Dan Patrick joined Scott Van Pelt on his new iteration of SportsCenter this week to talk about, well, being Dan Patrick, and what life has been like since leaving ESPN eight years ago.
Patrick called his return to the Bristol, Connecticut campus, “a strange feeling” and even wore his visitors’ pass during the interview, making sure people knew he wasn’t “putting down roots.”
The most telling comment from Patrick came after Van Pelt asked what his time at ESPN means to him now, with the benefit of nearly a decade away. “I can never get away from it,” Patrick sighed, then followed that by explaining he and Keith Olbermann did their brand of SportsCenter, “for the right reasons.”
It’s clear that Patrick still feels a sense of uneasiness when looking back on his tenure at ESPN; that he endured his time in Bristol more than he can celebrate what it did for his career.
That got us thinking. If Patrick can sit down with Van Pelt—heck if Olbermann can get his own (now-defunct) show, after all the things done on both sides of that ESPN aisle—who else might be welcome back to ESPN? Let’s not forget we’re talking about the place where Stephen A. Smith could go from getting let go to being hired back to become a debate-embracing darling in less than a five years. We’re talking about a place where Jason Whitlock can go from burning every Bristol bridge in 2006 to being rehired last year to run a vanity site (he has since been removed from running) in less than a decade. Anyone can go back to ESPN.
Anyone? Okay, probably not anyone. With Patrick’s SportsCenter reunion a reminder that “you never know,” here are ten names that probably won’t be back at ESPN in some of their regular haunts anytime soon.
Bill Simmons on ESPN’s NBA shows
Before his tenure at HBO even officially begins, Bill Simmons has this distinct, “I wish I knew how to quit you” relationship going with his old employer. There’s little doubt that Simmons will be a huge success at HBO with the various digital platforms the cable outfit is set to provide, but I’ll make a handshake wager that at some point in his career, Simmons ends up back working with ESPN.
PS: I only have 3 more weeks of being an unemployed/unabashed Boston homer before I have to be fair & balanced again. I'm gonna use them.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 8, 2015
Hell probably won’t freeze over before Simmons returns to ESPN in some capacity, even if it’s just in a similar way Patrick came back to SportsCenter, but one place I’d be shocked to find Simmons ever again is on the network’s NBA television coverage. When Simmons is the star—podcast, Bill-branded television shows, columns—he shines. When he has to share the spotlight with anyone, it never quite works.
I’d expect Simmons back on ESPN at some point, but not doing the NBA, which is a shame, because it would be fun to get another chance at moments like this, even if it comes in a decade or two.
Emmitt Smith on ESPN’s NFL shows
Emmitt Smith is one of the greatest players in NFL history and his greatness playing the game of football is rivaled only by his awfulness talking about it on television.
So hell may not freeze over before Smith appears back on ESPN as a former player turned professional celebrity—going through the history of ESPN since Smith’s ouster from ESPN in 2009, it stands to reason he appeared in some capacity over the last six years—but hiring him back to talk about football would be a cold, cold day indeed.
Sean Salisbury on anything on ESPN
It was amazing to think how long Sean Salisbury lasted at ESPN. Remember, the NFL quarterback turned screaming head was once suspended in 2006 for showing a photo of his genitals to co-workers and it still took ESPN until 2008 to get rid of him. Given how toxic Salisbury was then, and how deep downward the spiral of his life went after leaving ESPN, it would be a frigid day in Bristol before he ever worked from ESPN again. This excerpt is from an April 2015 profile in the New York Daily News.
“I lost damn near everything,” Salisbury says. “But it has shaped me. It has made me a better person.”
Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatment (PAST), the New Jersey medical group that has provided medical care to indigent athletes, helped Salisbury confront his depression and performed surgery that alleviated the pain in his football-injured shoulder. Salisbury started eating healthier and hit the gym like a fiend. He says he’s lost 40 pounds and feels better than he has in years.
Salisbury’s professional life is also much healthier, too: He’s returned to the national spotlight, this time as a host for Yahoo! Sports Radio. He’s also hosting an afternoon show for the ESPN radio affiliate in Houston.
A WHAT affiliate? Excuse me while I check the thermostat.
Hugh Douglas on anything on ESPN as well
It’s been just over a year since Hugh Douglas was fired at ESPN and given the manner in which he conducted himself while working with ESPN, it’s a shock he could work anywhere in media ever again, let alone back at ESPN anytime soon.
The thing about Douglas, and Salisbury for that matter, is that there is a never-ending rotation of retiring players who are more recognizable to fans and far less of a headache. I could name ten defensive players who have retired or will give up the game in the next two years who are just as good or better than Douglas on the air, with presumably far fewer problems (read: demons) in their personal and professional lives.
Jim Rome on ESPN’s late-night television
Jim Rome has been burning up the airwaves for years with a hugely successful radio show, but he left ESPN in 2012 despite reports the network wanted to re-up him on Jim Rome is Burning to take his television show to…CBS Sports Network. While CBS’s cable offering is miles behind similar projects for NBC and Fox (and clearly ESPN) Rome has been something of a tent pole for the network since moving there three years ago.
It may not be a cold day in hell before Rome returns to ESPN—radio people have a tendency to intermingle quite a bit from network to network—but seeing Rome doing a television show for ESPN seems unlikely after he reportedly left the WWL in part because of what people said about him in James A. Miller’s book on ESPN.
One thing is clear, we all miss the nascent days of “the Deuce,” but it will probably be as chilly a day as possible before this happens on ESPN’s air ever again.
Brian Kenny as a SportsCenter anchor
Brian Kenny always seemed a bit miscast as a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN and since moving to MLB Network, he has shown how valuable he can be when given a proper role. Combine his television success after leaving ESPN with his national radio show and it would be a huge surprise if Kenny ever went back for anything other than their lead studio host on ESPN’s baseball coverage and/or a super prominent spot in the national radio rotation.
This excerpt from a 2011 interview with Kenny talks about how much he enjoyed his time at ESPN—leading to the belief he could one day return—but how he wanted to feel wanted.
Q: You had a dream job at ESPN. Was it a hard decision to leave?
A: It was very difficult to leave ESPN. I had 14 great years there. I was always proud to work there. I had great working relationships with everybody, from the people I worked with on a daily basis, to the very top. It was a terrific experience and I am still proud to say I was there. But this was just too good to pass up. (President and CEO) Tony Pettiti and (senior VP for production) John Entz have wanted me here. They made me feel wanted. They saw exactly what I did and what I could bring to this network. Basically they made everything possible. That, and the high level the network is at already and the ability to do baseball just year-round made it something that was perfect. After a while, my wife (Nikki) and I had many conversations about “What do we do? We have been at ESPN 14 years. We love it. We can stay here.” But at a certain point, why would we say “no” to these people, to MLB Network, and eventually we didn’t.
Fred Hickman on SportsCenter
I only bring up Hickman’s name because Scott Van Pelt brought it up to me in an interview last week when I asked him to name every SportsCenter anchor in 60 seconds. The last name before the buzzer was Hickman, and maybe that’s a good way to describe his tenure at ESPN.
Hickman now talks sports on TV at a local station in New Orleans, but given his past, both at ESPN and before his time there, it’s unlikely he would have, or want, a resurgence to that national level.
Erin Andrews on the college football sidelines
At the peak of her popularity, Erin Andrews was one of the five or six most important people on screen at ESPN. While her rise to stardom was not unexpected, she’s become far more prominent in popular culture than many of us could have guessed, circumstances for that notoriety notwithstanding. Working with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as part of the lead Fox NFL crew, she’s way too big to to ever go back to the college football sidelines. Especially at ESPN.
When Andrews left ESPN to go to Fox it was in part because the opportunity to raise her profile was there, hosting studio programming and working events at Fox Sports she was never being given the opportunity to do at ESPN.
Andrews’ sideline work essentially created a cottage industry of clones patrolling every college field in America for nearly a decade. As Fox has learned though, as good as Andrews is at working the sideline beat—she’s still one of the best sideline reporters in baseball today—people aren’t tuning in because she is on the telecast like they used to.
Despite her enormous celebrity, Andrews was never able to transition into a studio star like she has been patrolling the field, and while she’s a popular host of ABC’s dancing competition show, it’s impossible to think ESPN would ever put up the money needed to get her back on the sports side of the Disney ledger.
Moreover, Andrews has become one of the most successful spokespersons in America. She could retire on probiotic money alone. There will be no reason for her to go back to a college football sideline for ESPN. Ever.
Jay Mariotti on Around the Horn
It’s amazing that Jay Mariotti even has a job in this industry, or that anyone takes his opinion on anything seriously anymore. ESPN is a vast place and, as previously mentioned, a seemingly forgiving one when it comes to welcoming people back.
That said, if ESPN ever let Mariotti back into the fold, the place itself might as well go ahead and fold.
There is no way. There’s just no way.
Rush Limbaugh on NFL Countdown
Rush Limbaugh’s employment at ESPN made hiring Dennis Miller to do Monday Night Football look like look like casting Loretta Young as Katrin Holstrom in H.C. Potter’s The Farmer’s Daughter. (I would back that up with another obstruse and haughty Milleresque reference but that one took me about five minutes to think of so that’s all you get.)
Lumbaugh’s tenure TALKING FOOTBALL FOR ESPN was short lived, but I swear it did actually happen and I didn’t just imagine in during a horrific fever dream I had after smoking hashish mixed with peyote on the French Riviera with a young Jean-Luc Godard and Coco Chanel. (Oh, well there’s two.)
Yes, Miller seemed like a good hire when compared to this.
There isn’t enough ice in the world to freeze hell over for this to ever happen again. I can’t even imagine Limbaugh qualifying for the Visitors’ pass.