Q/A with Michael Hiestand: Veteran sports media reporter signs off at USA Today; looks ahead to next chapter

As many of us in the business know from first-hand experience, Monday is the first day of the rest of Michael Hiestand’s life.

Last Friday, Hiestand wrote his last sports media column for USA Today. The veteran of 24 years at the paper decided to take a buyout.

Hiestand already knows the next few days might be a bit disorienting.

“Yesterday was Sunday,” Hiestand said. “I’ve worked on almost every Sunday since the Reagan administration. To take a Sunday off was a big deal. Yesterday, I’m thinking, ‘Shouldn’t I be at a Christening or something?”

The good news is that Hiestand is planning his next move. In his final column at USA Today, he stressed he isn’t saying farewell to the business:

But after my final USA TODAY Sports column, the last thing I want to do is decamp to some exotic locale to place enormous casino bets on, say, overnight TV sports ratings. Not that it wouldn’t be easy money, as I’m keeping the secret decoder ring programmed to decipher even the best ratings spin.

Nope, nobody should walk away from the sports business now: It’s more fascinating than ever.

I talked to Michael this morning about his plans and his recollections on a very interesting run in covering sports media for USA Today.

Leaving USA Today: It seems like the interest in sports media is changing all the time. People are trying to figure out what they want to do. I wasn’t bored or burned out. In fact, it was just the opposite. In many ways, I’m more interested than ever before.

The people at USA Today do a good job. There are some good people there. But I’m ready to try some new things. You just want to figure out, ‘What is the right niche for me?’  Having the buyout will give me a little bit of time. It gives me some time away from the everyday deadlines.

The incomparable Rudy Martzke: The first thing I think about with Rudy is that whenever I talked to someone in the business, they all felt like they had to tell me a Rudy Martzke story. The funny thing is, if Rudy was starting now, he would be incredible on Twitter. He would be talking to these people all day long. He would get these interesting items and he would want to tweet them right away. If you look at where the media is now, Rudy was way ahead of his time.

Memorable moments: The thing I found interesting was doing features on (announcers and analysts). Everyone thinks they know these guys because you hear them on TV all the time. But then you would find out stuff that you didn’t know about them.

When Pat Summerall died, I went back and found an old clip of a story I did on him. Initially, he said he didn’t want to talk about his battle with alcoholism, but he eventually opened up. He talked about a night at the Masters where he felt like he was seeing angels.

To me, it was interesting to see these people in a different light.

His favorite assignment: I spent a year in Australia (prior to the 2000 Olympics). I loved everything about it. Over there, I became known as “the American who loves Australia.’ During the Olympics, I even had an (Australian) TV crew following me around.

I wanted to stay there. I suggested opening up an Australian bureau. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

An observation: Right now, there are so many cliches about sports. People just run them instead of talking to people to find out the real stories. The real stories are much more interesting.

His plans: I’m going to move to New York (from D.C.). I have talked to some people, but I don’t have anything specifically in mind. I am open to ideas.








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