It wasn’t long ago, remember, when America was clanking both free throws. Was the upstart pronounced Gon-ZAH-ga or Gon-ZAG-uh? From Spo-KANE or Spo-KAN? And who were these interlopers, not far removed from sharing a practice court with intramural leagues and volleyball teams while renting a band to play at games?
Could they really escape a mid-major existence somewhere in the Great Northwest, where the team bus used to break down on the same hill at the start of road trips? Hell, didn’t the Gonzaga administration almost downsize the program in the late-1990s, recommending a Division III reset amid severe enrollment declines and near-bankruptcy? When Mark Few was promoted from assistant to head coach, didn’t the school president at the time, Father Robert Spitzer, ask athletic director Mike Roth, “OK, good … which one is he?”
Looking back, as the university’s resources and reputation thrive amid new national prestige and Nike fortunes, it’s not a stretch to draw two conclusions in 2021: Just as big-time college basketball saved Gonzaga, Gonzaga might save big-time college basketball. This inspiring tale, a made-for-Rinaldi epic if there ever was one, cannot be told enough. In a sport where bluebloods have lorded like an organized crime family, Gonzaga — firm emphasis on the ZAG, as in Zags — gradually blazed a Lewis-and-Clark trail through privileged hoops territories. While behemoth programs cheated and cut deals with corruption snakes, Gonzaga was assembling a culture rooted in values and methods. While broadcast networks embraced traditional power conferences, Gonzaga was comfortable growing its brand in relative obscurity, mixing non-league litmus tests with West Coast Conference games in Moraga and Malibu, where cozy gyms have brick walls behind the baskets.
And the one-and-done NBA hopscotchers? They generally weren’t all that welcome in Spokane, as in CAN.
What began as a charming oddity just in time for a new millennium, with the Zags’ first NCAA tournament berth and a shocking Elite Eight run, became an annual March Madness storyline. Familiarity led to expectations, the same that accompany Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. Suddenly, Gonzaga was a self-made, tried-and-true blueblood. And now, two decades after the program’s introduction to the sporting masses, Few has taken his masterpiece to a place few have reached — as only the fifth team in 45 years to enter the tournament with an unbeaten record, six wins from the first perfect national championship season since 1976.
Some coaches would run from the hype, especially when continued spring failure will begin to hinder everything that has been accomplished. Few, after a title game loss in 2017 and other near-misses, is only happy to embrace the commotion ahead, six years after an unbeaten Kentucky team departed March a loser. “We just talked about it in there. We finally, finally acknowledged, like, look, this is a big deal,” Few said after Gonzaga clinched its 23rd consecutive NCAA berth. “It puts us in some incredible company. That Kentucky team … it’s a heck of an accomplishment. And it’s really a heck of accomplishment in lieu of these atmospheres that have been so stale.”
I’m glad he pointed that out. At 26-0, Gonzaga not only is the best team and predominant story but the wisest pick to win, in a pandemic scenario fraught with unpredictability and potential bracket chaos. The champion will be the team that navigates COVID-19 responsibly, meaning we all should be taking notes on which groups have avoided disruptions this season and which have succumbed to COVID-iocy. Duke, for all its royalty, will be remembered for the positive test that ended the Blue Devils’ season, proving Mike Krzyzewski is no Dr. K. Kansas and Virginia had to bow out of conference tournaments because of positive tests. Baylor, once considered prime championship material, hasn’t been the same since a February outbreak that infected nine players. Who knows which programs are next in the coming days and weeks?
Gonzaga learned quickly from a late November issue — a player and staff member testing positive — and, remarkably, zagged through the landmines in an unlikely march toward perfection. Never has a flawless run been so quiet, without cheering worshippers at home and hostile crowds on the road; yet, the lack of hullabaloo didn’t slow the mission or blunt the joy. Internally, the team’s performance director kept close watch on the mental health of young men in their early 20s and teens. With the 34-member travel party ensconsed in the tournament’s Indiana bubble, after producing a required seven negative tests over seven straight days, it’s possible the most vulnerable period will pass quickly for a mature team that has been conscientious and focused for months. The Zags know the lowdown, as do anxious gamblers and bracket holders: Once the tournament starts, any team hit by an outbreak will forfeit and go home if at least five players can’t suit up. If RPI once was a quantity used in the selection and seed process, now it stands for Responsible Pandemic Index.
And as we gather for this new form of Madness, we must weigh RPI savvy and accountability within a bubble environment — young people isolated for weeks until a winner is declared April 5 — as much as basketball skill and coaching acumen. Illinois is primed for a lengthy run and possible title game showdown with Gonzaga, behind Ayo Dosunmu and 7-footer Kofi Cockburn, but this must be asked: With campus an easy drive from Indianapolis, will players be conveniently tempted to meet on the sly with family and friends? Gonzaga doesn’t have those issues, setting up shop 2,000 miles from home. Everyone is raving about Cade Cunningham, the world’s next great playmaker, but is he really ready to bunker down and contend with Oklahoma State when NBA franchises already are playing Fade For Cade and multiple millions await him?
Also, look at the competition in the West Regional. See any? Creighton might have been a chore, but the program is embroiled in a racial scandal involving coach Greg McDermott, he of the “plantation” references, and the players looked weary in their weekend no-show against Georgetown. Virginia, the last national champion, has its COVID issues and might not survive the Ohio University Bobcats and Jason Preston. Kansas has its COVID issues and might not survive USC and 7-footer Evan Mobley. The likely opponent in the regional final is Iowa, featuring the nation’s top player, Luka Garza.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Gonzaga is the first team ever to have four players named as Naismith Award finalists.
Then consider the chaos, non-COVID-related, that is sure to clog all logic. Please explain how Georgetown — after coach Patrick Ewing was hassled by security in the building he trademarked, Madison Square Garden — won the Big East tournament. And how Oregon State won the Pac-12. And how Georgia Tech won the ACC. And how 68-year-old Rick Pitino, left for dead in a European pro league after too many scandals to count, made Iona the fifth team he’s led to the tournament in an unimaginably madcap career. Call him what you’d like — he has heard it all — but do not say he can’t coach. For that reason, Iona’s matchup against Alabama is among the best of the first round.
“If we don’t go to a Final Four, I’m quitting, and I’ll be very disappointed and going back to Greece,” Pitino cracked.
Now more than ever, we’re looking for sensibility. Chalk, in this case, works two ways. Gonzaga is the smartest basketball prediction. And Gonzaga is the smartest pandemic prediction. If the Zags pass two additional PCR testing rounds before resuming practice in the heartland, America safely can begin to ask if we’re watching one of the special stories in college sports history. Few took note of Duke’s situation and paused in dread, telling radio host Dan Patrick after hearing the news that the unknown still scares him.
“That’s what we all fear,” Few said. “The tough thing is, we’re all doing our protocols and sitting away from each other and spacing in meetings. Literally, we’ve been doing it all year. It’s tough when one player tests positive and that the whole group goes out. That’s our worst nightmare. I just wait to get the text from the trainer that everybody is OK and we passed the tests.
“We’re doing everything that we possibly can.”
Unlike Duke. Krzyzewski handled matters poorly last week, preferring to endure 100-mile round-trip commutes to the ACC tournament so his team could stay overnight on campus when — gulp — the student population was having an outbreak uptick. Not that the Blue Devils were worthy of a bid, having gone 11-11 in the regular season, but had we envisioned leaders who might be airtight in a crisis, Coach K would have come to mind. “We are disappointed we cannot keep fighting together,” he said. “This season was a challenge for every team across the country and as we have seen over and over, this global pandemic is very cruel — and is not yet over. As many safeguards as we implemented, no one is immune to this terrible virus.”
All of which feels like a sea change, a passing of the standard-bearer torch. If Krzyzewski once kickstarted a dead-horse program and created a dynasty, now that visionary is Few. All he lacks is the first championship. The son of a Presbyterian pastor from a small Oregon town, he’s the poised antithesis of the bully coach who once owned the state where Gonzaga is attempting to make history — the scowling, chair-throwing, player-choking Bob Knight, who led 32-0 Indiana to the last unbeaten championship season. Sports fans don’t know much about Few, but corporate CEOs do, venturing to the private Jesuit school to poke his brain for success secrets.
If the evolution of Gonzaga basketball was fascinating, the finished product is no miracle. This is a powerhouse that only can be described as progressive and state-of-the-art, a double-digit-victory machine featuring an NBA-style offense that averages 92 points a game and shoots 55 percent from the field. If Jalen Suggs can find Spokane, any five-star recruit can. Now, everybody knows who Gonzaga is, where Gonzaga is and what Gonzaga is. And there’s no reason one title, if it finally happens, can’t becomes two or three. Think about it. While elite programs beat up each other in the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and SEC, the Zags can keep cruising through a breezy WCC, polishing their annual pedigree for March while most of their starters stick around for three, even four years. College basketball, if you haven’t noticed, is in some deep doo-doo, with one-and-done mania soon to be crushed by a monumental NBA policy change — the best high school players will be allowed to jump directly to the league as teens. The likes of Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari, who just finished a miserable season, will have to consider The Gonzaga Way.
A perfect season would only magnify what already is clear.
“It’s hard not to think about it,” Suggs said. “But I think we’ve all done a good job of staying focused. At some point, you kind of have to acknowledge how special of a thing and how special of a ride we’re on right now. I think the best part about it is that we’re all excited. We’re all excited to keep it going.”
Some think this is the year when a newbie emerges from the periphery to reach the Final Four while throwing an elbow at COVID. Alabama or Texas, anyone? Houston or Arkansas? “Regardless of what you’re doing, you’ve got to be a little lucky,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Regardless of how much you’re washing your hands, wearing masks, practicing all the safety measures and regulations that we’ve been practicing all year long — and then you come up here at the end and something unfortunately happens. You really don’t even know where it came from and how it happened. That’s just the nature of what we’re dealing with.”
This is what I know: The pandemic champions of sports have a common component. Seasoned by years of obstacles, they’ve had a better idea of how to approach an unprecedented challenge. LeBron James, Tom Brady, Nick Saban, the Dodgers, the Lightning, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic — the best prevailed.
So why deny the obvious now?
“It’s time,” said guard Andrew Nembhard, per Sports Illustrated.
Besides, wasn’t Aloysius Gonzaga known as the patron saint who helped Romans through the plagues of the late 1500s? In a global pandemic, we’re really going to pick against a team named for a saint honored by a Spokane statue — of Aloysius carrying a sick man to a hospital? If we consider how the students have made a connection to modern-day basketball prominence — they call him “Alo-swish-us” — well, this is more than symbolism.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Has Stephen A. Smith Outgrown First Take?
“Stephen A. Smith is irreplaceable at ESPN so long as the network wants to be in the First Take business. Smith is smart enough to know that won’t be forever.”
Stephen A. Smith has clearly outgrown First Take. He’ll never say it, because he knows the brand’s success depends on him. However, one look at The Stephen A. Smith Show and it is clear, this is a guy that doesn’t need to spend weekday mornings shouting about Jalen Brunson’s effective field goal percentage anymore.
Think pieces have been written about what the podcast says about Smith’s ambitions. Plenty of radio hosts have had fun at the expense of the ESPN star’s proclivity for going off-script in ways that might make the Walt Disney Company uncomfortable. None of it has changed The Stephen A. Smith Show.
The podcast has taught us that Stephen A. Smith can pull from deep knowledge about the Pixar Cars universe, he will defend his right to use R. Kelly’s music to set the mood, and we have learned that the man loves a big ol’ butt.
AND THAT’S ALL WITHIN THE LAST MONTH!
Personally, I like this unabashedly horny, politically vague, and more well-rounded version of Smith than the one I see on ESPN. The guy yelling “How dare you” when Chris Russo tries to argue that some dude who handed the ball off 85% of the time is a better quarterback than Patrick Mahomes is not a human being. He may truly believe his point, but the conviction is goofy. The guy giving truly awful advice for microwaving fish feels real. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about but he is confident that he does.
I don’t claim to know what ESPN will or should do when Smith’s contract comes up for renewal. The First Take star has made it clear that he expects to be made the network’s highest paid talent. He’s certainly entitled to that opinion. He has the numbers to back it up, but the TV business has changed. ESPN is on its way to being a digital product, which will most certainly change its finances and priorities.
If you’re paying the $30 or $40 per month that we expect ESPN to charge for its a la carte service, you’re not doing it for First Take. You’re not doing it for PTI or The Pat McAfee Show either. It’s all about the games. They are and will always be ESPN’s most valuable asset. I would imagine that in the coming years, the network will take a hard look at just how much anything else is actually worth.
Who from the “embrace debate” universe has crossover appeal? Probably no one. Games attract a large audience. Sports talk? That’s more of a niche.
Everyone reading this has a very distinct feeling about Skip Bayless. Most of the world doesn’t though. Bayless has leaned hard into the act. It’s important to him to put on the best sports debate show TV has to offer. That’s a perfectly admirable goal, but the ceiling is pretty low.
Most people aren’t going to go looking for something like that. If Bayless ever wants out of FS1, his options would be limited at best and possibly non-existent at worst.
Stephen A. Smith has big ambitions. He wants to act. He wants to host shows outside of the sports realm. He wants to produce. He may want to run for office. If ESPN determines it doesn’t need to pay over $10 million per year for the star of a show that is largely consumed on mute in airport bars, then he needs to prove he can do those things at a level that gets him paid.
Most of the comments about Smith’s podcast have to do with what it could make him in the eyes of ESPN. I think it is important to consider that as ESPN evolves, maybe no single show or talent will be particularly valuable to the network, at least not to the tune that it currently is. So we have to look at Smith explaining how to skirt the issue of lying to date about how well you can cook differently.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I read Brian Stelter’s Network of Lies, which is about the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News and the network firing Tucker Carlson. No matter how you feel politically, I recommend it, because it gives some great insight into how a network built on talking head shows operates.
At Fox News, where every host has the same opinions, the network is the star. Sure, people rise up and gain a following, but Stelter points out all of the presumed stars that have not hurt Fox by leaving and he theorizes Carlson will eventually be one of them.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I listen to Smith shout that he just needs a woman “to be a solid 7.” Has he read Network of Lies? Smith is friends with Sean Hannity. Has he had conversations about how valuable an opinionist is when he only preaches to those already converted?
Stephen A. Smith is irreplaceable at ESPN so long as the network wants to be in the First Take business. Smith is smart enough to know that won’t be forever. Even if ratings for the show never slip, changing economics could force the network’s hand at some point.
That is why Stephen A. Smith wants you to know how he feels about big, juicy booties. Maybe sports talk on television will have less value amidst television evolution, but talent that can entertain and make an audience pay attention never will. Smith is betting that he can make you care about what he has to say regardless of what he is talking about.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
Steve Czaban is Helping Mold Sports Radio’s Future at 97.3 The Game
“I’ve seen some really messed up stuff but I’ve seen good stuff as well and I’ve seen good stories. I just try to lend that perspective…”
After a long run in Washington, DC, Steve Czaban made the move in May 2019 to host the morning show on 97.3 The Game in Milwaukee. Being part of the Milwaukee/Wisconsin market was nothing new to Czaban as he held down a 30 to 45-minute feature on “Bob and Brian”, the number one FM show in the market for almost a quarter of a century.
The show became so successful that Czaban signed a contract extension in April of 2022 and the show continues to soar.
“The show has gone great,” said Czaban. “We’re double the nearest sports radio competitor in town and we’re top five target demographic in men 25-54. I really have been loving it. It’s the best group of guys and just vibe that I’ve had a sports radio station pretty much in my career. It’s been a very good situation for me.”
It’s not easy for a talk show host to transition to another market because you really have to have an intimate knowledge on the teams, the players and the fans in a town in order to have a fighting chance to be successful. When Czaban made the move from DC to Milwaukee, the experience of dabbling in the market certainly helped him to talk about everything Packers, Bucks, Brewers and Wisconsin sports, but it’s not something that comes easy.
In fact, he wonders how other people can do it.
“I didn’t go into it cold,” said Czaban. “I think if anyone in our business goes into a market cold, I don’t know how you do it because you just have to have a certain base of historic knowledge of this player, this team, this game, this moment and this incident to call upon to at least be fluent in the language of the local sports market.”
So, in order to have that fluency in a new market, you have to literally channel your inner Rodney Dangerfield and go “Back to School” and that means doing your homework to get you ready for your new gig. You don’t just bag your bags, move to a new city, turn on the microphone and talk about the teams in town without knowing what you’re talking about.
Steve Czaban says there is a textbook for what to do, but it’s certainly a challenge.
“The advice would be if you’re a host and you’re entering a new market and you don’t really have any connection or history, then I would absolutely do a cram session,” said Czaban. “Every night, flash cards, reading everything, watching YouTube highlights and at least for the first six months if now a year, make sure to tread lightly because there’s a good chance you’re going to walk into a rake if you start talking about “they should never have traded so and so.” Well, there’s more to it.”
Czaban has spent his career trying to help young talent break into the industry and grow. He’s had a knack for bringing new people along and educating them on the business and the highs and lows that come with it.
Sort of like a head coach developing quality assists who go on to become head coaches themselves.
“I don’t know what kind of a coaching tree I have,” said Czaban. “But I do make sure to try to explain to the younger people around me like my producers and what not because I’ve seen so much in the industry. I’ve seen some really messed up stuff but I’ve seen good stuff as well and I’ve seen good stories. I just try to lend that perspective of having been in the circus for 30 plus years.”
Many of those years were spent as a host in Washington DC, Czaban certainly spent a lot of time talking about Washington Redskins/Football Team/Commanders owner Dan Snyder had his part in the fall of the once-proud franchise. He still has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in DC and how the sale of the team from Snyder to a group owned by Josh Harris had an affect on sports radio in Washington
Czaban says the sale and the fan reaction had a huge impact in a positive way.
“They definitely had a surge,” said Czaban. “I was very happy for everybody still on the air doing sports radio day to day at seeing the bad man run out of town who wrecked the franchise, lost the team, name, logo and soon to be history that he was finally gone. I think it was definitely good but now with the Commanders being so bad, there’s hope with a new owner but there’s a lot of cleaning out that has to be done first. I think the guys on sports radio are going to be very busy this next year or two.”
Transitioning to full-time hosting duties in Milwaukee a few years ago, Czaban saw the Aaron Rodgers era with the Packers wind down. After the Packers traded Rodgers to the Jets this past off-season, the keys to the offense were transferred over to Jordan Love. While there were some growing pains inside Lambeau Field at the start of the season, the Packers have rebounded.
Not everyone in town thought it was going to happen and some hosts patience ran thin…but not Czaban. He had gone through too many lost seasons in Washington to realize that you just can’t throw in the towel until a season is done.
“There were guys on my show and on other shows (when the Packers were) at 2-5 they were like “season is over, they’re going nowhere” and they were event talking about draft position,” said Czaban. “I was the only guy saying whoa the season can be over when it’s over. We have all the time in the world for that but it’s not over now. Now, I kind of look pretty smart.”
Steve Czaban also looks very intelligent for being able to do something that not many people in the sports radio industry can do. He was successful in one market for a very long time and has made the transition to a new market and is, once again, having success with a tremendous sports talk show.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at [email protected].
Brian Murphy is Preparing to Write His Next Chapter at KNBR After Layoffs Ended ‘Murph and Mac’
“I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”
After the morning show signed off at KNBR last Wednesday, co-host Brian Murphy was called into a meeting with Cumulus Media market manager Larry Blumhagen. Although there had been signs of potential changes, Murphy had partnered with Paul McCaffrey for nearly 18 years and survived all of the turmoil.
A simple look around the building represented proof of an alteration, evinced by reductions in the number of stations under its roof. A once powerful news station, KGO-AM, underwent a sudden format flip last year after nearly a century on the air. A few years earlier, alternative rock station KFOG was eliminated from the company’s portfolio as well. KNBR has weathered the storms, but not without alterations to the station’s programming department.
“I would say everything has shrunk,” Murphy expressed, “and that includes sending us on road trips or to Super Bowls, etc.”
Layoffs have reemphasized the importance of the quantitative bottom line, sometimes overshadowing the qualitative utility and widespread impact derived from talent and popular shows. It is partially why the deluge of palpable support after Murphy learned in a short meeting that McCaffrey was being laid off was surprising and reinvigorating. But first came an immediate, jarring feeling surrounding the decision.
“Truthfully numb,” Murphy said regarding his sentiment after learning what happened. “I guess it’s a cliché to say that people go into shock, but to know that Paulie and I wouldn’t be together was something that didn’t register. I mean, it registered, but it didn’t register until fully; the next 48 hours is when it really started to really hit.”
McCaffrey was one of seven laid off at KNBR that day. Morning show producer Erik Engle, former programmer Lee Hammer, host F.P. Santangelo and members of the outlet’s digital department lost their jobs as well. Even the long-running KNBR Tonight evening show, which aired for decades was canceled, and replaced with CBS Sports Radio programming. While Murphy always hoped that the morning show would continue in the iteration before the end of his contract, he is now facing a new reality without his longtime colleagues.
“I think what we were disappointed by was sort of an abrupt and premature end, particularly to our partnership, which I think we’ve learned from an incredible outpouring of social media is way more than we knew,” Murphy said. “We learned our partnership for whatever reason connected to a lot of people for a long time. It’s funny they say radio is dying, but radio sure is personal and effective in many ways baked on what we’re hearing from our listeners.”
During the next two days, Murphy was off the air and contemplating his future. There were moments where he thought about leaving KNBR. However, he knew that he had a contract to fulfill and a family to support. Additionally, the person that he was set to work with on Monday and beyond – Markus Boucher – had contributed to the morning show for nearly four years, rendering familiarity and comfortability.
“There’s a chance that Markus and I could do this for a long time; we’ll see how it goes,” Murphy said. “Maybe things go great and that would be awesome, and I’m definitely leaving that door open. For whatever reason, we recover from the pain of losing my partner for almost two decades and the next chapter works out.”
In 2023, KNBR has experienced two subpar quarterly ratings books. The decrease in performance has affected all dayparts on the outlet. Murphy knows that when the San Francisco Giants do well, it generally leads to KNBR succeeding. The station did improve in its summer and fall books for 2023, but there already were repercussions being felt.
“I just know that that happened and it damaged people’s perception of the station, but I don’t think it was an accurate reflection of all of our listenership at all; I just don’t,” Murphy said. “I know for a fact that we still had a huge audience, and it’s evident by what happened after the news; just so many people reacted and people in the demo too.”
Even though he knows it does not directly relate to his role as an on-air host, Murphy believes that the local advertising market was damaged because of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the city. San Francisco was one of several major metroplexes that instituted strict health and safety protocols in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which had an effect on sports talk radio consumption. With more people working remotely and fewer people commuting to the office, the transition to digital content and audio on-demand offerings has hastened in order to realize previous levels of engagement and keep the format alive.
“KNBR is going to have to weather this storm,” Murphy said, “and there’s this feeling of, I don’t want to say, ‘This too shall pass,’ or, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ but you’re only as good as your next ratings book.”
The station recently held an all-staff meeting to discuss its direction, which has been somewhat complicated by three program directors at the outlet over the last five years. Following the departures of Jeremiah Crowe and Kevin Graham, Adam Copeland took over the responsibilities last month. The layoffs took place two weeks into his tenure, causing some people to question how involved he was in the decisions and whether or not he advocated for the morning show.
“I think these things come from beyond San Francisco,” Murphy said. “Our headquarters are in Atlanta, and I think something this big – like I said, it wasn’t just Paulie Mac; it was seven people. Paulie Mac is personal for me, but that to me says, ‘Well, that’s obviously a big budget decision that’s being made at a level far above the San Francisco program director.’”
Although Copeland has minimal previous experience as a program director, Murphy is confident that he will be able to effectively lead the station through his energy, youth and passion for the medium. Copeland grew up listening to KNBR and worked at the station over the last several years as a producer and host, eventually earning a spot in afternoons alongside Tom Tolbert. Copeland remains in that time slot, pulling double duty for the radio station. His relatability and familiarity with the craft is something that Murphy views as an advantage.
“I think people are pretty excited that we have somebody who cares as much as Adam Copeland does about KNBR,” Murphy said, “I think if there’s anything to be optimistic about in 2024 that despite this ending to 2023, it’s that we have a program director who’s all-in on the station.”
Thinking about what comes beyond the immediate future though is not within Murphy’s mindset. At the moment, he feels it is too soon to determine if there will be a potential Murph & Mac reunion on a digital platform. Instead, he is focused on being able to continue to serve San Francisco sports fans without his longtime on-air partner. Murphy realizes how fortunate he was to have someone like McCaffrey by his side and valued both his consistency and dependability on a daily basis.
“Every single segment he was the same energetic, relentless, hilarious partner who only wanted what was good for the show – not what was good for him; not what was good for me – he only wanted what was good for the show,” Murphy said, “and it was such a lesson for this newspaper guy to learn, for lack of a better word, showbusiness.”
When Murphy entered the studio Monday to host his first show without McCaffrey, everything felt surreal to him on the air. There was ostensible tension in the room and from listeners about how he would address the news, and share his feelings with the audience. The program ended with a monologue from Murphy regarding McCaffrey, something that he is grateful Boucher did not raise objection to and that he was able to make his statement on the air.
“The 49ers had just destroyed the Philadelphia Eagles, which actually was a huge positive break for us because it allowed everything to happen Monday with the backdrop of great positivity because that was a huge game for the Niners and people were pretty jacked up about that game,” Murphy said. “So I opened the show by saying, ‘I know it’s corny, but that one was for Paulie.’”
The shock and surprise from McCaffrey being laid off is hardly evanescent, but Murphy is now thinking about how to optimize the morning program with Boucher. Predicting what may come next is an arduous task. Murphy considers himself fortunate to have had nearly 18 years hosting with McCaffrey, and he is now thinking about the next chapter of his time at KNBR while having reference for the enduring legacy of Murph & Mac.
“For whatever reason, I’ve never lost my absolute joy and passion for the sports world – sports content; sports stories; sports history; sports media – everything about it,” Murphy said. “And so every morning when my alarm goes off and my feet hit the floor, I’m like, ‘Let’s go! I’m stealing money. This isn’t work.’”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
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