Quick 10 p.m. media note: Chris Berman, as synonymous with ESPN as any sportscaster since the network's launch in 1979, plans to retire after this coming football season, The Big Lead reported tonight.
SI.com later reported he will relinquish all of his current duties after this football season but might still appear appear occasionally for ESPN at special events, such as the Super Bowl. (SI.com says that decision hasn't been made.)
A spokesman at ESPN, which typically denies reports that aren't true, declined to comment tonight when asked if The Big Lead report is accurate.
Berman's agent told The New York Times tonight: "Chris is not retiring. Loves what he's doing too much and is too young to hang 'em up."
And when I spoke to Berman a year ago this month, he sounded inclined to continue beyond the expiration of his contract at the end of this coming football season.
Last May, I asked Berman how long he wanted to continue an ESPN career that began in 1979, a month after the network launched.
“I wouldn't subject America to that long,” Berman cracked when I asked him, somewhat in jest, if he might go another decade or two. “I turned 60 [on Sunday in May 2015]. I have two more years to go on my contract [now one]. That means Tommy Jackson and I will have been together 30 years [on NFL studio shows.] This is our 29th. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were 31 years. That would be kind of cool.
“I think we’re pretty good at it and we still like it a lot. If I went to 65, which is five more years, that would be 40 years at ESPN. I wouldn’t bet on anything beyond that. I’m not worried about it. I’ve been employed longer than I should be.
“Bob Ley and I started in the fall of 1979, when ESPN began. If I go to 65, that will be spring of 2020. That is a six-decade man.”
Just my speculation here, but Trey Wingo appears primed to succeed Berman on NFL studio programming in 2017, presuming The Big Lead and SI.com reports are accurate. Suzy Kolber, who also has received studio assignments in recent years, also warrants an expanded role.
Berman has stepped back from baseball in recent years, with his duties largely limited to marquee NFL assignments: hosting Sunday NFL Countdown, the Monday Night Football pre-game and halftime shows and the first round of the draft.
TANNEHILL, KAAYA TALK
Nobody should benefit more from change at the top than the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill and UM’s Brad Kaaya, who are both now working under head coaches who know what they’re doing with quarterbacks.
“One of his strongest attributes is his teaching ability,” Tannehill said Thursday of Adam Gase. “He makes it to where it’s easy to understand.”
Both of South Florida’s high-profile quarterbacks addressed assorted issues Thursday:
• Tannehill loves Gase’s offense, and the new freedom it gives him to audible to a better play.
“With [former offensive coordinator] Bill [Lazor’s] offense, we were kind of locked in,” Tannehill said. “What he called is what we ran. With this offense, we're going to mix things up. We're going to move quickly at times, snap the ball quickly. At other times, we're going to get up to the line quickly and take our time. At other times we're going to huddle and be like a standard offense. Just the variability and the versatility that this offense has and the different things that we can do to create the drives that we want to create down the field.
“I'm excited. I'm excited about what this offense entails. It entails a lot of fun stuff for a quarterback to be able to direct traffic, keep pressure on the defense and get us in a good play. To me, that's exciting. That's something you come to work and you're excited about putting your team in the best possible situation.
“I think this is an exciting offense to be in - regardless of what position you're in - because of how we're going to attack defenses, Coach Gase and what he brings to the table (and) his aggressive style and always wanting to keep the heat on the defense."
• After four years of being “babied” (Greg Jennings’ words) under past coaches, Tannehill finally has been given the authority, at the line, to “adjust - whether its protections, routes, a whole new play.” As Gase said today: “In this offense, you're not really locked in on what the play call is. For him to have the ability to know what to get to - that kind of flexibility - being able to do that as a quarterback is very valuable."
Said Tannehill: “There's a lot of freedom in what we do. I think that's going to make us always on the attack. We're not going to have to sit on our heels and feel like the defense is coming after us, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. We can put pressure on the defense by getting in a good play and always keeping the heat on the defense."
• Gase said today that Tannehill’s intelligence “is off the charts,” and Tannehill said “It's fun for me to be able to dive in and take ownership of the offense and being able to learn it like a coach. That's ultimately what I want to do: I want to be a guy on the field that anyone on the field can come to and ask a question, and I have the answers.
“Still in that learning process, but trying to get through that as quickly as I can so that I am that guy that everyone can look to on the field and ask me a question and know exactly what they have.”
• Good feedback from Tannehill today on the Dolphins’ new offensive pieces. “We've been sacked a lot here in the past few years, so to see them take a big step and have a guy like Laremy Tunsil fall to us in the first round was huge for us,” Tannehill said.
“I'm completely impressed by what he's done so far, his athleticism. You look at him ... The first day in the weight room working out, the first day I saw him here in person, I kind of looked over (and) I didn't realize he was here yet. I looked over, and I was like 'Wow! That looks like an offensive lineman.' He's athletic. He's big. (He has) long arms. He's what you want to see in an offensive lineman.
“I'm really excited to have him. Jermon Bushrod is a veteran guy who has been around and played a lot of football. He's definitely going to help us. And then the skill guys we added, as well. We have talent. A fun guy that you're going to see is (WR) Jakeem (Grant). He's small, but we call him 'Mighty Mouse.' He's making plays all over the field. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever seen. He has that low center of gravity. He's able to be really, really shifty coming in and out of his cuts. He makes a lot of plays so far. [Leonte Carroo] is a strong, physical guy that's going to be a weapon for us. He's going to be able to have some run-after-catch (yards), be physical with the corners (and) be physical down the field. It's always good to have a strong body type that can combat (the) quickness of a guy like Jakeem (Grant). You have a ying and a yang there."
• Tannehill forced himself to do 20 pushups today simply because he missed a target in a throwing drill.
• With Kaaya rated a top-15 pick by both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, will it be a difficult decision whether to turn pro if he has a good junior season?
“I really haven’t thought about it all,” he told me today. He said the same thing when I asked whether he was leaning one way or the other about playing one more year or two here.
“I owe it to my teammates not to think about it,” he said. “I want to make the first year under coach Richt a memorable year.”
He also said, to a larger group of reporters: “When I was in high school and didn't have any offers, that always sticks in my head. I'm not a guy that's going to loosen my work ethic. I haven't arrived. I haven't hit my ceiling. I still think I have a ways to go.”
So Kaaya, who's majoring in public relations, didn’t want to reassure that he will be here for two years, and that’s completely understandable. Among players who get first-round grades from the NFL’s draft advisory board, Mark Richt historically has not advised those players to stay in school. But UM believes one factor that could help its chance of keeping Kaaya is the fact he doesn’t need a cash infusion; his family is in good shape financially.
• Among the things Kaaya likes about Mark Richt is he’s “not letting me get complacent. Kept on me hard. Him and coach Jon
[Richt] have made sure I've gotten better at something every single day. At the end of spring, we all talked about it. I met with Coach Richt and Coach Jon, us three at the end of spring. We all agreed I had a pretty good spring. There are some things I did pretty good. There are a lot of things I should be working on. We all talked about that.
“They've helped me of not staying the same and making sure I get better at something every single day, whether it's a throw to my left or stepping into a certain pass or a certain drop.”
Kaaya's accuracy was very impressive in the spring, according to those in attendance for closed practices.
• This UM offense is going to an interesting mix of pro style and spread and more, and Kaaya likes that. He will be in the shotgun some but not as much as in 2015.
“I was under center a lot my freshman year,” he said. "Depending on the game plan, I'll be comfortable in it, whether the game plan calls for being more under center and pro style sets or whether I might need to spread it out a few games…. Might sprint out some plays. Some plays might be straight drop back. Other plays, I can tempo my drop.”
• Kaaya has bulked up from 208 to 215 and it’s “good weight,” he said, adding the new strength coach (Gus Felder) is doing “an excellent job.”