Do you remember Ben Zobrist? The utility baseball player was a Swiss Army knife — second baseman, outfielder, switch-hitter — most notably for the Royals and Cubs during his career. The guy practically sold hot dogs and handed out cotton candy as well.
In many ways, Chris Plank is the Zobrist of sports radio. Plank hosts multiple national shows, a local show in Oklahoma, broadcasts OU softball and volleyball games, and was also a program director. The only thing missing from his credentials is International Man of Mystery or 007.
Plank’s versatility has made him valuable to numerous companies throughout his career. Broadcasters that accumulate so much time behind the mic usually have interesting observations and great stories. Plank is no exception. He talks about Oklahoma’s shift to the SEC, his most challenging role, the point when he thought he made it in the industry, and the partner that makes him want to quit radio. It’s easy to feel Plank’s passion for broadcasting when you hear him. Reading the conversation below is no different. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What has local sports radio been like ever since Oklahoma announced that it’s heading to the SEC?
Chris Plank: Oh, it’s been wild. I know you work with Tyler McComas. We were putting together a piece on SEC expansion for a magazine we write for. He gave me a quote where it was one of the most exhilarating feelings whenever you realized this was really happening. We have probably spent the better part of like 15 years talking about conference realignment. Is the Big 12 going to expand? Is the Big 12 going to survive? Where is Texas A&M going? What’s up with Nebraska? This has been a regular topic of conversation forever.
When you realize that this is legit, that this is really happening, it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s been exciting. In my state in Oklahoma, it’s been very combative. Oklahoma State fans are pissed and understandably so. Oklahoma State has a lot to provide and always wants to talk about hey, we don’t need Oklahoma. But then when push came to shove they realized wait, you did this without us. So their fan base is mad. That brings in a whole different kind of angle to all of this. To see those two sides come together on social media and just clash, it has been a wild couple of weeks. We’ve spent a long time thinking we had things figured out and then boom, something hits and it’s been one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.
BN: Is it better for your local sports talk show if Oklahoma stayed on top in the Big 12, or shifts over to the SEC where who knows what happens?
CP: The complaining about not having a good conference home has always been fascinating from my seat focusing on Oklahoma a lot. And as someone who works regularly on Big 12 Radio, yeah I’m okay if they wanted to stick around for a little bit. But Joe Castiglione is the best athletic director in the game. In my role that I have with the University of Oklahoma, he has always challenged us to have a broad vision. I’m all about what’s best for the greater good. And for the greater good in this instance is the health of the University of Oklahoma.
Do I love the conference debating and things that have taken place for so long? Yeah, sure. It’s fun. But at some point the rubber has got to meet the road. I’m absolutely positively juiced about this for the future of Oklahoma. And I don’t know what it holds. You think about people that work for the Longhorn Network at Texas. What does that truly hold for them? We don’t know. What does it hold for those of us at Sooner Sports TV? You don’t know. But you’re excited for the potential of what it could mean and where it could go with the SEC. So I’m pretty juiced about it.
BN: You’ve got your local show, your national commitments, the Oklahoma stuff; what does your schedule look like during the workweek?
CP: Every day is different. I have my local show which is on at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. Outside of that I’m just picking up whatever I can get. My number one priority is the University of Oklahoma. If it’s the podcast that we put together, a TV deal that they need me to sit in on, a volleyball match that needs a play-by-play guy, that’s number one on the depth chart. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I live in Goldsby, Oklahoma, just outside of Norman, because I wanted the opportunity to do more. If you ask what the daily schedule looks like, it varies. But if you’re looking at the depth chart, that’s number one.
It’s like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes when you look down and you feel like you have too many pieces to fit in one place. It’s like jeez, there’s a SiriusXM responsibility, there’s FOX Sports Radio, you’ve got two games, your local show’s got a remote here, oh by the way there’s another game you need to add, you’ve got a TV show, and then there’s a Coach’s Corner and a practice report. How are you going to fit all of these together? It always works out. Then there’s some weeks where it’s like oh look, you’ve got your local show. [Laughs] It’s wild to think about.
I think we all want to be in that situation where we’re doing a three to four-hour show Monday through Friday and that’s it. We don’t have to worry about filling in the voids anywhere else. But I’ve got three kids; all of them are going to want to go to college at some point. I’ve got a wife that’s a stay-at-home mom whom I love very much and I want to provide for her. I can do all of my stuff from here at home for the most part. It’s a walk from my house to my garage. The easiest answer is I don’t know what my daily schedule is because it changes seemingly every single day and I love it.
BN: If you go back to the beginning of your career, how did you get into sports talk?
CP: I got out of college and I had decided that I wanted to get into TV. I couldn’t get a job. I had been an intern at a couple of places. I got a part-time job at 1430 in Tulsa. I worked at this media services place, Orca Incorporated. My boss was Harry Willis. He was a big sports fan. They had a spot open up for a producer on a morning show. I was like hey I’ll jump on and help. It was kind of non-stop from there.
We had a few issues where personnel changed, so I ended up just basically starting as a part-time board op, Brian. It led to an 18-year career at one station, which is an anomaly in this business. I’m very proud of that. I’m not saying it was always the most lucrative thing on the planet and I have an ex-wife to prove that, but it was a unique route because I went from part-time board op, to full-time co-host, to afternoon host and program director in about the span of three years. I’m 23 years old and I’m running two stations. I don’t have a clue of what I’m doing. That’s how I got in.
I was very lucky when I was in college. I went to the University of Tulsa and I worked in the sports information department. I got to know a lot of the media guys. That helped a lot. The play-by-play guy at Tulsa had just started, Bruce Howard, and he’s been a lifelong friend and mentor to me. It’s been wild to think about that time — we’re talking ‘97 here — the thing was you’re going to go to Bozeman, Montana and then you’re going to go maybe Sacramento, and then if you’re lucky you could end up in St. Louis. I was prepared for that path, but it just never really materialized. I fell in love with radio and thankfully it got me to where I am today, which is finally making enough money at 46 to keep my head above water. Barely.
BN: When did you feel like you had made it in radio?
CP: In ’07 I got a divorce. I realized, all right I’m going to have to do something more than being the afternoon host on 1430. There was a guy named Andrew Ashwood who worked at FOX Sports Radio. He had helped me out with a few things because I needed some advice on a guest or something. I said listen, I’m thinking about sending out these CDs, will you listen to it and tell me what you think? He called me back and he was like do you want to fill in on Saturday night? I don’t even know what that means but okay. I have no idea.
I ended up filling in in like ‘07. It took off from there. I ended up doing what was The Third Shift, which was 1-5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. Ben Maller was doing the weekends. I think Jorge Sedano had just taken off for ESPN. They moved Ben to the weeks and I did the weekends. Somewhere in there they had a massive bottom fallout in radio. I want to say it was like ’08, somewhere around there. And everyone was gone. The whole thing changed. At that point I felt like I had made it. I’m doing national shows. I’m making good money. It’s on top of what I’m doing locally. Everyone locally is happy. That was a moment I thought I had made it.
BN: What led to you doing sidelines during Oklahoma football games?
CP: It was perfect because in 2011 the play-by-play voice for Oklahoma retired. Bob Barry was a longtime, legendary play-by-play voice. I had done some fill-ins. I did a basketball game on New Year’s Eve in like 2009 when Tiny Gallon broke a backboard. When he retired they moved Toby Rowland, who was the sideline guy, up to the booth. I happened to mention hey, if you need someone to fill in for the spring game, I’d love to do it. The station I was at in Tulsa was an affiliate with Oklahoma. So they’re like yeah, go for it. Let’s do it.
It’s still one of the wildest things because I hadn’t met Toby once. We did that one game together and you knew it clicked. You just knew that this can work. If you guys will have me and if I can do what you want, I have no problem driving back and forth. So my station was all about it, thankfully. I would just get in our station van and I would drive back and forth every Saturday from Tulsa to Norman. If we had a road trip, I’d catch a flight in Oklahoma City and go to wherever they were. That’s how that relationship started.
BN: When you think of your entire career, what would you say was initially the most challenging role you’ve had?
CP: Husband, dad. The balance of it. I don’t have a good balance, bro. I don’t. I struggle with it till today. I was thinking about this a lot the other day because my wife and I have been in a fight about me wanting to add stuff to my local show. My point is you don’t ever want to be typecast. You don’t just want to be the fill-in guy. You want to do enough in those moments to where you wow. It’s like damn man, I heard Chris Plank on the other night with Brian Noe, they’re freakin’ awesome. They can do our drive-time or our morning show. That was great stuff. For me you never know when that moment is going to come and they might hear you. So you have to take everything you possibly can and show that you can be versatile. I don’t want to be typecast as just a college football guy. There’s so much more to me and to sports. That’s been my challenge.
I’m very lucky that I have a very understanding wife. I have two kids that get it. We’re sitting here in my home studio and my seven-year-old will come out here every now and then and sit and wait for me to go to a commercial break to talk. That’s been the hardest thing for me in the real world is just that balance. I then stop and I pause and I’m like damn, what a great problem to have to where you’re trying to balance when can I do a fill-in, when should I do a fill-in. Ninety-nine percent of the time you ask me, I’m in. The only time I’m not is if there’s an OU event in the way.
I’ve got a son that’s a senior in high school this year. He’s going into his senior year in high school and I’m like what? I know that I just blinked and he went from being a little kid that was running around the studio breaking my partner’s bobblehead doll that I couldn’t replace, to being a senior in high school. I don’t want that same thing to happen with my two girls. It’s tough. There are no guarantees in this. Even if you have a contract, that thing can blow up in a heartbeat. That’s been one of the hardest things for me; that balance has been the biggest thing for me, man. It’s tough.
BN: What other job could you see yourself having the same passion for if not the radio stuff?
CP: It’s funny, I was thinking a lot about how I compartmentalize things. I can remember being so broke early in the days having to go to a remote and stop in my truck and having to scrounge in the seat cushions to see if there was enough change to get gas. I remember seeing those little signs on the side of the road that were like earn $50,000 by calling this number. I’d call that number and the next thing you know I’m an hour into a pyramid scheme pitch. All these things that if I didn’t love sports and I didn’t love radio so much, I probably could’ve put myself in a position with a media services place that I started with, or a marketing department somewhere.
My first father-in-law, which sounds so weird to say, he was the Executive Vice President at Merrill Lynch. I probably could have said hey Bill, I want to follow in your footsteps. I could’ve done that. But I like the pain of not knowing if I was going to be able to work the next day because I was going to get fired. I got really lucky that I got some of the breaks that I did and I hope that I’ve taken advantage of them. It’s been fun, but you’re right, I’m 46 now, nothing is guaranteed, but if all of this is to fall apart I’m like gosh, am I going to be a farmer? What am I going to do? I have no idea what I would do if everyone just says all right, we’re done with sports, we’re not doing this anymore. No clue.
BN: What it’s like to work with Arnie Spanier?
CP: There are a lot of different layers to that. There are moments when it’s really awesome because Arnie is not afraid to be the bad guy. I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but there are also times where working with Arnie makes me want to quit radio. And I’m not even kidding. I fought with him for three years about Tom Brady. I’m like, Arnie, Tom Brady’s not done. He’s a good quarterback. Every year, ‘Tom Brady’s old. He should move on. The Patriots stink. They’re done. They’re finished.’ Every Sunday it was a fight. Then all of a sudden last year after the midpoint of the season, suddenly Arnie’s like well they have Tom Brady so they’re the best team. I’m like we spent years fighting about this and all of a sudden you do a 180 and it’s his brilliant idea that he came up with. Never acknowledging anything, anything, that had taken place before. It’s funny because there are enough people that catch on and are like did that just happened?
Arnie likes to take the team that everyone is saying great things about and find something wrong with them. That’s fine because I’m the complete opposite. It’s great and it’s enraging sometimes because he wants to act like he takes himself so seriously when he really doesn’t. I think that’s one of the best parts of him. He’ll be the first guy to text you when your team loses and the last guy to text you when they win. That’s Arnie for me but I love working with the guy. It’s been really fun. It’s been really eye-opening. I grew up listening to Arnie Spanier. When I started in radio he was the evening host on One on One Sports with Papa Joe Chevalier and you, at 800-777-2-907. So it’s been fun for me. He’s a blast. He’s become a true friend.
BN: When you look at the next 5-10 years, do you have any specific goals that you want to accomplish?
CP: Sure, yeah. I would like to get to the point where I can take a couple of weekends off and not be worried about it. I want to get to the point, and my wife always jokes with me about it, to where I could say hey Scott, listen man, I got my kids this weekend and I just want to spend a Sunday night with them. But I can’t allow myself to do that. Am I worried I’m going to get fired? I don’t know, maybe. But that’s more of a me issue. I have FOMO bad, a fear of missing out. I would like to keep all the jobs that I have. [Laughs] I would like to still be the Oklahoma Sooner utility guy to where if I’m not doing sidelines for football, I’m doing play-by-play for softball. I would like to see that roll continue to grow and expand. I would love to have my local show get to a point to where it’s grown. If that’s through affiliates, if that’s through ratings, sponsorships, whatever.
But more than anything else, Brian, I know this is going to sound so corny, first I want to lose 20 pounds, and then I want to keep loving what I do. I don’t ever want there to be a point to where I’m on the air and I’m like is this thing almost over? And we’re all going to have those. There can be some times when you’re filling in for Ben Maller, and it’s 4:30 in the morning, and you’re like oh gosh, I’ve got two more segments. I never want to have that to where it’s 11:30 a.m., and I’ve got another 30 minutes left in my show, and I’m saying I want to go home or I want to be somewhere else. I want that passion to continue to burn bright because it is right now. That’s the most important thing to me.
Tricia Whitaker Will Find The Story That Matters
“My role is to really bring the viewers down to that level of the dugout and into the clubhouse.”
When St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run in his final season in the majors last September, the baseball world erupted in mass jubilation. Although the milestone achievement occurred during a road game, the fans still showered one of the sport’s quintessential athletes with praise as they witnessed the fourth player enter this exclusive pinnacle of power hitters. For fans watching from afar, they were treated with crisp, vivid footage of the moment since the matchup was exclusive to Apple TV+ as a part of its Friday Night Baseball slate of games.
The game broadcast featured field reporter Tricia Whitaker, who had just joined the Apple TV+ presentations to begin the second half of the season. Being there as one of the voices tasked with keeping viewers informed and captivated by the action was a special experience that she will never forget.
“You’re talking about the best cameras in the entire world capturing one of the most iconic players ever,” Whitaker said. “I thought the call was amazing; I thought the quality of the shots was amazing [and] I’l never forget that broadcast, ever, because it was so cool.”
Whitaker grew up in Bloomington, Ind. and would journey to Wrigley Field with her father once per summer to watch the Chicago Cubs. Through those games, she realized that a ballpark was her ideal future workplace.
“We just didn’t have a ton of money, [so] I would sit in the nosebleeds with him once a summer and that was the biggest treat in the world,” Whitaker said. “I just realized that I loved telling stories and I loved sports, so I decided to do that.”
Whitaker’s journey in the industry genuinely began as an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington where she adopted a mindset to seize any opportunities offered to her. Despite having no knowledge or previous reporting experience, she accepted a role to cover a tennis match and quickly started preparing. After one of her professors saw her nascent media acumen, they recommended she audition for the university’s student television station to hone her skills. Whitaker earned a spot and began covering Indiana Hoosiers basketball and football for the show Hoosier Sports Night. From there, she simply kept on accepting anything in her purview.
“Your best asset is your availability, so I basically just said ‘Yes’ to everything,” Whitaker articulated.
Once it became time to search for a full-time position, her experience and tenacity helped her land a role at WBAY-TV in Green Bay as a sports reporter and anchor. After two football seasons working there, Whitaker relocated closer to home to report for WTTV-TV Channel 4 in Indianapolis. The time was valuable for her to cultivate new relationships with those around the industry while strengthening existing ones, serving as a foundational aspect of her reporting.
“If they don’t trust you to tell their stories, they’re not going to talk to you,” Whitaker said. “You have to be able to have a good relationship with the players; with the coaches and everybody involved.”
At the same time, Whitaker felt compelled to make a lasting contribution to Indiana University through teaching and inspiring the next generation of journalists. She is now an adjunct professor for the IU Media School and wants her students to know how integral it is to make themselves available while being open and willing to try new things to make inroads into the profession.
“There’s always a story to be told, so even if it’s a random event that you don’t think anyone’s paying attention to, there’s people there; there’s human stories and their stories matter,” Whitaker said. “That’s what I always try to tell my students is [to] just find that story that makes people interested in it and find that story that matters.”
Over the years working in these dual roles, Whitaker became more skilled in her position and proceeded to audition to join the Tampa Bay Rays’ broadcast crew on Bally Sports Sun as a field reporter. When she received news that she had landed the coveted job, she remembers starting to cry in her closet while trying to organize her clothes. After all, Whitaker had just learned that she would get to perform the role she idolized when she was young. The access her role gives her to the players and coaches on the field is not taken for granted.
“I’ll interview hitting coaches about a guy’s hands and where they’ve moved and about his stance,” Whitaker said. “….In the next hit, I’ll tell a story about a guy who drinks a smoothie every day before the game and he feels [that] putting spinach in it has really made a difference or something like that. My reporting style is pretty much all of it, but I do like to do the human interest stories more than I like to do anything else because I think that’s unique.”
After each Rays win, Whitaker takes the field and interviews one of the players on the team. Earlier in the season, she remembers speaking with Rays outfielder Jose Siri after he drove in three runs against the Detroit Tigers; however, the broadcast was not on Bally Sports Sun. Instead, she was doing the interview for Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+, a national broadcast property the company pays MLB an estimated $85 million annually to carry. Going into the interview, Whitaker knew that she would need to appeal to more than just Rays fans and appropriately started the conversation by asking about the game.
Yet she also knew that it was “Salsa Night” at Comerica Park in Detroit and thanks to her work with the regional network, was cognizant of the fact that Siri likes to dance in the dugout. As a result, she concluded the interview with a request for Siri to demonstrate his salsa dancing skills, something that made an ordinary conversation stand out.
“I tried to personalize it a little bit to help people get to know Jose Siri a little bit better because I think that’s important,” Whitaker said. “….You make sure you talk about baseball, but then you add a little flair to it; add a little personality to it. Everybody loves salsa, right?”
The Apple broadcasts require Whitaker to prepare as she executes her role with the Rays, keeping her wholly invested and consumed by baseball. There are occasions where she is afforded the luxury of reporting on Rays games for her Friday night assignment, but they are rare. Therefore, she needs to become familiar with two teams by reviewing statistics, reading local reporting and conversing with those involved. She keeps her notes on her cell phone and makes lists of what she is going to do during the day to keep herself organized and focused.
Throughout the week, Whitaker actively prepares for the Friday night matchup and meets with her producer to contribute her ideas and learn about the macro vision of the broadcast. The Apple broadcast, aside from using high-caliber technology, also regularly equips microphones to place on players that allow viewers to hear what is transpiring on the field. Whitaker, along with play-by-play announcer Alex Faust and color commentator Ryan Spilborghs, coordinate with the production team throughout the game to present an insightful and compelling final product.
There was criticism of the Apple TV+ live game baseball broadcasts during its inaugural season, but the noise continues to diminish in its sophomore campaign. Whitaker views her role as accruing a confluence of stories about the game and more insightful looks at the personalities on the field. Before each contest, she interviews a player in the dugout and asks questions that put the season in context, granting a comprehensive understanding about a subset of their journey.
“We try to get their thoughts on the season so far at the plate, but also try to get to know them on a personal level,” Whitaker said. “My role is to really bring the viewers down to that level of the dugout and into the clubhouse.”
It is considerably more facile to execute such a task before the game than it is during gameplay because of the introduction of the pitch clock. While it has undoubtedly sped up the game and made the product more appealing for fans of all ages, its actualization threatened the viability of unique aspects of baseball broadcasts. The Apple TV+ crew may work together once per week, but over a 162-game season spanning parts of seven months, there is a perdurable bond and unyielding chemistry evident therein.
“Everybody on that crew – and I seriously mean this – is so supportive no matter who you are as long as you do your job well,” Whitaker said. “They don’t even think about the fact that I’m a female in sports [and] they just support me. They help me take constructive criticism because they care and because they truly see me as an equal.”
Whitaker has had the chance to report from Wrigley Field with Apple TV+ and vividly remembers her experience of stepping inside as a media member for the first time. It was a surreal full-circle moment that has been the result of years of determination and persistence to make it to the major leagues.
“I walked into Wrigley and I started to tear up because I remember when my dad and I used to go there and I was 12 years old,” Whitaker stated. “If you would have told me at 12 years old [that] I would be doing a national game at Wrigley, I would have told you [that] you were lying because I just wouldn’t have thought that was a possibility.”
Although Whitaker is receptive to potentially hosting regular sports programming in the future, she has found the joy in her roles with both the Tampa Bay Rays and Apple TV+. Being able to experience historic moments, including Pujols’ milestone home run, and then diving deeper into the situation makes the countless flights, hotel stays and lack of a genuine respite worthwhile. She hopes to continue seamlessly fulfilling her responsibility this Friday night when the New York Mets face the Philadelphia Phillies at 6:30 p.m. EST/3:30 p.m. PST, exclusively on Apple TV+.
“There’s always a story to be told, and if you’re good at your job, you’re going to find that story even on a day where you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, there’s nothing going on,’” Whitaker said. “I take that pretty seriously.”
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.
Radio Advertising Can be the Secret Weapon For In-House Digital Marketers
“The trend of businesses gaining digital marketing proficiency presents a unique opportunity for YOU.”
Remember when in-house marketers were primarily focused on traditional media and needed help navigating the digital and social media landscape? Well, the tables are turning!
The rise of digital-savvy in-house marketers is opening up exciting opportunities for radio ad salespeople. As local businesses increasingly invest in digital marketing, some are finding they need your expertise in radio advertising.
Borrell Associates has released their latest Business Barometer, and included in the findings was a slight but noticeable shift favoring traditional forms of broadcast media. Let’s dive into how sports and news radio ad salespeople can leverage this shift to target businesses with proficient digital marketing people on board who may need to know more about the potential of radio advertising.
1. Digital-Marketing Trending UP!
Borrell Associates’ recent findings indicate that businesses are increasingly proficient in digital marketing. They are adeptly managing their websites and social media channels, driving results through online campaigns. However, this digital surge doesn’t necessarily translate to expertise in traditional media, such as radio. Hey, do you know a business like that? And make sure you know of an outsourced digital agency you can refer who can handle your clients’ digital and social media for very few dollars. You can help manage the rest of the budget!
2. Target In-House Buyers
Make a list of businesses you know that have in-house people who are digital-oriented or younger owners who handle mostly digital advertising independently. Or, how about the in-house marketing person who only takes on marketing initiatives like events or sales promotion and knows nothing about advertising? Get ’em!
3. We create demand
One of the unique selling points of radio is its ability to generate demand and send more customers to Google or your client’s website. Digital marketing can often direct buyers seeking a specific purchase but can’t create lasting impressions and build demand and loyalty like your station. Use this advantage to demonstrate how radio can reinforce the brand story and enhance the effectiveness of digital campaigns.
4. Surround the listener
Recognize that businesses with digital marketing expertise may want holistic solutions. Sell packages that combine digital and radio advertising. Include your streaming endorsements with social media and geo-fencing. They get it and will be impressed with reaching their target audience across multiple touchpoints.
5. Be the Teacher
Your prospects may be experts in digital marketing, but they might not fully understand the potential of radio advertising. Take on the role of an educator. Provide resources, case studies, and success stories that showcase how your station and radio have boosted digital-savvy businesses’ results.
6. 1+1=3 for Creativity
Collaboration is key when working with clients with a digital marketing team. Involve them in the creative process of writing and producing radio ads. Creativity could be their strength, and they will bring fresh perspectives to your production.
The trend of businesses gaining digital marketing proficiency presents a unique opportunity for YOU. Maybe your client is struggling with their digital strategy. Imagine that now they may be seeking you out to help them understand what they have already read about buying radio advertising. It’s time to adapt your approach and position radio as a complementary and powerful tool in the digital marketing person toolkit.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
Bill Parcells Shaped The Media By Giving Them Hell
“Parcells doesn’t belong in a studio chatting with a quarterback. He belongs in a temper tantrum screaming at a sportswriter.”
Two of the most talked about media stories of the past couple of weeks intersect in the form of one legendary NFL head coach – Bill Parcells.
In the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ potentially season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 of the NFL season, many media pundits harkened back to 1999 when then-Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde suffered a similar injury in the first game of the season. Like Rodgers, Testaverde was a veteran signal-caller looking to bring the long-suffering Jets to a Super Bowl.
One week after Rodgers’ injury, Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was in the media mechanism for an exchange with a reporter after his club fell to 0-2. Staley took issue with a query about whether the team’s monumental playoff collapse last season versus Jacksonville has carried over to their slow start this season.
ESPN’s First Take included video of Staley’s comment on their September 19 show building it up as some rash, heated interaction between coach and press. It was not. In fact, Staley merely directly answered the question asserting this season has nothing to do with last season.
Both of these headlines find common ground in the person of Bill Parcells. Parcells was the head coach of the Jets in 1999 when Testaverde’s season ended in that fateful game vs. New England. In addition, he was notorious for some truly vitriolic run-ins with post-game reporters.
Forget about Staley or even the infamous press conference rants of Jim Mora (“Playoffs!?”), Herm Edwards (“You play to win the game!”), and Dennis Green (“Crown ‘em!”). To the media, Parcells was Armageddon, Three Mile Island, and Hurricane Katrina rolled into one. Never has there been a football character so inexplicably loved and despised.
In New England, Parcells’s arrival as head coach of the Patriots in 1993 signaled the turnaround of the franchise, but fans refuse to vote him into the team’s Hall of Fame because of his unceremonious jump from to the Jets after the 1996 season.
When that happened, Parcells again grasped the media spotlight stating, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” He was referring to new owner Bob Kraft taking final say personnel decisions away from Parcells.
Like him or not, Parcells, known as The Tuna, rejuvenated five NFL franchises. The New York Giants were a mishmash of Joe Pisarciks and Earnest Grays before Parcells turned them into two-time champions.
Patriot fans actually cheered for the likes of Hugh Millen and Eugene Chung until Parcells came to town and brought in players like Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, and Tedy Bruschi, laying the foundation for a dynasty.
And the Jets? They were living off the fumes of Joe Namath’s Brut 33 until Bill Parcells constructed a team that went from 1-15 in 1996 under Rich Kotite to 9-7 and 12-4 in 1997 and 1998 respectively with Parcells.
The Cowboys were 5-11 under Dave Campo in 2002. The next year, they went 10-6 with Parcells. Miami was 1-15 in 2007. The next year, with Parcells as executive VP of Football ops, they won the AFC East with an 11-5 record.
The Catholic church has its Apostle’s Creed. Those who follow the gospel of The Tuna have A Parcells Creed, and it goes as follows: I believe if a reporter asks Parcells if he outcoached a colleague, that reporter will be called a “dumb ass.” I believe that the media are “commies” and “subversive from within” as Parcells once labeled them.
I believe in using the media to denigrate young players to keep their egos in check. After Jets QB Glenn Foley had a solid preseason performance a few years back, the New York media surrounded the redheaded QB as if he had won the Super Bowl.
Parcells walked right in front of Foley and sarcastically asked, “Do you mind if I get past Sonny Jurgensen over here,” referring to the similarly redheaded Redskin quarterbacking legend.
In 1995, when all of New England was agog over a rookie running back named Curtis Martin, Parcells slyly commented to the press, “Well, we’re not carving his bust for Canton just yet.” And of course, there was the late Terry Glenn. When asked how the former Patriot wideout was recovering from an injury, the Tuna spouted, “She’s doing just fine.”
Parcells’ stints as a studio analyst on ESPN, although insightful, seemed out of place. He would sit there, dressed in a dark blue suit talking strategy with fellow ESPN gabber Steve Young. Honestly, he looked like a rotund funeral director searching for someone to embalm.
Parcells doesn’t belong in a studio chatting with a quarterback. He belongs in a temper tantrum screaming at a sportswriter.
I interviewed Boston media personality Steve DeOssie about Parcells. DeOssie was the defensive signal caller for the New York Giants (1989-93) when Parcells was the team’s head coach. He again played for Parcells in New England in 1994.
He told me, “Parcells realizes that the media is the enemy. Let’s face it, the media cannot do anything positive for a team, but they can put stuff out there that could lose a game. The bottom line with Parcells is whether it helps his team win.”
“He loves the camera and the camera loves him. He enjoys that part of the business. The media can spin it any way they want. Parcells does not suffer fools gladly and a lot of media types don’t like being called out in press conferences.”
Another Boston media legend also gave me his reflections of Parcells. Bob Lobel is the most revered sports anchor of all-time in New England. He stated, “I did a one-on-one interview with Parcells awhile back. He is so down to earth yet has this aura. It’s easy to be in awe of him.”
The national perspective is similar. When Troy Aikman was an analyst for FOX Sports, the current Monday Night Football color commentator credited Parcells with restacking the Cowboys’ roster and bringing winning back to Dallas.
When asked about playing for Parcells with the Jets, FS1’s Keyshawn Johnson offered, “He taught me how to do things, how to pay attention.”
Even people whom Parcells fired maintain a respect for him. Sirius NFL Radio’s Pat Kirwan was the director of player administration for the Jets when Parcells arrived in 1997.
Kirwan told me, “Parcells rebuilds a franchise from top to bottom. He evaluates everyone from the trainers to the doctors to the equipment guys. In 1997 when Bill came to the Jets, I knew I was qualified, but I also knew that Bill would let me go.”
In a September 12, 2023 story, New York Post reporter Brian Costello interviewed Parcells about the Rodgers injury.
This master of media mind games famous for the quote, “You don’t get any medal for trying,” revealed his visceral core telling Costello, “You are charged with winning games under any circumstances … They’re not canceling the games. They’re not canceling them. You’re coaching them. It’s your job to get your team ready to play to the best of their ability.”
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
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