Wizards

Collinsworth goes from NFL's small stage to big

201211201459539701779-p2.jpeg

Collinsworth goes from NFL's small stage to big

NEW YORK (AP) Cris Collinsworth remembers the early days of his second career as an NFL announcer like this: calling a Browns-Colts game before Peyton Manning with only the road team's fans in Cleveland getting the broadcast.

For that low-key start two decades ago, he is thankful.

``I got a few years to be really awful before anyone saw it,'' he says.

Those in the business who saw him then would disagree, saying his ascension to the highest-rated TV show in prime time is not a surprise. And this is someone who wasn't a quarterback or a coach, wasn't a Hall of Famer or even a Super Bowl champion.

``My wife can tell you - when I first heard Cris, I said, `Boy, this guy is good,''' said Al Michaels, now Collinsworth's broadcast partner.

The 53-year-old ex-wide receiver is in his fourth season as the color commentator on NBC's ``Sunday Night Football,'' where he had to replace the man who redefined that job in the NFL: John Madden. This week, Collinsworth is calling three nationally televised games in eight days with the network adding a Thanksgiving broadcast.

``When I retired, I knew that they were in great hands,'' Madden says. ``Cris was there and he was ready to go.''

Collinsworth made three Pro Bowls and played in two Super Bowls with the Cincinnati Bengals before retiring in 1988. He did some radio as a player then some work for HBO's ``Inside the NFL'' after his career ended.

But what he suspects attracted NBC to initially hire him - back when the network had the AFC package - had nothing to do with football. Collinsworth started attending law school while with the Bengals, eventually graduating in 1991.

Network executives must have figured he had a quick mind. But it didn't feel like a natural move to Collinsworth.

In fact, he considered the NBC job a temporary gig, a way to make some extra money while he was still studying at the University of Cincinnati, recently married with a new baby at home.

He told his wife: ``No way this is going to last. Bear with me.''

And indeed it lasted only one season. Collinsworth asked for a raise, was turned down, and didn't call any games the next year. He was surprised when NBC wanted to hire him again the following season.

Now he's won 13 Emmy Awards and is still on ``Inside the NFL,'' which has since moved to Showtime.

Collinsworth worked at NBC through 1996. He joined Fox in 1998, first as a studio analyst on the pregame show, later moving to a three-man booth with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as the network's No. 1 broadcast team.

When NBC picked up ``Sunday Night Football'' in 2006, Collinsworth was hired for the pregame show. He was tabbed as Madden's eventual successor alongside Michaels.

Madden surprised NBC executives by retiring in April 2009, and the network announced the same day that Collinsworth would take over.

``I knew everything was going to be very, very smooth,'' Madden says of the transition. ``It has, and I'm really happy it has.''

The current lead NFL analysts on the other networks are two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks - Fox's Aikman and CBS's Phil Simms - and a Super Bowl-winning coach in ESPN's Jon Gruden. Collinsworth figures, in his own case, his long-term career benefited from his relative lack of fame as a player.

A bigger name would start with bigger games. He got to learn from his mistakes early on in front of tiny audiences, improving and improving to slowly work up to a bigger stage.

Madden believes Collinsworth had plenty going for him at the start. That legal background allows him to process the game and express those thoughts differently than any old former NFL player, Madden says.

``He's just not an X's and O's technical disseminator of information,'' says ``Sunday Night Football'' producer Fred Gaudelli. ``Cris is a broadcaster. He really understands what is too much or `how can I say this so that everyone understands this?'''

Collinsworth likes to lampoon the fact it took him five years to get through law school: ``The joke is I got tenure and a diploma at the same time.''

But it was law school - not studying film as a player - that taught him how to prepare himself each week to talk football to an average audience of more than 21 million viewers. He would start with 50 pages of notes, then distill that to 25, then to 15 then to five - and memorize those five pages.

Collinsworth insists he never saw all this coming early on, and yet his career also seems to have come full circle. When he started calling NFL games, his producer was Michaels' brother.

David Michaels was aghast when he saw Collinsworth's method of tracking players: He wrote all their names on the back of a folder. Michaels called up Terry Bradshaw, who sent over an elaborate board with places for names and numbers. That got Collinsworth through his first five years or so of broadcasting.

``I used to watch those guys on `Monday Night Football' and go, `Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine doing these games with the whole world watching?''' he says. ``I was glad I was doing the game back in Cleveland.''

Now the whole country is watching.

Quick Links

Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

ted-leonsis-wizards.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

The Washington Wizards remain without a President of Basketball Operations since firing Ernie Grunfeld April 2. While several candidates met with owner Ted Leonsis, including Denver’s Tim Connelly, the pursuit continues though largely in silence.

The vibe coming out of the organization is that of patience even with the fan base growing restless as the June 20 NBA Draft looms and prospect workouts starting a week or so out.

There have been no reports of candidate interviews since Washington met over the weekend with Connelly. Speculation and logic have the Wizards considering candidates beyond the previously reported group already brought in for interviews.

We can connect some dots and land on one executive whose team is still in the playoffs: Golden State assistant general manager Larry Harris.

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations, the architect behind the Portland squad that reached the 2019 Western Conference Finals.

Before we explain both scenarios, one more thought on Connelly specifically the pursuit and big swing.

While Connelly wasn’t the first candidate meeting, it’s clear the Wizards waited for him. The 54-win Nuggets were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs May 12. Connelly flew to Washington for a meeting with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis five days later.

The Baltimore native sincerely weighed a contract offer from the Wizards before choosing to remain in Denver, sources told NBC Sports Washington.

The Wizards previously interviewed former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver and Wizards interim front office leader Tommy Sheppard.

While all three are considered credible candidates, none is an active GM or team president. None represents a big swing, the kind Leonsis hinted he would pursue in his first comments after dismissing Grunfeld.

“One thing I will say: I think this is the best job in sports,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any issues in attracting really, really great people.”

Olshey, 54, began running Portland’s front office in June of 2012. Over the next 12 months, he drafted guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and hired head coach Terry Stotts. The quartet created the culture that fueled the current streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.

The 53-win Blazers advanced to the franchise’s first WCF appearance since 2000 before losing the series to Golden State 4-0.

It's uncertain the level of pursuit for Olshey from Washington, but the Wizards could face another uphill climb trying to lure the proven executive considering the similar contractual and team success to Connelly's situation. 

The general interest in Olshey began several weeks back, but the Wizards had yet to ask the Blazers for permission to interview Olshey as of Wednesday according to a source. Portland's season ended Monday with the Game 4 loss to Golden State. 

Olshey agreed to an extension in 2017 that carries his contract through the 2020-21 season. Sources believe he is open to considering other options including Washington after seven years with the Blazers.

Reporting from Portland has the franchise likely to be sold following the 2018 passing of team owner Paul Allen. 

Lillard received All-NBA honors Thursday and with it a supermax extension for four-years, $191 million dollars. If offered and signed, the contract would put constraints on Portland's salary cap structure.

As for Harris, the former Bucks GM joined the Warriors in 2008 as an assistant coach before eventually moving into the front office. He was named assistant GM in 2016.

ESPN reported Harris interviewed for the Pelicans opening in April before the NBA Playoffs began.

Note the familiar names. Gersson Rosas, who subsequently became the Timberwolves President, also interviewed with the Wizards.

The connection with the Wizards and Pelicans is Mike Forde, an outside consultant who helped both teams during their respective searches.

It’s no leap imagining Forde pushing the Wizards to meet with an executive who just spent the past five years in the NBA Finals (The Bucks never finished above .500 in five seasons with Harris, however). Waiting could mean until after Game 4 of the NBA Finals (June 7). Going the full seven games means June 16.

Another front office headliner still in the postseason is Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. Expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement, according to a source.

For now, Sheppard runs the show. He led the Wizards’ contingent at last week’s NBA Combine in Chicago. As for Ferry or Weaver, as of Wednesday it was considered unlikely either heard from Washington since the organization ramped up the pursuit of Connelly or learned of the Denver executive's decision, according to sources familiar with the situation.

 For now, all anyone on the outside can do is wait patiently just like the organization and see which name bubbles up next.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

steve_smith_usat.jpg
USA Today Sports images

'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

Former Carolina Panthers' star receiver Steve Smith spoke in front of a crowd of over 400 people at the fifth annual Wake up for Wellness breakfast that was sponsored by Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.

The 16-year veteran and current NFL Network analyst touched on the importance of seeking help for bouts with depression and spoke of battles that he has faced with the disease.

“On the outside you’ll see a tough exterior. But on the inside, I’m just broken or I believe even more broken than the average man. ... Because when the stadium goes dark and the cheers stop, you’re still looking for that pat on the back,” Smith said. “Throughout my whole career, I struggled with that.”

Smith discussed that in the beginning, he was so concerned about the stigma regarding mental health, that he opted for the professional to meet him for housecalls, and as time passed he realized the importance of speaking up.

“I started to realize that I’m not broken,” he said. “I’m not being sent back to the manufacturer ... I get up every morning and figure it out.”

Smith's comments on the issue came to light just a day after the NFL and NFLPA announced new legislation that focuses on mental well being.

The newly formed Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee will develop programs for members of the NFL in addition to collaborating with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations. Each team will be mandated to retain a Behavioral Health Team Clinician for assistance that will be required to be available to players at the individual team facilities for at least 8-12 hours per week and must conduct mandatory mental health education sessions for players and coaching staff.

MORE RAVENS NEWS