Alabama trailed Georgia for the entire SEC Championship Game. The Tide started making a comeback in the third quarter, and then the team’s all-everything quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, had his ankle stepped on by one of his teammates. The injury was serious enough to take him out for the rest of the game. Bama had to turn to Jalen Hurts, a one-time SEC Player of the Year, who had lost his starting job to Tua in January’s National Championship Game.
Hurts took the field and led the offense first to a touchdown that tied the game, and then to another that ultimately won it for Bama. Surely by now you have seen the Twitter posts and the commentaries that came out of the whole affair.
Jalen Hurts handprints and cleat prints should be immortalized in cement with the other legends at Denny Chimes. No matter what he decides to do next year. The attitude, humility and improvement is remarkable. Amazing story. @AlabamaFTBL
— Rece Davis (@ESPN_ReceDavis) December 2, 2018
Kudos @JalenHurts – life & this game is a process/journey – filled w/ setbacks & triumphs – but too often ppl miss some of their greatest triumphs by giving up after the setbacks!! 1 of greatest assets ANY person can have is “perseverance”! well done young man, enjoy the moment!
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) December 2, 2018
I just showed my kids @JalenHurts, told them his story and how you should never quit, never hang your head and always take advantage of your opportunity.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 2, 2018
After the game Nick Saban, a murder robot parading as a football coach, fought back what appeared to be human tears as he talked about the way Jalen Hurts dealt with losing his spot in the starting lineup and continuing to lead this team in the locker room. That, Saban said, is why he was ready to lead this team on the field when his opportunity presented itself.
“I’m so proud of this guy for what he’s done this year, I can’t even tell you.”
Nick Saban got emotional when speaking about the heroics of Jalen Hurts. pic.twitter.com/mmY4HfoFqD
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 2, 2018
As you can see from the Tweets above, the common talking point today is that the lesson to be learned is in how Jalen Hurts “didn’t quit on his team in this age of transferring if you aren’t a starter.” That is a little silly. If we’re talking about Jalen, the lesson to be learned is in sticking to your guns and doing what is right for you. By staying at Alabama, he got to work with one of the best QB coaches around in Dan Enos. He gets to finish his degree. That means when he does transfer next year, he won’t have to wait a season to play.
The lesson I hope you pay attention to in this scenario is the one from Nick Saban. I went to Bama, so I am biased. I think there is a lesson for everyone in everything Nick Saban does, but every PD in the country could benefit from studying the way Nick Saban handled Jalen Hurts this season.
Let’s rewind all the way back to August, long before either of Bama’s heralded QBs had taken a single snap. There was so much speculation surrounding the Crimson Tide. It wasn’t so much about who would start at quarterback. It was about how Jalen Hurts was feeling and what school he should transfer to.
Everyone was speculating, but as we found out the first time Jalen himself was allowed to speak to the media, no one asked him.
Let me give you the TL;DR version of what he said there. Basically, no one, not even Bama coaches, talked to him about what the plan was at QB during the offseason. He took as many snaps as Tua did with the starters and had to go home every night and read and see people speculating about how he would deal with being benched. That was incredibly unfair.
He didn’t call any coach out by name. He never said that Nick Saban had let him down. It was certainly implied though, and the kind of people that make me nervous to tell strangers that I am an Alabama fan took to Twitter to call Jalen Hurts a crybaby, an entitled millennial, and every code word people use to describe black athletes when they want some measure of deniability against being called racist.
Nick Saban didn’t do any of that though, because he isn’t an idiot eager to go to Twitter and use his high school football coach from 1973 as an example of what should happen to Jalen. Saban defended his QB whenever he was asked about the situation. You might remember his really misguided and clearly rehearsed explosion at ABC’s Maria Taylor on the sideline after Bama’s drubbing of Louisville in Week 1.
What Nick Saban understood, what every good manager should understand, is that there is no good or right way for a 20 year old to react to receiving bad news. I’m 37 and I don’t fully know how to react to bad news.
He didn’t overreact. He didn’t kick the kid off the team, as the stupidest members of my fanbase wanted. Nick Saban gave Jalen Hurts a chance to be human and vent some frustration.
As a manager, you know there are time you have to deliver bad news to your employees. If the bad news is that the employee’s services are no longer required, that is one thing. You let him or her say their peace and try to remain professional. But what if the bad news is that you are moving their show from afternoons to middays or nights? What if the bad news is that you are cutting a valued part-time employee’s hours? How do you deliver bad news to an employee, let them have a human reaction no matter how angry they are, and then get them back on the same page with you?
It’s sort of a hard question to answer, because the playbook Nick Saban laid out is effective, but it really isn’t a checklist. He managed Jalen Hurts in the way Jalen Hurts would respond to best. When Jalen’s dad, a respected high school football coach in the Houston area, was making comments in the offseason about his son being “the biggest free agent in college football history,” Saban didn’t tell the guy to shut up. He labeled it “outside noise.”
Saban hired Dan Enos to be his quarterbacks coach. Enos has a reputation of being one of the very best in his field. Surely a hire like that would make it clear to Jalen Hurts that staying at Bama would give him advantages he couldn’t get elsewhere.
When Hurts voiced his frustrations to the media, Saban brought him in for a one on one meeting. The coach acknowledged his mistake. He asked what the quarterback wanted to happen next.
When the season came around, Hurts got a lot of playing time. Remember, Tua didn’t throw more than 3 meaningful fourth quarter passes this season until this weekend. Until he got injured, Hurts played every fourth quarter and amassed better efficiency numbers than at any other time in his career. Saban was reminding his junior QB that not only was he still needed, but that Hurts still needed his guidance.
The steps paid off. Saban had the steady veteran hand he needed on Saturday night. Hurts got another year of tutelage under the greatest coach in college football history and a hero’s ending. Together, they got another SEC title.
Delivering bad news sucks. Trying to get someone who you just had to deliver bad news to to still believe in you is hard. Their feelings might be hurt. Their gut might say you no longer have any use for them.
The key to managing a disappointed person is listening. Make them understand that you are hearing what they need to still feel valued in the wake of the blow their ego has just taken. Offer the necessary olive branch that says “just because the situation has changed, it doesn’t mean I don’t still value you or need you.”
Bad news can be uncomfortable if you have to be the one to deliver it. For the person receiving the bad news, it can be devastating. Go out of your way to make sure that person understands that their feelings are not lost on you. If there is still a role for them on the station or at your company, make it clear to them that you trust that they are the right person for this new role. You wouldn’t keep them around if you didn’t want them there.
Personality management can be a steep mountain to climb when you move into the corner office. Make your people feel heard, especially when they start to question if there is a place on the team for them. There is never a guarantee that “everything will be okay” or that “it will all work itself out,” but if you aren’t even trying to empathize with the people that work for you, it will be hard to get what you need from them when they are no longer getting what they want from their job.
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.
The Big Ten Didn’t Learn ANYTHING From the NHL’s Mistake
However, to not have your product ever mentioned outside of Saturdays ever again on the network that literally everyone associates with sports seems like a steep tradeoff to me.
My favorite moments in life involve watching someone/something on the verge of a great moment and after a lot of struggling, get to the moment that makes them happier than you cam imagine. You can feel your scowl shift from tepid observer to interested party and then finally transition to open fandom. I was on the verge of another one of those moments coming into this week until the Big Ten decided that they would make biggest mistake since the Legends and Leaders divisions.
The conference was closing in on a brand new set of media rights to go into effect starting with the 2023 football and basketball seasons. The discussions were near a climax when the USC and UCLA called Big Ten commish Kevin Warren. Then, the negotiations relaunched and something special was about to happen. The Big Ten was inches away from declaring themselves the richest and most forward-thinking conference in the entire country and if they could win a few football games, they’d be head ahead of the SEC.
You can argue until you are Gator Blue in the face but the fact is, the Big Ten was about to explode and pass the SEC. The conference was about to have games on FOX, ABC/ESPN, CBS and NBC. All of the networks. ALL OF THEM. They were also developing a package for a streaming service to test the waves of the web. It all sounded so damn smart.
Then, the Big Ten went dumb.
The conference got greedy and asked for too much from what would have been their most profitable partner in cachet, ESPN. Reportedly the conference asked ESPN for $380 million per year for seven years to broadcast the conference’s second-rated games… at best. My jaw hit the floor.
Pure, unapologetic greed got between the Big Ten and smart business. The conference forgot a lesson that the NHL learned the hard way. ESPN dominates sports. ESPN is sports.
I don’t need to go to far back in the archives to remind you that ESPN’s offer to the NHL for media rights wasn’t as lucrative financially as NBC’s was, but the NHL took the short-term money and ignored the far-reaching consequence. ESPN essentially wiped them from the regular discussion. Yes, there were some brief highlights and Barry Melrose did strut ass into the studio on occasion, but by no means was that sport a featured product anymore.
One afternoon I had someone tell me that they were upset ESPN was airing a promo for an upcoming soccer match that ESPN was carrying. He told me, “they’re only promoting it because they have the game.”
That’s kind of how this thing works. ESPN is in business with some sports and not others so it makes a lot of sense to promote those you are in business with, yeah? ESPN doesn’t spend a lot of time promoting Big Brother, Puppy Pals or ping pong either. Why would they? There is no incentive too.
Here’s the sad question. Why would ESPN bother promoting the Big Ten? Why would ESPN spend extra time on the air, on their social platforms, on their digital side, to promote something they don’t have access to? The Big Ten is a big deal, but is it that big of a deal?
I am not suggesting that ESPN will ignore the Big Ten. They will still get discussed on College GameDay. But why would the network’s premiere pregame show for decades go to any Big Ten games and feature the conference?
There will be highlights still shown on SportsCenter, but I’m willing to bet they get shorter.
The Big Ten chose network television and a streaming service over the behemoth that is ESPN. As far as streaming is concerned, consider that over half of all NFL frequent viewers still don’t know that Thursday Night Football games are on Amazon only this year. That’s a month away and that’s people who call themselves frequent NFL viewers and that’s the biggest, baddest league in the land. Good luck telling them Purdue/Rutgers is on Apple or Amazon. Streaming is a major part of the future, but it still isn’t the now.
ESPN may seem like the safe bet, but that’s because it’s the smartest bet. NBC is a fine network that spends a bajillion dollars on America’s Got Talent and The Voice. Fine shows, but tell me where I can watch highlights of the recent Notre Dame/Stanford game.
CBS is a wonderful network that dominated with the SEC package for a long time, but that’s because the very best SEC game each week went to CBS. Will they still dominate if they have the league’s #2 package? Because why wouldn’t FOX, Big Ten Network co-owner FOX, get the best game each week for Big Noon Saturday?
There isn’t a single one of us that has a good damn idea where college football will be in three, five or seven years but I do know that ESPN isn’t going anywhere. I know ESPN has elite talent at every level of production and on-air that’s been in place for a really, really long time. I also know ESPN cares way more about sports than the other networks. CBS would like the Big Ten to do well, but CSI: New Orleans is a priority, too.
The NHL went for quick money and it cost them market share. The sport is still trying to recover after being largely ignored by ESPN for 17 years. It wasn’t out of spite, it was out of business. The NHL once thought it didn’t need ESPN. Where’s the NHL now?
The money the Big Ten will generate is amazing, I will not deny that. It seems like a boondoggle of a lifetime to grab this cash. However, to not have your product ever mentioned outside of Saturdays ever again on the network that literally everyone associates with sports seems like a steep tradeoff to me. The Big Ten is going to get paid a lot now but in the long term, they will pay the most.
Arky Shea serves as BSM’s evening editor, a daily news writer, and a weekly media columnist. He has previously worked for Outkick, 97.7 The Zone, 740 Sports Radio, and 730 The Ump where he held roles as the station’s program director, afternoon host, and producer. To connect, find Arky on Twitter @ArkyShea.
Producers Podcast – Nuno Teixeira, ESPN Radio
How do you go from Jerry Springer to ESPN Radio? It is the journey Nuno Teixeira made. Mike Greenberg’s radio right hand shares what he learned working in two very different environments.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lance Zierlein Isn’t Taking Shortcuts
“That really hammered it home for me; man, you just can’t take shortcuts.”
Jack of all trades, master of none. The only thing I dislike about that saying is, to me, it implies that a person isn’t special in any one particular area. That isn’t the case with Lance Zierlein. The guy has been crushing morning drive in Houston for 25 years and knocking out NFL draft evaluations for eight years now at NFL.com. It isn’t possible for anybody to master draft analysis, but Zierlein’s talent evaluations stand out so much that NFL coaching staffs and front offices pay attention to his views.
In addition to his on-air duties and draft analysis, Zierlein used to provide gambling advice for bettors through his own handicapping business. This dude gets around. Zierlein has proven to be valuable in many different areas. It’s no wonder that new opportunities have become available to him over the years. In our conversation, Zierlein talks about not taking shortcuts. He also mentions how he tries to avoid taking himself too seriously on the air, and reveals the most gratifying experience of his career. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How did you initially break in to the radio business?
Lance Zierlein: Radio started for me 25 years ago. Actually it started before then; I started my own handicapping business 28 years ago when I was really young. Then I hustled my way on radio as a football analyst, an expert in my early 20s. I sent stuff out to a bunch of stations, got on, gave out my phone number for my pick line, which I answered myself and gave out picks. That was my living.
From there, 610AM became an all-sports station in the fall of ‘94. By ‘95 the general manager of the station liked me on the radio and so I was doing a weekend sports show for a couple of hours on Sunday. By ‘97 I was doing morning drive. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I quit a job making $400 a week working 60 hours a week. It was just ridiculous. It was like some horrific management position in a field I had no idea what I was doing. I just quit and bet on myself and started my own business and three years later I’ve got a morning sports talk show. It’s been that way ever since.
BN: What has been your career path when it comes to writing?
LZ: I’ve been writing for a while. I started my own football newsletter in 1998. It was a sports newsletter, then in 2001 it became a football only newsletter. I did that for a while. I was a fantasy football writer for the Houston Chronicle. I had a blog in the Chronicle that was fairly heavily trafficked. I covered everything but really started to focus in on the NFL draft and some fantasy football stuff and the Houston Texans.
Some people over at the NFL noticed me. I planted some seeds over there and introduced myself to people at NFL Media. In October of 2014, they reached out to me about being their new NFL draft analyst. Shortly thereafter I was hired. I’ve worked there since the fall of 2014. So eight NFL drafts and 25 straight years of drive-time radio as well.
BN: When you think about all of those different avenues whether it’s handicapping, sports radio, or being a draft analyst — which is like scouting — which do you think you’ve had to learn the most about to know what you were talking about really well?
LZ: Oh man, well for me radio was never formulaic. I didn’t learn in college, I was just a natural talker and thinker and entertainer. I’m not necessarily predictable.
I think the most that I had to learn was the NFL draft. Handicapping is something that you learn as well. I learned in the pool halls of New Orleans when I was going to school at Tulane. I had a mentor who was a former vice president of finance for a company there. He just taught me about handicapping as being an analytical process where you try to find the right side of the puzzle. There’s a puzzle between two teams, various players, here’s the point spread and you try to work the puzzle out and find the right side. That took time too.
When it came to the draft you’re talking about having to really learn all of the specific factors for every position. From long snapper to punter to kicker to every position on the offensive side and defensive side. Even if you think you know what you’re doing and even if you have a scouting manual like I had to work off of, until you actually watch a ton of tape and make mistakes in evaluations, which you don’t know until two and three years down the road in many cases, and learn from those mistakes and alter your process and dial in your process to match the changing tides of NFL and college football, you really can’t get there.
I think the most learning I had to do believe it or not, and my dad was an NFL and college football coach my whole life, I think it’s interesting; the most learning I had to do really was the scouting and the evaluating process before the NFL draft. I think that was the most work I had to do from start to finish. And I still think that I’m learning in that as well.
BN: Doing draft evaluations is difficult. Handicapping games is difficult. Between the two, which do you think you were thrown into the deep end more? Most when it comes to that?
LZ: Handicapping I was trying to pick winners for people and I didn’t really feel like I had anything to lose. I was doing something I loved to do. I had left a job I hated that I should have never even been in. To me I was master of my own domain. I had my own company. But there’s a pressure that comes with that because although I didn’t need much money to survive and I was married to my first wife at the time, there is a pressure with knowing that you have to win so that people will sign up for the next month and you can pay bills.
When it comes to being thrown into the fire, listen I’ve got to write 500 players a year and every one of them is going to live on the internet forever. There’s receipts on 500 players. When I got thrown in I’m having to call defensive back coaches I know to ask questions about certain things having to do with cornerbacks, safeties. I’m talking to pass rush specialists. I’m talking to coaches primarily and really getting an education. I was lucky enough to talk to some guys who really gave me some help along the way.
But if you just watch a tape, the tape will speak to you. I had Jerry Angelo who was the GM of the Bears who one time told me just say what you see. Just say what you see. I really lived off that for the first couple of years. Then beyond that I started to really learn to be more technical with some of the things I was looking at at every position. Having 500 players that you’re writing up, from what I recall from a former editor there, he got 15 million hits internationally on my scouting reports over a relatively short period of time during the draft.
That really hammered it home for me; man, you just can’t take shortcuts. You have to really understand these guys, know these guys. If you project them wrong that’s fine, but don’t miss because you took shortcuts. It’s going to be there for everyone to read and see. I would say thrown to the wolves much more in the evaluation.
BN: Which of the three would you say is the most gratifying for you between sports radio, handicapping back in the day, and the writing/analyst work that you do?
LZ: God, that’s such a hard question because they’re three very different times of my life. The handicapping stuff was me just getting a shot to springboard into sports and into radio. I always knew handicapping was going to be a way for me to get into radio. I planned it as a side door into radio and my plan worked. I was pretty good at what I did.
Radio was just incredible because it introduced me to my wife. She was a listener so it introduced me to her. We had such a great following. Athletes liked the show. That’s gratifying on a level in my 20s and in to my 30s, I don’t think anything can match that when people around the city know who you are. You’re having fun every single day. You’re coming into the radio station and it’s just a lot of fun. You’re just kind of on a wild ride. You don’t really recognize it until after it’s over.
Football was special in a different way because my dad was a lifelong coach. He’s been a coach since I was one or two years old. He’s won a Super Bowl ring. He’s coached for a variety of college and pro teams. The first time he was reading my scouting reports when he was with the Arizona Cardinals, he came across them. One of the other coaches showed him.
When he really realized wow, he knew I did radio, he knew I did some of the scouting stuff on my own in a newsletter, I don’t think he really took it all that seriously. When he realized in reading my scouting reports for offensive lineman that I was really pretty good at it, and that he agreed with much of it, and he’s now calling me every other day to talk about prospects and get my thoughts on guys, you just can’t imagine the amount of happiness that gave me as a son to know that my dad had that level of respect for my work.
It’s really a second job. Radio is what I had done and this is a dramatically different job. If you’re doing NFL draft analysis for NFL.com, I’m following a scouting protocol. This is not radio. It’s a totally different discipline and job. Knowing that he really had a great deal of respect and that other Arizona Cardinals coaches started calling me and asking my opinions on certain players, it’s hard to really put into words how gratifying that is.
Then through the process knowing that there are people in the league who really respect my work and guys I’ve become friends with who are general managers now who respect what I do. There’s just an immense feeling of satisfaction in doing that and knowing I’ve got number one radio shows at four different stations in Houston.
Then to be able to do this with professionals that are in my dad’s trade. I grew up watching my dad as a coach, I know how tough that profession is for front office personnel, for coaches, and to know that people have a respect for the work that I do, that’s a level of gratification that’s completely different. That’s like a cherry on top. If I never did anything again tomorrow, I would be happy with what I’ve accomplished in my time in sports.
BN: Football fans turn into mini GMs when the draft rolls around. A lot of their evaluations are way off. [Laughs] Do you see a common thread between some of the evaluations that are just not accurate?
LZ: That’s a tough question. I think some people are way too opinionated and firm in opinions and they have not spent nearly enough time actually watching the players. I think it’s really more they’re aggregating opinions from other people and then turning it into their own, which is kind of an incomplete analysis. I think that’s a mistake that some people make.
I think there’s a belief that who you are now is who you’re going to be in the future. That’s the most basic mistake that everyone makes. You have to learn you’re not giving grades for who a player is right now, you’re giving grades for who a player is going to be in three to five years. Learning to do that does not happen overnight. It’s hard. It forces you to think differently. It forces you to really focus on traits and the habits of successful people.
Whether it’s certain successful traits, there are traits that can lead to success, explosiveness, speed, length, toughness, and you’ve got to look for those, and then you worry about NFL coaches coaching up the rest of it. Don’t get too hyper-focused. I think a lot of people get too hyper-focused on who a player is right now and not who a player is going to be later. Then also on the flip side, they get too enamored with stats and names as opposed to understanding what typically works in the NFL.
BN: How about your future? Say five years from now, what you’re doing, where you’re doing it at, what would be ideal for you?
LZ: I really don’t know. I think honestly if the right opportunity came with an NFL team and somebody I respected as a general manager, that would be something I would have to consider. I’m not sure that that right opportunity and all the things would fall in place. I don’t know that that would ever be the case. I’m not sure I see myself doing that in five years.
I think honestly, I feel like I have an eye for talent outside of football. I think I have an eye for talent in radio. I’ve brought five to seven people in who have become radio people and good hosts. I think at some point that might be something that I want to do is become more of a program director. If not a program director a talent scout to bring in the next generation of radio professionals.
I could see myself doing that because I do think I have an eye for people who have it. I didn’t learn the traditional way and so I understand that you don’t have to go through the traditional methods to be someone who can be captivating or entertaining or someone with upside. I think I recognize when people have that kind of upside. I think I’d love to be involved in that side of radio at some point in the future.
I’ve got a football business along with the former director of analytics for the Tampa Bay Bucs. It’s kind of a scouting tool and a recruiting tool for colleges. We’re already working with college teams and with high school teams. I think the handicapping stuff is out for me moving forward. [Laughs] That was an avenue and a vehicle and I still love trying to solve the puzzle, but I don’t put the same time into it anymore. There are different directions I can go in, but I’m happy where I am right now both in radio and the draft stuff. I’m just going to keep letting things play out and we’ll see what happens.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide each weekend on FOX Sports Radio. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.