Some people say that sports talk radio is like hanging out with others at a bar. There aren’t many hosts around the country that I’d prefer to spend time with in a bar setting more than Chris “Mac” McClain and Travis “T-Bone” Hancock. They both have a great blend. They’re opinionated without being know-it-alls. They make you laugh but also point out things that make you think. Neither carries himself like, “Don’t you know who I am?” They present themselves as if to say, “Next round’s on us.”
Their friendship and radio partnership began way back in 2005. They’ve been the morning show on WNFZ in Charlotte for 13 years now. It’s interesting how two very different radio paths still led to their successful stint that has lasted nearly two decades. The duo talks about being the constant among so much change within the building. Mac and Bone also describe how the national media drives them crazy at times, how they aren’t hillbillies from Mayberry, and the art of bagging groceries. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you guys originally from?
Chris McClain: I’m from York, Pennsylvania originally. Went to college at Towson in the Baltimore area. Bounced around in radio until I got here. I’ve been here now for, shoot, coming up on 18 years. Before that it was the normal radio thing, bouncing around. I got here in 2004, started off on the midday show and T-Bone came in as an intern a year or so after.
Travis Hancock: I’m from a small town in Connecticut called Brooklyn, Connecticut. I grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog with my dad. I certainly wanted to do it growing up. Then I ended up moving down here. I came to broadcasting school in May of 2004. In 2005, I was his intern and then two months later I was his producer and have been with him ever since. Now as a host. We’ve been in the city the same amount of years, he just got a year head start on me.
BN: Would you have ever thought you’d be together as long as you have in the same city?
CM: Hell no. I definitely wouldn’t have thought any place would have me this long. The radio business began for me in Jacksonville, Florida when the whole staff got fired one day because they switched from an all sports station. Somebody that I knew that I’d worked with in radio for years said welcome to radio. You now have officially started, you’ve been fired.
Since then I’ve been lucky to bounce a couple of times on my own but there’s no way, you know how the business is, there’s no way when you go somewhere you’re thinking oh man, I’m going to be blessed to be here for close to 20 years. Then T-Bone, I try to think about how many interns we’ve had. Some of them have actually gone on to do their own shows and really good stuff.
TH: Made a lot of money.
CM: [Laughs] And somehow Bone’s still dealing with me. We went through so many interns. He’s one of my best friends, to think we spend all this time together, to think that he ends up elevating to being the co-host of the show. He’s improved so much, grown up so much — this is kinda awkward — since we started.
TH: I wake up every day and feel more blessed by the day, as cliché as that sounds, because you get older and life happens. He moved around, he bounced around. I’ve had two jobs my whole life. I bagged groceries, went to broadcasting school, and I’ve been here ever since.
To go from intern in May to producer July 1 and to be around ever since, I skipped over so many things. I just got lucky. I’ve been blessed. The more we go along, the more grateful I am that this is not normal to have this bond for this long in one city. I never take it for granted. As I get older I really cherish it a lot more than I used to.
CM: Man, this shit is getting too sappy.
TH: It’s like a Bravo show.
BN: [Laughs] What would you say is your biggest flaw as a radio host?
CM: Probably just getting distracted in a segment. Terry Foxx, our boss, tells us about it all the time, that he can hear when he listens to me that there are eight thoughts popping into my head all at once and try to just stay on one topic. There might be another branch of this topic but don’t just all of a sudden end up back over here. That’s probably the thing because I’ve got just so many things I’m fired up about and I just want to get them all out.
I think in the past, Bone will probably admit this, like just caring too much about phone calls was an early thing for me. But Terry came in and he wanted to make it about us and our relationship on the air. I think that’s helped me as a host because I don’t think I’m so worried about I’m going to get this person mad, or I’ve got to get this person on my side. I think that’s helped me with that. Those are two things that I can admit about myself.
TH: I would say probably for me at times being too concise. I’m not long-winded naturally because my role for so long was that of a producer so I was in and out. I trained myself almost, hey one comment, you’re gone. He’s been talking to himself in a way for years. For me, I’m so used to giving the ball right back. I’m trying to learn how to wrap my mind around making the point longer. It’s not a bad thing to share it, but sometimes they want me to put a little bit more meat on the bone.
Also trying to balance out that I’ve certainly been viewed as a comedic character for a long time, a guy that chimes in with jokes. I sort of have to be more serious now in this role and not as antagonistic and just be down the middle on certain things. Adjusting from my role for 15 years as that other guy to this, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.
BN: Where are you guys with a PD because Terry Foxx is in Texas now, right?
CM: Yeah, I mean he’s still technically in charge. We’ll talk to him throughout the week, but we are in the process of hiring someone else. We’re in that transition. We’ve been dealing with a lot of transitions at FNZ.
TH: We didn’t have a PD from March of 2020 — we went through the whole pandemic without a PD.
CM: Right in the middle of the pandemic and no program director at that point.
TH: Highest ratings ever. [Laughs]
CM: Which is crazy about it. Then we get Terry in here and we’ve gone through an ownership change from Entercom to Radio One. It’s been a lot of uncertainty at the station and that’s one of the things, this team that we’ve got here, man, everybody’s done a great job. All of the shows, guys behind the scenes working their butts off despite the uncertainty.
You know how it is, Brian, in radio anything uncertain like that, we’re paranoid as radio folks anyway. Oh no, what’s going to happen? What did you hear? Then all of these different things, what’s this new boss going to think? And what about this new company? We’ve been through a lot of that stuff and I feel like everybody’s still been putting on good shows, staying focused, but it’s just been a challenge. I’ve realized everybody’s got similar stories in radio. It’s definitely a challenge.
BN: A lot has changed during your time in Charlotte [the station has been owned by CBS, Beasley, Entercom and now Radio One]. What’s it like for you guys to be the constant among so much change?
TH: You want to embrace it. I think also when there’s change whether it’s the ownership or GMs or PDs, because of our longevity and the fact that we don’t cause a lot of drama, the last person is going to tell the next guy hey, these are your guys that are the voices, your leaders, the guys who have been there through everything the last almost 20 years. The word trickles down that hey, these guys are going to do the right thing.
You embrace the fact that when there’s change, we’re going to be at the forefront of it. We’re going to do the best that we can and knowing that we’re respected by the new people most of the time, we’ll see if the next guy does or not, but you know what I mean. They went to us right away because of our longevity and as the guys who know what to do. You just learn to embrace it and adapt and keep rolling.
CM: I definitely feel lucky seeing how much has changed here, being able to be a part of all these different phases of WFNZ. I feel lucky because nothing is guaranteed in this business at all, much like life. I don’t want to do radio anywhere else either, man. That’s why if they don’t have me, it’s going to be an adjustment for me. I just love the city. It’s just perfect. I love the growth of the sports city, but it’s not the big, huge city that’s a little too crazy. It’s perfect for my family. I’m so glad it’s worked out this way for us, but it’s definitely been an entertaining ride as a station without a doubt.
TH: I wouldn’t know how to leave if I tried to leave. I wouldn’t even know what to do. I’d be like, we can leave here? I didn’t know that. I’ve been here the whole time.
CM: Go back to bagging groceries.
TH: That’s a possibility at some point though. For this article, I was the three-time employee of the month for that grocery store. So I did have success before radio.
CM: That’s big.
BN: [Laughs] That’s good, man. I caught your rant about LaMelo Ball, Mac. Building off of that, what else annoys you about the national media and how they cover Charlotte sports?
CM: Man, we very rarely matter. I hate to sound like the small-town local yokel, but Charlotte just doesn’t bring eyeballs to those talking head shows. I understand what they’re doing. Just like we have to talk about the stuff that people here are going to care about, I understand that they have to play the hits: Lakers, the Cowboys, the Yankees and all that stuff. But yeah, you heard me on that one, just trying to take something.
We finally have a nice thing. We finally have a nice thing happening with the Hornets and we finally have this kid who looks like he’s going to be a superstar in two years and they want to snatch him away. That drives me crazy.
What else gets me? I get angry about the small-town thing a lot, don’t I? The lack of airtime even when we’re good. Only Cam Newton got us airtime. I felt even when we had good teams, except in 2015 when the team was just ridiculously good, but I feel like, Bone, there was a while there where we could be good and it didn’t matter. They only wanted to talk about Cam.
TH: It feels like a lot of the national narratives don’t seem to be accurate to what we know here. We’ll hear things that don’t make sense. Shannon Sharpe and Skip going in on Michael Jordan as the GM of the Hornets. He’s never been the GM of the team, he’s been the owner. Yes, he was a guy who was hands-on for a while, but he’s not anymore for the last four or five years. I know that Michael Jordan the name for those shows is of course the marquee. I get it. But you guys are talking about the Hornets with absolutely no knowledge of anything going on.
CM: You know what else gets me too? Now he’s got me. Now we’ve opened it up.
TH: You think we’re on the air here.
CM: The whole freaking thing like we’re hillbillies. Small-town hillbillies. I get it when you’re based up in New York or in Boston, I understand that you look at Charlotte a certain way. This has been one of the fastest-growing cities around in the country for years now in terms of people migrating here. A lot of people coming from the North, by the way, Brian. They want to live down here.
It’s now a media market. The media market size is 22nd so I feel like this thing is growing and it’s no longer Mayberry. We’ve been called Mayberry by so many national media personalities. I’m not insulted by it, there’s a lot of country around here. I grew up in the country actually, but it’s like come on, this is more than that.
TH: Mayberry is actually an hour away to be real about it. So we’re not Mayberry. We’re almost ready for Major League Baseball. NBA, NFL, and soccer is doing tremendous attendance-wise. If you give us one more year, we’re getting there. When you have baseball, basketball, soccer, all that we’re going to have, that’s a real sports city. I think sometimes we don’t feel respected as one of those cities yet. We’re coming, though.
BN: As far as the future goes, what ideally would you like your future to look like over the next five, 10 years? What would make you the happiest?
CM: Getting on FM was huge for us. That had been a goal for as long as we have been at the station. Every boss that has been in charge, everybody we’ve worked with, it’s always been a mission to get that FM signal. We’ve got to tip our cap to Terry Foxx, Marsha Landess, and everybody in charge here at Radio One.
None of the other companies we worked for, and it’s been many, have ever given us that stick. So to be on 92.7 now, that was always one of my goals is I want to be a part of it when we get it. I know it might sound crazy to a lot of people in sports radio, like y’all just got on FM in a city like Charlotte? We had an FM transmitter at one point but never had a full-blown FM. Now that that one’s off the list, I just want to keep getting better at doing what we’re doing.
TH: Yeah, just keep building on what we’ve established already. I think it’s important that when a TV show or radio show goes on for a long time, you’ve got to make sure it never gets stale. It’s why TV shows don’t last unless it’s The Simpsons or something. Sitcoms and all of that, they don’t last usually past 10 years or so. It’s important for us to never get stale, always be creating new things, new characters or new forms of who we are.
We’ve never gotten stale. I think it’s important that we always will be creative and knowing we can’t do the same stuff for 20 years and keep the same people. Always be moving, always be crafty. I think that’s important for us the next couple of years.
BN: With so many ownership changes and PD changes, have you guys gotten to a point now where you feel like hey, we’re established, we feel safe, or is it still like I don’t know, man, you never know?
CM: Yeah, I mean being in radio, man, I never feel totally safe. I think you feel like you should be maybe. [Laughs] You know what I mean?
TH: He’s got a different perspective because he’s been through that before. I don’t. I just keep going about my regular day. I’m not naive to that, but I also know that we’ve established something really great here and if they end it, they end it, but it takes away nothing we’ve already done and will continue to do.
CM: You know what it is, Brian, I’ve just seen, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same sort of things personally and you’ve seen other people, I’ve seen so many rough days in buildings that I’ve worked in. I’ve seen 40 co-workers let go back at CBS SportsLine all at once. Luckily, I survived there. I saw the one I told you about earlier when it was AM 600 The Ball in Jacksonville. Man, we’ve got guys who are now all over the country. We had a really good team.
It was fun living in that city when I was young, but we had a change in ownership. Cox Broadcasting bought us out. Literally put Mickey Mouse, Disney on the air and fired the whole sports station in one day. I’ve experienced that. Then I was at XM Satellite Radio before the merger with Sirius. It was difficult trying to raise capital. I saw 100 people fired in one day and luckily I survived that one.
You see all that stuff so it’s hard to feel – you just know how the business is – it’s hard to ever feel like man, I can’t be that one day. But I know this, man, I try hard to not have that happen because this is where I want to be. This is the city I love. This is the sports town I love. So every day I’m motivated because I don’t want that to happen here.
TH: I don’t worry too much about it because I’m surprised we’re here at this point.
CM: It’s all gravy now?
TH: It’s like soccer extra time. We’re fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m just grateful to still be here and I know what we have and what’s been established. If someone doesn’t think that’s good enough, that’s on them. It doesn’t take away from the last 17 years of what we’ve done.
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
If Marty Smith doesn’t seem authentic to you, maybe it is because his version of “Southern” isn’t one you’re familiar with. Maybe it is a version of “Southern” that only exists in one dude on the entire planet.
Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
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 DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.