July 21, 2010

Pat Haden to USC: Thoughts on the open NBC color analyst job for Notre Dame football and who might be a good choice to replace him.

Gotta start with this Pat Haden thing. As crazy as this sounds, isn’t this the second biggest story of the ND offseason besides the hiring of Brian Kelly?? A changing of the guard in the announcer booth for NBC ND home football telecasts is rarer than a new pope these days. When was the last time Haden and Hammond haven’t regularly called ND games together?? The mid-90s?? I honestly don’t remember. It is certainly far rarer to be changing announcers than coaches.

I think the second most debated topic about ND football (besides discussing the head coach) in the last ten years has been the announcers. During the season, there are minimum 2-3 lengthy threads on the various message boards about the announcers. And now we actually have an opening.

I actually liked Pat Haden. Super nice guy, extremely intelligent, about as classy as can be (uh oh, there’s that word. Maybe we need someone a little less “classssssssssssy" this time. Is Lamaar Thomas available?). I heard Haden speak at ND about 5-6 years ago and was extremely impressed. He couldn’t have been more complimentary about ND in terms of academics, culture, and tradition. Heck, it sounds like he wants to bring some of the ND culture to USC and put an end to all the renegade stuff there.

I know he went to USC, but I’m not old enough to remember him as a former Trojan quarterback. I only know him as an announcer. It’s not like he would tell a bunch of stories about his USC days during the ND telecasts. You would never even know he went to USC from listening to him.

Think about Pat Haden’s life for a second. He has probably the greatest Wikipedia page of all time. USC legend, good NFL career with the Rams, Rhodes Scholar, 25 year announcing career, big time attorney, partner at some huge private equity firm, and now AD at USC. That’s like ten different careers wrapped into one life.

I see no reason to think he won’t change the culture at USC, but what if he overdoes it and turns USC into an ND/Stanford kinda place?? Would USC fans even be happy about that?? I expect him to clean up the nonsense, make USC an actual university again for athletes and not just a football factory, and guide USC through the NCAA mess, but will that result in winning?? Would USC fans be happy to go 7-5 but be clean?? I can tell you as an ND fan that it's not all that rewarding. I'd rather win first and worry about the other stuff second.

Should be interesting to see what approach Haden takes with Lane Kiffin. Can’t imagine those two will always see eye to eye, especially since Haden didn’t hire him. Will Haden tolerate the Pete Carroll/Lane Kiffin "Wild Boys" culture? If Kiffin looks shaky in year one, is Haden going to want to get “his guy” in place?? Tough to say.

Back to the announcing though. Even though I liked Haden, I’m ok with making a clean break from the past and finding a new voice for Notre Dame football. When I hear Haden and Hammond, I immediately think of bad ND football. I think of all the USC losses and home losses to Navy and Syracuse and UConn. I think of terrible special teams and soft defense and poorly-coached teams. I think of Rickey Dobbs running wild on our defense, and Adrian Dantley’s kid. I think of the Bush Push and the 4th and 10 Leinart pass. I can’t get the past out of my mind when I hear those guys.

ND needs a new voice to represent the Brian Kelly era. Haden and Hammond have gone stale, and a new announcing team might bring some energy to the telecast. NBC owes it to ND fans to look into a new duo. Nothing against Hammond, but it’s kind of a slap in the face at this point for NBC to keep trotting Hammond out there even though ND fans are tired of him and associate his voice with bad ND football.

When is NBC going to actually invest in their product to make it a higher quality production? Just seems like NBC has been going through the motions with us for ten years. These days, they just use the NBC ND telecast to promote their Sunday Night NFL game. If they don’t care about our product, why are we even with them?? Why not just make the leap to ESPN/ABC?? Say what you want about ESPN, but at least they care about sports and a quality product. NBC treats our games like a glorified public access game. Hands down the worst run television network.

Anyway, let’s just assume that NBC sticks with Hammond because they are too cheap to push him permanently over to horse racing and decides only to replace Haden. Who are they going to hire??

Two opening thoughts:

(1) It’s a color analyst -- Can we stop with the Dick Enberg and Ron Franklin talk as a replacement for Pat Haden?? Do people not realize that those guys are play by play guys?? The open spot is for a color analyst. This is not that difficult of a concept. There is a play by play guy and a color guy. Dick Enberg is not coming in as a color guy.

Quite honestly, I’m not even sure I’d want Enberg or Franklin anymore. Both those guys have aged in dog years. I love Dick Enbeg’s pipes, but he has lost it. He can’t keep up with the game anymore. It’s fun to hear his voice at the NCAA Tournament, but then you realize quickly that he’s a shadow of his former self. It would get old over time to always hear him messing up names and failing to keep up with the action.

(2) I wouldn’t mind an ex-ND guy -- Seems like there are mixed reviews from ND fans on whether they want a former ND guy in the booth. I don’t understand this. Why not?? The telecast is “Notre Dame Football Saturday.” Don’t people already assume it’s a pro-ND telecast?? They play the fight song going into every commercial break! There is nothing neutral about it. Why not just hire an ND guy who is going to call the game as he sees it but has an affiliation with the university??

If I am going to watch the same announcing crew week after week (admittedly I’m usually in South Bend and only watch 1 or 2 home broadcasts a year), at least give me someone who is going to ride the ups and downs with me. No different than a baseball radio crew. Why is this a bad thing?? The NBC-ND relationship is very unusual in sports since we're the only college football program with our own set of announcers. Might as well get guys who are going to give you the perspective of an ND insider.

I’m not necessarily saying NBC should hire some Ron Santo type. Hire a guy who knows football and is going to do a professional job. But a guy with ND ties who wants the job shouldn’t be eliminated just because he went to ND.

Here’s how I’d break this thing down:

Godfather offers -- Superstar color guys who probably would never take the job but NBC should talk to anyway

Gary Danielson – Hands down the best color analyst in college football. Easily the most prepared and insightful guy out there. How he is not a head coach in the SEC at this point is something I have yet to figure out. He is literally calling out the play from the booth before the snap. Amazing. At the very least, some random school like Kentucky or South Carolina should bring him in as a consultant to study film and point out tendencies.

Danielson is the best in the business. Not only does he watch film like a coach would, but he’s also got a good personality. If NBC wants to get serious about college football, they should offer Danielson whatever he wants to get him in the fold. And then go to the ACC or the Big 12 and try to work out a deal to get some other college football broadcasts on NBC. With an expanded lineup, maybe NBC could talk him into coming on board.

He probably would never leave CBS though. Why would he?? He’s the top analyst for the best conference in America, and spends his fall in places like Athens and Gainesville and Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. Probably not happening.

Cris Collinsworth -- Collinsworth is to the NFL what Danielson is to college football. Another film guru who is loaded with insight. Why don’t more analysts do this stuff?? Shouldn’t all analysts be in the film room breaking it down all week?? Why do only a handful of guys do this?? Isn't this their job??

Would Collinsworth consider a double duty now that his son is a freshman safety/WR at ND?? That’s the only way I could see him doing it. If he’s already going to be in South Bend for home games, why not just do the broadcast as well??

ND guys with broadcasting experience –

Paul Hornung – On second thought, maybe not such a good idea. Best case scenario, he brings a legendary voice to ND fooball. Worst case scenario, he calls out the administration on air after a tough loss for not allowing enough black guys into the school. We can build on this! He’d be our very own Champ Kind.

Rocket Ismail -- Ehh. Nothing against Rocket, but 8 games a year as an analyst?? Just doesn’t have the broadcasting chops to do it.

Aaron Taylor -- I could be talked into Aaron Taylor. I thought he was decent at ABC. Never heard him call a game before.

Jerome Bettis -- If you’re looking for a big time personality and likeable guy, Bettis might be on the radar. Everyone likes Bettis, he has some announcing experience, and most people associate him with the NFL instead of Notre Dame. A lot of younger fans probably don’t even know he went to ND.

Is he capable of being a college guy though?? I’ve never really heard him talk much about college football. I want the next NBC guy to be someone who really embraces college football, and doesn’t feel the need to compare it to the NFL like the Fox guys did during the BCS games.

Steve Beurlein – Another name that makes a ton of sense. Former ND qb, good analyst on CBS, young guy, good personality. Would he leave CBS?? You’d have to sell him on the whole ND package, and maybe sell him on a future Notre Dame network where he could be the man.

Lou Holtz – Hear me out on this! If you toned him down, I think Lou would be great. It’s Lou Holtz!! One of the most entertaiing sports personalities of all time in college football.

I know everyone associates Lou with the Dr. Lou stuff these days, but that stuff is just an act. He’s just playing a character. ESPN wants him to be a "rah rah" over the top ND homer for ratings.

If NBC brought him in and said “Be Lou Holtz, show off all your charm, talk football, but tone it down,” I think he would do it. I think Lou could easily transition into a “real” announcer and not just a farce ESPN personality.

This has to be Lou’s swan song dream job. Lead color analyst for NBC ND football telecasts?? I would imagine Lou would do anything for that gig.

Sean Milligan – Milligan in ’10! We can do this! Why not?? Former player, current coach, still extremely popular and connected within ND football circles, does a great Bob Davie impersonation, and he’s got broadcasting chops from doing work with Mike Frank. Milligan would be a hit with ND fans.

Maybe he’d have to give up the day job (for those interested, check out the bus tours and gamewatches), but I think it could work.

Wildcards -

Jesse Palmer -- In terms of a sleeper, what about Jesse Palmer? He’s actually become a really good analyst at ESPN, and his brother played football at ND. I think he could be the next Herbstreit with a bigger platform.

Biggest concern I have is whether he’d even be interested. He’s getting more and more opportunities at ESPN, and they have three different channels and studios to showcase him. NBC would have to sell him on other opportunities in the NBC family of networks. Maybe you mix him into the NFL, The Today Show, CNBC, etc, as more of a well-rounded tv personality. Heck, he was “The Bachelor” at one point, so he’s got some mainstream appeal. Besides Kirk Herbstreit, Jesse Palmer is probably the only analyst that my wife would know.

Petros Papadakis - Never thought I would hear this name in a million years, but it seems to be popping up out of nowhere. I would have no idea who he even is other than the fact that his LA radio show is randomly on in Columbus on the same channel as the Reds games. I actually think he could be great. He’s young, he’s funny, former athlete, talks about sports like a regular guy would, and really knows college football. Plus, he already does Fox Sports Pac 10 games, so he’s capable of doing the job. Could be an interesting choice, and would be just entertaining and opinionated enough to create some buzz about the NBC telecasts.

Two concerns:

(1) He’s too abrasive for the “down in front” crowd – Petros is like the Howard Stern of sports. A little too LA, too young, and opinionated for a typical ND crowd. If he starts making cracks about ND fans or players or the ND culture, our fans would probably have a meltdown. We’re not exactly a thick-skinned fanbase. The good thing is that he’d make fun of everyone, including USC players. I’ve heard him crack on Matt Barkley enough to know that he wouldn’t shy away from anyone.

Might be too much of a loose cannon for NBC though.

(2) He’s a USC guy! - It’s one thing to not hire an ND guy, but do we have to go for another guy from our arch rival?? Even if Petros isn’t a USC homer, he’s an alum. Isn’t that sort of a slap in the face?? If you are a Michigan fan, could you imagine Chris Spielman doing every Michigan home game for the next decade?? Even if he called things down the middle (he probably would), wouldn’t it just be uncomfortable to recognize him as the voice of Micihgan football??

NBC needs to remember that its base of viewers week in and week out are ND fans. Take care of your base before you worry about appeasing the rest of the nation.

Bobby Bowden – Don’t laugh! Wouldn’t Bobby Bowden be a great announcer?? He’s a character, he’s funny, and he’s an all-time great head coach. He actually respects ND and our tradition as well. Throw in a couple “dahgummits,” and I’d be entertained. If he calls Alex Flanagan “honey,” even better. I remember Bowden showed up on College Gameday a couple years ago and was great. Maybe he’s too old now, but I’d reach out to him.

Chris Spielman – Spiels would be good as well. He has really hit his stride with Sean McDonough the last couple years. Glad that he has finally gotten away from Pam Ward. Can’t see him leaving ESPN, but maybe the set 8 game schedule with NBC would be enticing for his schedule. The NBC gig is pretty cushy. You don’t really have to do as much ND research since you see them every week, you don’t have to travel all over, and it’s only 8 games.

The Favorites --

Joe Theismann – I know that Joey T. is a polarizing figure and was an easy target to mock in his Mike Patrick-Joe Theismann-Paul McGuire ESPN Sunday night NFL days. I’m picturing him explaining to us every Saturday that he sat down with Brian Kelly the night before and had a great interview. Nobody throws out a “here’s a guy” like Joey T.

The strange thing is that I never really minded that stuff. The Joe-isms were more comical to me than annoying. Does Theismann have a massive ego?? Yes. Is he full of himself?? Yes. Does he take himself way too seriously?? Yes, but at least he’s a professional. He knows the game, he’s polished, he gives you insight, and he actually gives a crap about his craft. He has ND ties, but he won’t be a homer. Theismann has been critical of ND and our players enough times to make me think he would just call the game (but also add perspective based on his ND ties).

I actually think the 4-5 year sabbatical Theismann has taken from the public spotlight could sort of ease the path to get him back into broadcasting. A fresh start on NBC might be a good thing.

Am I way off on this?? Is Theismann just a terrible idea?? I might regret supporting Thismann when it’s week 7, and he’s on the 5th consecutive week of retelling the exact same story.

Bob Davie -- The only one home run hire in my book. Heck, I started a petition to make him the voice of ND several years ago.

Robert Montgomery Davie. The most entertaining and underrated broadcaster in college football today. I can’t get enough Davie. He could be doing a random Kentucky-South Carolina game on ESPN2 with Mark Jones, and I’m probably tuning in. Hearing Davie is like being in college again for me. The drawl, the mannerisms, the classic Davie laugh, the raspy voice, the “I’ll tell you whats,” the footbawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwls, and the way he manages to take 15 seconds to sound out a guy’s name. “KAAAAAPPPPPPPPPPPRONNNNNNNNNNNNNN LEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWISSSSSSSS MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRE……whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat a foooooooooooootbawwwwwwwwwwwwwl player.”

Does it get any better than that??

ND fans, I know you don’t like Davie. I know you thought he stunk as a coach. I don’t really disagree on that (although I’ll note he was the best of the post-Holtz coaches). But when you listen to him call an ND game, he still holds a special place in his heart for ND. He speaks very fondly about the campus, the mission, the academics, the culture, and how ND does things the right way. He has been nothing but complementary about ND when he has called games.

To me, this is a no-brainer. He’s buried a little bit at ESPN, so NBC would be a promotion. I think he’d do a great job, and it would get him back into the ND fold. I'd love to run into Davie at The Buns or Warren or somewhere on campus. That would make my year. For all I know, he hasn't been back since he got fired.

I want Davie and Milligan in a three man booth. A little old school and new school would make for great banter.

Get it done NBC. Milligan and Davie in '10. YES WE CAN!


Rob RVC said...

First off, you do a great job of bringing a positive outlook on Notre Dame. The Mission, The Spirit, everything you touch upon. Job Well Done

Second, I couldn't agree more about Bob Davie. He is a wise voice that Notre Dame Football needs. I personally wasn't a huge fan of Hayden and Hammond but nonetheless I didn't really pay much attention to them. We need a new tandem or trio to the booth. Fresh Start under the Kelly Era. Maybe it'll bring some luck.

Thanks, Rob

Anonymous said...

You're right, this really is the second biggest topic of the offseason. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter who does color as long as Hammond stays in there. He's just so bad, could you imagine Hammond doing the SEC title game? There'd be riots all over the country. I'm totally with you on the association thing too. And maybe the worst part is, there are future would-be ND fans that tune in and are totally turned off by the lack of excitement and entertainment. Think about it, there's a ton of "empty space" on ND telecasts. There's no stadium music, the crowd is only loud 25% of the time, the station plays lame music in intro and outro segments, there's really nothing exciting about the games on tv apart from the actual football games (and as we know those aren't always great either).

And into that silence we've had two the most boring announcers in history. Haden really isn't that bad I agree, but we need someone in there with emotion, someone who excites not just the ND fan, but the average fan who is tuning in to see the Irish battle UM or USC.

Do you think NBC is kind of sitting there thinking...well ND hasn't really played well, why waste more money on a better crew? I think they might be, but shouldn't they want to improve their product? You'd think with Kelly and his history they would be smart to put something together that really impressed all of us.

I think a 3-man crew is the way to go...the more voices the better for my above reasons. I've always liked Davie too, and Beurlein would be a great addition. I dont' know who Milligan is though? I also think Theismann would do a good job as well. But first Hammond needs to be pushed out of the door.

Matt said...

Agreed about the quality of NBC's production. You hardly ever get scores from around the country, never ever any highlights from other games, and their halftimes are just a big infomercial for the NFL on NBC. You would think that they would be reinvesting in their product, especially the announcers, so that ND doesn't go network shopping when the contract runs out, or even start an ND Network station.

I would love to see Hammond go back to horse racing and open up both positions. I don't think it's going to happen though. I agree that Davie would be great - he brings good insights into what it's like to be at ND, he's entertaining, and he knows the game of football. Hell, I hope he would sit in on the defensive meetings and give Bob Diaco some pointers.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen a single home telecast in three years, but Hammond et al. were pretty boring. But Bob Davie? Honestly? Frankly, I don't think there is a really great announcer left anywhere in the country, in any sport that I've ever watched. Madden retired; Jack Buck was on the radio (and is dead) and his son is a pale, pale shadow; Herbie and Brett are laughable; everyone else is either comatose or isn't even watching the game half the time. Davie's certainly no better. It's all very unsatisfying.

Victory Liquors, eh? I've heard it's great on gameday, but that place is a hell hole at night. Wouldn't be any great loss.

Anonymous said...

Boob Davies!!! Are you crazy!!! I don't hate alot of people but Davie is one of them. I didn't like Haden but I would rather have him then Boob. This is a complete joke! The guy who undermined Lou Holtz announcing are games is just nuts! He has did enough damage to ND the way it is. If NBC hired him, it would be like a kick in the nuts.

Anonymous said...

Boob Davie = Worst Idea EVER

The guy has not been complementory of the program - in fact he says that it is impossable to win and get talented kids at ND. The guy is a total A-Hole for what he did to Lou!

Anonymous said...

First of all, fantastic blog, one of the best yet. Really a genuine pleasure to read. Gotta be the best blog covering ND football bar none.

Back to the topic, I don't really care about the announcers, but you're so right in saying that it's time to wipe the slate clean, and get an all new pairing in there. PERFECT timing, in fact. If it's Davie, who wouldn't be my first choice, then whatever. Holtz could maybe be an inspired pick too. And you've convinced that getting an ex-ND guy wouldn't be unseemly or homerish or whatever, and could be just fine.

I didn't have any problem with either Hammond or Haden, and I liked the lower-key vibe of the broadcasts. I really don't personally pay much attention to any of that, and I just watch the games. I'd be happy to actually watch ND on public access, as long as the footage was good. The awesomeness of the ND/USC game of '05 wasn't diminished for me one bit due to the blandness of Tom Hammond. But it's certainly too true that Haden/Hammond is closely associated with a lot of bad ND football.

I'd like to get Don Criqui to replace Hammond. That would be good. And doesn't he do ND on the radio anyway?

Petros is a no-go IMO. Besides, I like him on Fox doing PAC-10 games. He's great in that situation.

Overall, I really hope they bring in all-new duo, and that Don Criqui, who's worked with NBC before - no? - is part of the package. If at all possible.

Oh, and I like Spielman a lot too. But I'd actually prefer him to stay on ESPN doing Big-Ten games.

Again, great blog. Keep it up.