K23’.   

As a senior at Providence in 1987 she was the school’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year.  

Her basketball idols growing up were Kyle Macy, Kelly Tripucka and Tom Heinsohn.  

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