Thoughts, fallout and reaction from a busy Tuesday in sports broadcasting, which began this morning with ABC/ESPN replacing Sage Steele with Michelle Beadle as NBA studio host and followed, less than an hour later, with bigger news: Tony Romo replacing Phil Simms as CBS’ lead NFL analyst:
• Romo, curiously, stopped short of using the word retired. Asked if he might play again, he said he does not "envision" it and said it’s 99 percent certain that he will stick with television.
"Do I envision coming back and playing football? Absolutely not," he said.
But he said he didn’t want to make any definitive statements, jokingly referencing the "I’m not going to be the Alabama coach" line famously uttered by Nick Saban when he was the Dolphins coach at the time.
Spoiler alert: Saban did, in fact, become the Alabama coach.
• Romo, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, said he had multiple options to continue playing and that Houston was at the top of the list.
He said health was one factor in this decision – he missed significant time because of a back injury in recent years – though he said his back is fine now.
He also cited the ability to be a lead NFL analyst right away as "obviously a big draw." Fox reportedly offered him the No. 2 analyst job behind Troy Aikman, a vacancy created by John Lynch’s departure to the 49ers’ front office.
Romo, 36, was 78-49 as a starter and threw 248 touchdowns compared with 117 interceptions in his NFL career.
"It was a very difficult decision, went back and forth many times," Romo said on a conference call with writers. "There were many reasons I felt this was the right decision. The ability to work alongside of Jim Nantz, who’s as good as anybody in the game at what he does. That pushed CBS up a little bit.
"My wife would tell you there were a lot of late nights and times going back and forth. Nice to have some clarity. I’m excited. This is going to be a great challenge for me. I’m going to have to improve and improve quickly. That’s kind of exciting. I have a family. I’ve got kids. I’m excited about this craft. I’m excited about trying to be pretty good at this."
• It’s obviously a risk for CBS to insert Romo on the lead announcing team with no broadcasting experience.
But CBS sports chairman Sean McManus said: "It’s a very manageable risk. Tony will be having all sorts of work this summer, whether it’s doing practice games, whether it’s doing preseason games or looking at film and tape of other analysts. It will be a full-time job for Tony starting this summer.
"Will he be better week six than week one? Yes he will be. But if we didn’t have faith in the fact he could be an outstanding analyst, we wouldn’t be taking this risk. The risk is very manageable."
• McManus met Romo at a function a couple days before Super Bowl 49 and was impressed how Romo broke down that New England-Seattle matchup in a casual conversation.
McManus walked away from that exchange telling fellow CBS executive David Berson that Romo would be a lead analyst some day.
McManus began pursuing Romo shortly after the season ended and the sides struck a deal on Monday night.
• Here’s why McManus believes Romo will be very good at television:
"He is remarkably articulate. I had a lot of conversations with him not only about football but also about life. He is passionate about the NFL. He’s very likable and you can’t teach that. You’re either likeable or not likable….
"He understands this is a really hard job. You’ve got to do your research and look at hours and hours of game film. You have to talk to coaches.
"He has a really good sense of humor. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. It’s hard to [succeed] in this business if you have a big ego and lacking a sense of yourself.
"He’s someone who has his priorities in order. You take these attributes together and it [creates] an incredibly good analyst."
• Romo said he will not be reluctant to criticize when needed. "I enjoy critiquing players," he said, noting some of those would be positive critiques.
"My hope is to make it enjoyable to watch, teach the game a little bit and maybe step into a few things I can bring that people can enjoy," he said. "As far as coming right in and being the lead analyst, I expect it to be difficult.
"But like anything in life, if you attack it and give everything you got, you can reach your potential. If there’s one thing I’ve felt is a strength of mine, it’s my ability to learn. It reminds me of my rookie year where you really don’t know anything. I could kind of play the game. I can kind of talk. There’s a lot of subtlety involved."
• McManus said he and Simms are discussing "a number of different roles" and he hopes Simms remains at the network, but declined to elaborate on what those roles might be.
McManus said "Simms has represented himself and CBS Sports in the most amazing way the last 19 years."
• From my perspective, this move makes sense for CBS not only because Simms had become extremely polarizing and the target of considerable criticism on social media (which CBS executives were sensitive to), but because of Romo’s enormous upside; he was very impressive on Tuesday’s conference call with sports writers, offering impromptu analysis of the adjustment Bill Belichick made with his defensive line that helped the Patriots’ run defense in the second half of this past Super Bowl.
But I’m not as critical of Simms as some viewers are. He’s still a top 10 NFL game analyst, but CBS’ lead booth had grown a bit stale. Simms might have benefitted from a co-analyst, but McManus isn’t a big fan of three-man NFL booths.
• Though ESPN previously announced that Steele would be more involved in anchoring SportsCenter coverage of big events on-site, it was highly curious that ESPN did not mention Steele a single time in the news release announcing that Beadle would take over all NBA hosting duties.
Beadle had assumed some weeknight NBA host duties this year, with Steele handling ABC games before her removal from that job on Tuesday.
This marks the latest change on an NBA studio show that has been marked for years by instability and turnover. ABC and ESPN have churned through numerous hosts and analysts, never quite able to find the right formula.
This season, Doug Collins moved to games (where he’s very good), Chauncey Billups received a more prominent role, and Magic Johnson returned for a second tour on the program before leaving to take over as head of basketball operations for the Lakers.
• Steele had become a polarizing figure on social media in recent weeks, likely in part because of recent comments on race in this Washington Times piece.
Beadle, too, also has her share of detractors, partly because of her candor and sometimes cutting criticism on Twitter and on Sports Nation, which she hosts at 4 p.m. weekdays on ESPN2.
But the move from Steele to Beadle has merit in this regard:
Though Steele was polished and professional in the NBA host role, her interaction with her studio analysts often seemed clumsy and awkward and programmed, without much give and take. Steele often would ask Rose or Collins a question, they would answer, and Steele wouldn’t have much substantive or funny or interesting to say in response.
Conversely, Beadle seems far more skilled in sustaining back and forth dialogue - both playful and serious – with Jalen Rose, Billups or whomever else is working alongside her.
In that regard, this move has potential to be an upgrade.
I would expect ABC to bring in former players to work with Beadle and Rose at the Finals, as it did in past years with Dwyane Wade and others.
Please click here for my post with Dolphins news today, including a veteran cornerback auditioning, two Philadelphia-area prospects that intrigue Miami, and a defensive tackle invited to visit.