Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. If you’re a fan of Garth Brooks, you instantly recognize those lyrics from the song that hit No. 1 on the country music charts in 1991. The saying can mean different things for different people, but to Greg McElroy it signifies one of the best things that’s ever happened in his life.
It’s funny to think how much that saying can resonate with someone who won a state championship in high school at Southlake Carroll in north Texas, an SEC and National Championship at Alabama and then enjoyed a multi-year career in the NFL, where he left the league on his own accord. But if you knew how much he wanted the after his final season at Alabama in 2010, you’d understand.
The Campbell Trophy is essentially the academic Heisman in college football. It probably wouldn’t do much for his legacy as a quarterback at Alabama, but McElroy worked hard and really wanted to win the award. But his prayers weren’t unanswered. Instead, the trophy went to Sam Acho of Texas.
“I was very upset about it,” McElroy said. “But it led to me attending a cocktail hour after the ceremony where I spent time with Lee Fitting, Michael Fountain, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler.”
Greg McElory was surrounded by four ESPN college football brains who shared a great idea. Since Auburn and Oregon were set to play for the national championship in just a matter of days, they’d have McElroy on for a day. He had just played in an epic game against the Tigers in the Iron Bowl. Granted, McElroy was training for his upcoming NFL career in California, but he agreed to travel to Phoenix for a day to assist with college football coverage. He had no idea what it would turn into.
That day, you could see McElroy’s natural abilities as a broadcaster. So much so, that ESPN made sure that he wanted to pursue an NFL career instead of a path in broadcasting. McElroy was sure about his decision. The opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL was too good to pass up.
“I said, yeah, I want to pursue the NFL to at least scratch that itch,” McElroy said. “But it was at that moment where I thought to myself, wow, that was really fun talking about football. I’m talking about teams that I’m familiar with and I really enjoyed it. That was the moment I said, man, this might be something I would consider.”
It was the first time Greg McElroy had ever considered a career in broadcasting. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Fast forward to early 2014 and McElroy had just finished his third year in the NFL. He played his first two seasons with the New York Jets and just completed a season with the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of the practice squad. He still loved playing quarterback but a big decision loomed for him that would significantly impact his future.
The SEC Network was set to launch and McElroy was offered a chance to be a part of it. It was three years since he first realized sports media was an avenue he wanted to pursue, and being a part of a network launch was a tempting enough opportunity to leave football for. Ultimately he decided to retire from the NFL.
“Once I got my pension, I said all right, I’m done,” McElroy said. “I can grind out three or four more years or I can go do something and get started on a career that I can do for the next 30. It was a pretty easy choice for me, especially knowing that the SEC Network was getting ready to launch.”
So there he was walking away from football, with the exclusive reason of chasing an opportunity in sports media. But it wasn’t a quick or an easy decision for McElroy. In fact, it meant phone calls to Mike Slive, who was the SEC commissioner at the time, to discuss the network’s launch.
“It really came down to a conversation I had with Mike Slive,” McElroy said. “There had been other conference networks but I wasn’t sure. It was kind of a leap of faith. It was March of 2014 and he was at the SEC Basketball Tournament. I called him and I told him what I was thinking and really was asking him if the SEC Network was going to be successful. He said, ‘Greg, I promise you we’re going to do everything in our power from a conference office standpoint to make sure that this is not just successful, but the most successful launch in the history of network launches.’ And my goodness he was right. It was the best decision I ever made. I haven’t second-guessed it for a second. I’m so grateful to him for being so honest with me.”
It didn’t take long for McElroy’s career to take off. Almost instantaneously, the SEC Network was a success and he was a part of it. If you look at the talent that began at the network, it’s no surprise as to why. McElroy was surrounded by talent, with faces such as Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow and Maria Taylor.
“We had a really good group,” McElroy said. “One person I give a lot of credit to is Stephanie Druley, because of her eye for talent. What’s really great about it is everyone brought each other along. We were all very supportive, everyone was new in the industry so we were all about learning and attacking it to make it awesome. We had resources and unbelievable producers behind the scenes and it just made our lives really easy. I was told, at least by people in the industry, where you start is really what’s going to determine how you end up doing. If you’re surrounded by really good people in the beginning, you learn good habits and you learn what you’re doing, you’re likely going to have a lot of success. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have been surrounded by the people I was around.”
McElroy quickly excelled at the SEC Network and showed what everyone already knew: He was made for the business. Soon after, he was dipping into sports radio as a host on SiriusXM. Now, McElroy is an analyst for ABC/ESPN college football games on Saturday. He’s also the co-host of McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham.
Initially, McElroy may have believed his path in sports media was going to be exclusively on the TV side. But he found out he’s equally as talented as a radio host. So when it came time for JOX to replace their morning show, McElroy’s history at Alabama, combined with his abilities in sports radio made him an obvious match. It was a job he loved in a city he loved. He couldn’t turn it down for many reasons, but one important factor made the move a no-brainer.
“The biggest factor was the co-host,” McElroy said. “Cole Cubelic is a guy I have so much respect for. We almost get to the point where we compete as to who watches more tape and who’s more prepared. That’s what you want, at least, that’s what I want, a partner that I know I can’t just roll out of bed and do a show. I’m going to have to be prepared. Because if I don’t I could get embarrassed. That makes me better, that makes him better and that makes the show better.”
The second thing that made morning drive on JOX attractive was the ability to be nation-wide. McElroy quickly realized the reach the station has with the apps that bring content to football fans all over the globe. Third, was the opportunity to be a part of an extremely well-resourced team with a track record of success.
“College football is my biggest passion,” McElroy said. “I still think that the college football audience is really underserved. I’ve always felt that. I feel like there’s a thirst for college football that’s unquenchable and you’re not going to get it very many places. I feel like Cole and I can deliver a show that will be appetizing, not to just the SEC football fan, or for the Alabama or Auburn fan, but for a football fan that’s passionate about Michigan State, or a football fan who is passionate about South Carolina or even West Coast football. It doesn’t really matter, we’re going to hit at all.”
It makes sense that the guy who played quarterback at the dominant program in college football would want an opportunity to do radio at arguably the most dominant station in the Southeast. McElroy and Cubelic bring the former player side of things to the radio, but are also extremely polished in how they carry a radio show. It works. And it will continue to work for a long time.
“When I worked at SiriusXM I had great partners, like Taylor Zarzour who was awesome and I loved Danny Kannell. But when those guys were out, I’d always tell my program director to get Cole Cubelic or Tom Luginbill. It’s good because we see the game so differently. That’s what’s been so fun for me, because I’m learning something every day. When we watch film all he’s watching is the offensive line. I never watch the offensive line. My eyes gravitate to the secondary and the wide receivers and the quarterback, etc. I see it all-22 big picture and he really lives in the trenches. That’s a really good balance for us. While some people will naturally look at our allegiance with Alabama and Auburn and say, oh, that’s where they disagree, no, the way we disagree is actually literally on everything. The way we see the game is totally opposite.”
If not for the unanswered prayer of winning the Campbell Trophy, would McElroy be the media star he is today? Who knows. But there’s no doubt it put him in a position to have success after the contacts he made that evening. JOX knocked it out of the park with the pairing in the morning, but their minds are set on even bigger things in the future.
“I love the growth potential here,” said McElroy. “There’s no secret, we’re proud of where we’re at right now, but Cole and I both, and our program director Ryan Haney, we fully expect this to be the start not the end. We’re just getting started. At some point we want this to be a visual platform and we want to be accessible to people all throughout the country and that’s my plan for the show. I feel like this is the best place to try and take it to the next level.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.