Q/A with Musburger: On Brian Kelly and Nick Saban, calling the big game for ESPN, and going strong at 73

Not to date myself or Brent Musburger, but I have a video with old footage of Musburger narrating sports highlights for WBBM-Ch. 2 in Chicago. It was of a Chicago-Boston hockey game featuring players like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in their primes. That’s really going back in time.

Now more than four decades later, Musburger’s remarkable career still has him dancing on sports’ biggest stage. He and Kirk Herbstreit will be on the call tonight for the humongous Notre Dame-Alabama title game.

Musburger will dissect all the storylines as only he can. However, there’s one he won’t address. At age 73, how much longer does he want to work?

The question came up during an ESPN teleconference last week with Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, producer Bill Bonnell and director Derek Mobley. Here are some excerpts with the questions directed at Musburger.

You’ve done so many big events over the years.  Any sense as far as how many years you’d like to go on doing this?

As long as they’ll have me.  I don’t do retirement very well.

Is there still the same charge doing big events as there was even much earlier in your career?

I’m always asked to look back, and I have a very difficult time because I always think that the best event that I am ever going to cover is the next one, so I’m looking at this one, and to answer your question, is absolutely.

What has been your experience in dealing with Brian Kelly and Nick Saban?

They’re not at all alike.  Brian Kelly is the son of an Irish politician, and no one works a room any better than Brian Kelly.  He loves to see you, loves to have your company in the room, and then pretends that he’s telling you everything that’s going to happen, and he always keeps something in the saddlebags.  A very, very savvy coach.

With Nick Saban, kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve, and let me give you a comparison of the last two championships.  When he was getting ready to play Texas in the Rose Bowl for the BCS Championship a few years back, we went into the room to talk to him, and I don’t know, we might have had a half dozen other people.  I always like to have the producer and the director, the spotter, the statistician, I always like to have a support crew, and I could tell immediately that Saban was uneasy with so many people coming into the room.  He had a video frozen of the Texas secondary, very, very good secondary ‑ several of those fellows are still playing Sunday football ‑ and he was kind of sitting there in his chair and he was kind of bobbing back and forth and sort of uneasy about the interview.  And I knew that he was uptight about the Texas Longhorns.

Last year we went to see him at practice in the Superdome, and you would have thought he was getting ready for a September football game.  He already knew that he could move the ball effectively on LSU, and more than that, he felt he could shut down the offense, which he did.

So Nick was very forthcoming about exactly what he was going to do in that game, and then when practice started, he goes to the defensive end of the field.  I don’t think he took one look at the offense.  He has always been a defensive guru since the day he worked with Coach Belichick up in Cleveland and then came to college football.

Both are very open about practice.  Both like to have announcers come to practice, unlike Les Miles, who kicked us out last year for 30 minutes, then let us back in, and we looked at each other in the second half, and we said, Miles locked us out for this?  Both very open coaches, very easy to deal with.  You can reach them whenever you want to.

As someone who kind of was around the Midwest in the ’60s and ’70s following Notre Dame when they played Alabama and Paul “Bear” Bryant, talk about the historical perspective of what it means for these two teams to meet again in the title game.

Well, you’ve been watching the Big Ten here the last few years, and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are certainly the best football team in the Midwest right now, and we could not have said that for the last decade or so.  But certainly they have stepped out above, and hats off to coach Brian Kelly who’s been able to do this.  I go back with the Fighting Irish to the days when Ara Parseghian left my alma mater, left Northwestern, and went to South Bend and I was covering as a newspaper man, and I covered some of those great Irish teams of Parseghian and of course Terry Brennan and Johnny Latter and George Connor, I worked NFL games with George, and all of those legendary Notre Dame players I was familiar with back in Chicago.

So I’ve always appreciated Notre Dame, and I understand why people love going to school down there, and there’s nothing ‑‑ in fact, what I miss, of all the things I miss is the fact we don’t do any home games of Notre Dame.  We did four Irish football games this year, but they were in East Lansing, Norman, Boston and Los Angeles.  I would dearly love to get back.  In 1988, the last time they won the National Championship, I did two games there.  I did the Michigan game at night to open it up, and then later in the year the classic with the Miami in which there was a fistfight in the tunnel before the game, and it just continued through.

I love the mystique of Notre Dame, and I certainly understand what’s going on with Alabama and the fact that this could become one of the great dynasties of college football.  If Nick Saban wins this one, this run by the Crimson Tide during the BCS era coming out of the toughest conference in the country, you’re going to have to pay big tribute to Nick and what he’s accomplished at Tuscaloosa.

What do you think the BCS and the future plans for a college football playoff?

You know, the championship game, love it or hate it, and obviously there’s probably more people who hate it than love it, the BCS formula made the championship game bigger and bigger than ever.  We used to have a bowl system whereby one might be playing in one bowl and then two in the other, and then we would all vote afterwards to declare who was the national champion.  But what has happened with the advent of the BCS in my opinion is that the championship game has grown to get up there to rival some of the NFL playoff games, whereas the other bowls have sort of dropped off because they lack some of the importance of the National Championship game.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen in a couple years when they go to four because in my opinion we’re just going to hear more people let’s go to eight, let’s go to 16.  We’ll have to wait to see how that plays out.

Later: Herbstreit’s comments during the teleconference.


2 thoughts on “Q/A with Musburger: On Brian Kelly and Nick Saban, calling the big game for ESPN, and going strong at 73

  1. Ed, Great to see this site of yours now and all the great sports media information that you are providing, such as this Q&A with the legendary Brent Musburger. I am also old enough to remember Brent during his last few days at the local CBS Station here in Chicago (WBBM) when he was the sports anchor working along side two other legends, Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobsen, who have been asked to the 6p news casts for a blast from the past. I have lived in the Chicago area all my life and remember when Brent made the big move to New York and the network and the rest is Sports Broadcast History. I read on one of your Bloglinks, Classic Sports Media and TV
    that his former network in December celebrated 75 years of the NCAA Basketball Championship, which CBS acquired the rights to in 1982. I was surprised that CBS did not invite Brent to make a cameo appearance to talk about the great games he and his colleague Billy Packer called during their time announcing both regular season and tournament games, such as the 85 Villanova vs Georgetown Classic, the 87 Syracuse vs Indiana Thriller with Keith Smart’s game winner and then the classic Heartland match up with Kansas vs Oklahoma from the Old Kemper Arena in Kansas City. If you are going to have Gary Bender, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer on that show, you have to have Musburger.

  2. We only see Brent Musburger announce only college games but we never see Bob Costas, Dick Stockton, or Dick Endberg announce college games. Is it that some announcers have preferences for either college or the NFL?

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