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John Mamola Wants A Super Bowl, Not A Superspreader Event

“I’m really looking forward to at the end of the day looking back on this thing and saying look, even through a pandemic, we put on a hell of an experience for this market and a hell of a game for NFL fans.”

Brian Noe

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Preparing for a Super Bowl to be played in your own backyard is a lot of work for a radio station. Toss in a pandemic complete with restrictions and CDC guidelines and there is a whole extra set of problems to navigate through. It’s something that John Mamola knows all too well leading up to Super Bowl LV this Sunday. John is the program director at 95.3 WDAE and WFLA NewsRadio in Tampa, Florida. Let’s just say he’s been light on sleep lately while living up to the #RespectTheGrind portion of his Twitter bio.

Q&A with John Mamola | Barrett Sports Media

John makes several great points during our conversation below. He mentions why it’s a much different reason that the Super Bowl is a can’t-miss event for the city of Tampa this year. John talks about staying focused on the Chiefs-Buccaneers game not turning into a superspreader event and how Tom Brady challenged everybody. He reveals why he’d be perfectly fine with a 2-0 outcome, and also demonstrates that he’s cool enough to use the word lit without setting off warning sirens. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s it like right now in Tampa with the Super Bowl approaching?

John Mamola: The vibe is good. The vibe is positive, a lot of shock, but a lot of excitement. This has been a really good 12 months for this market between the Stanley Cup championship, a World Series appearance, and now a Super Bowl appearance on top of the game being right down the street from where I’m actually driving right now. The vibe is great. This will be my 10th year in this market after moving from Chicago and I’ve never seen the town lit like this. It’s a lot of smiles.

Look, it’s been a rough year for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, but just to have laughs and smiles and excitement, it’s like holy cow, I can’t believe they actually did this. It’s really cool to see. The station is buzzing right now. The listeners are excited and happy and just thrilled to be witnessing what they’re witnessing. Overall it’s a great vibe.

BN: When Tampa secured its Super Bowl berth, what did you immediately think of as a PD in terms of how to maximize the value of this opportunity?

JM: Well the first thing I thought of was how little sleep I’m going to have for two weeks. Beyond that the first thought is that we’ve been on radio row as a station for going on about 15, 17 years, so we knew that part was going to happen. What we didn’t know honestly is what it would look like. I think we’re going to have a really successful week of programming at radio row. We have a ton of people already lined up.

From a sales perspective it was like all right, what are we creating? What can we continue on? Luckily we sold our big game coverage many months ago because the game was here, but what can we add on to it? From a programming standpoint, we’re adding a ton of programming especially on gameday. We were able to secure a singular broadcast site really close to the stadium where the party is going to be at, so if you don’t have a ticket, or if you can’t get in for any reason but you want to be around the stadium, we’re probably at the best place possible to enjoy the game and a couple of libations, socially distanced of course. Also how could we maximize this digitally too?

The difficult part is this is a pandemic so we can’t really do what a normal run of a Super Bowl would do because we can’t get in front of people. We can’t gather. I would love to do a ton of live broadcasts this week just ramping up excitement or live broadcasts on site at a ton of different places instead of maybe going to radio row because radio row is going to be virtual this year for the most part. But at the same time you have to adhere to the guidelines. That kind of limits you at the same time. 

It is very different being the host town because it’s amazing how many people reach out to you as opposed to you reaching out to people. I appreciate that, and believe me, we’re going to use that to our full advantage. It’s just going to be really fun and it’s going to cap off a fantastic year for the market, fantastic year for the station, and it’ll be a really, really good, quality experience I think for everybody involved.

BN: Do you feel like something’s missing with Tampa being the first team to play a home game in a Super Bowl, but with a limited crowd?

JM: Well the Super Bowl wasn’t going to be filled with Bucs fans anyway. It’s the people that can afford those tickets. I don’t think the decreased amount of people that’s going to be there is necessarily a bad thing because the Super Bowl is really never a home crowd anyway. Yeah, there is a little bit of a sentiment of well maybe it could have been, but let’s be honest, not a lot of people can afford that kind of rate on a ticket price. It just wouldn’t be that.

I think the NFL is doing it right by giving first responders, healthcare workers, and frontline people the day in the sun that they deserve by giving them free Super Bowl tickets. I think that’s absolutely the right play. Then saving a certain select number of those for people that can afford them. Not having a home crowd for a home team in the Super Bowl isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

It’ll be interesting though for me just from a viewer of Bucs football, how close to a normal home game they keep it. Do the cannons fire off when they get inside the 20? Do they do that for both teams? Is there fake crowd noise for both teams? The Bucs are the NFC representative as the home team for this, so do they keep it down the line like a normal Super Bowl where you would hear cheering for both teams? I’m interested in seeing how close they have it to an actual Bucs home game. But it’s the NFL’s show. If they want to keep it down the line 50/50, we’ll see how they present that.

It was never going to be a Tampa Bay crowd. The Tampa Bay crowd is going to be the one crowded outside Raymond James Stadium, especially if they win.

BN: What is the city like in terms of security with the game around the corner?

JM: We don’t have a lot of security right now. I don’t know if you’ve been to Tampa, but Raymond James is right next to where the Yankees do their spring training. There is a lot of open field. There’s really only about four streets that surround Raymond James; you’ve got Himes Avenue, Dale Mabry, which I’m on right now, and then you’ve got some cross streets, but that’s really about it. They’ve closed off one of them, and that’s more or less to just set up the parking lot for the entryway and to make sure the people have an easy in for those that are working on the stadium. But as far as security past two or three blocks of the stadium, it’s not there yet. I’m sure that there’s going to be fencing going up. There’s fencing already up in the parking lots to help people enter. Obviously there’s going to be COVID precautions so people will probably get their temperature checked and all that kind of stuff. But around town? It’s normal traffic right now. I’m sure Thursday or Friday will probably be a little different. There’s not really a bigger sense of security yet.

Bucs can clearly see Super Bowl 55 from here

BN: What’s the difference between how you manage the news station’s content and how you manage the sports station’s content right now?

JM: The news station’s content is a different audience. Let’s call a spade a spade; it’s a red state. People that listen to what we do on WFLA like the Bucs, they kind of keep up with the Bucs, but they’re not in love with the Bucs. The audience on DAE loves the Bucs and doesn’t really want any of the political stuff.

As far as the news station, for me it’s just kind of making sure we have the right people on. We’re the official media partner of the host committee. I try to make sure we give them their time on the station. Rob Higgins who’s the Executive Director of the Sports Commission has done a fantastic job with us for many, many years. Obviously giving him some time to talk about the events and things to do around town, not necessarily X’s and O’s. It’s just more or less giving people information on how they can experience a little slice of the Super Bowl.

With COVID, everything is restricted for the most part. The Super Bowl experience is typically open to the public. You can come in, come out. This year you have to get an appointment and you have a certain amount of time that you have to enjoy it. All of those are sold out. If you’re looking to get a pass right now, good luck. It probably ain’t happening. It’s just making sure that people are informed as opposed to really diving in. Street closures will be a bigger thing when we get closer to the game. Press conferences obviously we’ll be running that in our news and sports reports. We don’t do deep dives on the news station like we do on the sports station. There is a little directive to pepper it in here and there just with the most update information as possible, but really it’s not in-depth kind of stuff.

Also making sure that people understand that when the game is over, it’s not a mosh pit. I know when the Bucs got back into town there were a lot of people around the airport. The city just mandated masks everywhere, even outdoors and all public places. They’re serious about this. We do not want this to be remembered as a superspreader event. We want this to be remembered as a great showcase of the entire area and that does include Clearwater, St. Pete, and the Sarasota area too. We don’t want this to be remembered for something other than that.

BN: Along those same lines, how would you describe the way Tampa planned for the pandemic, and how it was actually hit by the pandemic.

JM: Let’s start with the second part. We were supposed to have a Stanley Cup run. We were supposed to have WrestleMania. We were supposed to have the Valspar tournament down here. We were supposed to have a little slice of March Madness. The Rays season got shortened. We couldn’t go to any of those games. The amount of money that this market lost between March Madness, WrestleMania, a World Series, a Stanley Cup, Tom Brady just in general playing home games, and on top of that you throw a Super Bowl that isn’t going to be like any other Super Bowl. I’m sure the lost revenue that was planned is just going to be absolutely massive.

With that being said, when this whole thing started I feel the host committee knew the challenge they had in front of them. They held everything very close to the vest. They didn’t want to make any proclamations like, oh yeah, we expect this and we expect that. No, they were very aware and very good at adjusting. That’s also a credit to the local governments out here between Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater — Mayor Castor of Tampa, Mayor Kriseman of St. Pete — working with the host committee on trying to make this still a great experience for not only the area, but everyone traveling to the area. I think they adjusted really well to this. We don’t even know what tomorrow is going to look like with this thing, unfortunately. Every state is a little different. Every situation is a little different.

Florida has a high number of cases. It just does. People are very lax about wearing masks around here. But if you can make it known that this is going to be distanced, it is going to be to the CDC guidelines, then it’s up to them to adjust to that. Radio row is going to be completely different. They’ve cut down on the amount of outlets that can come out. We have plexiglass now on tables at radio row, which will be interesting for the setup on Sunday.

With the amount of loss that this market had with just potential revenue for some really big events, I think they approached this one as we can’t miss. I think they really, really adjusted well to where they can still make this a really great event — again not just for the locals and those traveling — but also a great showcase for the area. Everyone has worked together. It’s been tremendous teamwork for the entire area and the host committee. I’m really looking forward to at the end of the day looking back on this thing and saying look, even through a pandemic, we put on a hell of an experience for this market and a hell of a game for NFL fans.

BN: It’s funny, man. You’ve been there for about a decade and this is the first playoff experience for Tampa.

JM: Yeah, how bout that, huh?

BN: I know, right? How would you describe what Tom Brady has meant to the Tampa area?

JM: I’ve always looked at Buccaneers fans like Cub fans. Every year there’s a renewed hope. No matter who’s wearing a jersey, every year is a new hope. I love ‘em for that. But when you have the greatest player, quarterback, whatever, to come into your backyard — I don’t care if he’s 65 years old — the fact that he’s putting on the pewter and red, that’s a huge burst of energy and just a jolt of life into the organization.

We got the feel that Tom was thinking Tampa really early. It was like, ehh probably not, but it’s kind of fun to think about. Then it happened. It was about two weeks of like holy crap. [Laughs] We got Tom Brady playing football. I got more calls from people in Boston saying hey congratulations. I was like well I didn’t do anything, but thanks, appreciate it. 

It’s just breathed new life into a product that every year you kind of start hot, like man here we go, Buccaneers football is finally here. We’re out at training camp, we do the preseason, we get those first couple of games in, and then typically by end of October we’re kind of done with it. The season is pretty much over. You have those diehards, so you have to supply them with some Buccaneers conversation and breakdowns, but it just seemed too routine. Then you put that guy in there wearing number 12 and it’s like okay, this is different. It was almost like it challenged everybody to be a better fan. It challenged us to be a better radio station. It’s just been a really, really interesting journey. 

Tom Brady, Shaq Barrett lead Bucs past Broncos - Orlando Sentinel

Then on top of that, Bucs fans are also Rays fans and Bolts fans too. This has been Christmas in a pandemic for them. When he signed it was like okay, this is for real now. It’s home run or nothing now and it’s been a home run ever since. Everybody is benefiting. Everybody wins. It’s a good vibe in the market. It’s a good vibe for fans because goddammit they needed it. Five years of Jameis Winston? To have the GOAT here has been a real good vibe. I don’t care if he plays until he’s 70; just keep playing. Let’s just keep it going.

BN: How do you think Tampa winning the Super Bowl would benefit DAE?

JM: When I first started here we used to have a slogan because the home games were blacked out because they didn’t sell a certain percentage of tickets. We always used to say when the Bucs would lose, it’s good for us because people need a place to bitch and vent. No one wants to talk about a winner. Now? It’s completely different.

We’ve had a Stanley Cup and a World Series to kind of introduce more people to us. We’ve benefited off of that. It’s kind of like Trump. Trump gets Obama’s economy and then he takes full credit for it because then the economy is great. It’s kind of like that too. We’ve benefited so much off a Lightning Stanley Cup run and a Rays World Series run, then you add Tom Brady and a Buccaneers Super Bowl run to that, we’re capitalizing off that because we already got everyone else.

Our ratings have been fantastic every single book. Our digital numbers are even better than they were last year and those were some bigger numbers than we’ve ever had. The station is benefiting because it’s Tom Brady and they’re winning.

Honestly if you’re not winning if you had all of this success, you probably should just hang it up. You really should. This never happens. I think it’s only happened in Boston like once. And look what happened with EEI and Sports Hub; they’re combined 25, 30 shares. You’re not going to get that in Tampa, but the numbers that we’re doing and the revenue that we’re generating is fantastic. If we weren’t doing that, then you wouldn’t be talking to me right now. I promise you that.

BN: I think I have to ask you for a prediction, man. What do you think about the game?

JM: You know, it’s funny; I’m a Bears fan. You know that. I wanted Tom Brady so bad. It’s like God, because Trubisky is awful. I’ve always said what makes the Bucs dangerous is that there’s no pressure. None. Because the guy that puts it all on his shoulders is the guy that’s in his 10th one. That team is playing loose. They’re smiling. They’re high-fiving. They haven’t had a team really test them to where they’re breaking. Everyone thought when Antonio Brown signed here that it would change the culture of the locker room and it didn’t. Tom Brady tried to high-five a ref against the Saints. Come on, man.

This team is playing with house money and they know it. Now they’re in their own damn stadium. There ain’t no pressure on this team. None. That starts with the top. It starts with BA and it starts with Tom. I got the Bucs winning and why not, right? Cap off 2020 with a Stanley Cup, an NFL Championship, and a World Series berth. Hell yeah, let’s do it. I don’t have a score and don’t care as long as they win.

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians takes shot at Patriots with Tom Brady  comments

BN: Yeah, you’d take 3-0.

JM: Get a safety for all I care. As long as they win.

BSM Writers

The Big Ten Didn’t Learn ANYTHING From the NHL’s Mistake

To not have your product ever mentioned again on THE sports network seems like a steep tradeoff to me.

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ESPN, Big Ten

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.

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Producers Podcast – Nuno Teixeira, ESPN Radio

Brady Farkas

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BSM Writers

Lance Zierlein Isn’t Taking Shortcuts

“That really hammered it home for me; man, you just can’t take shortcuts.”

Brian Noe

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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.

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