In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, or safely underground in a soundproof, takeproof bunker, you’ve probably heard the news that Skip Bayless is leaving ESPN for the dark underworld that FS1 is becoming.
Of course, that leaves a massive hole at First Take across the debate desk from Stephen A. Smith. Who ever will ESPN find to drone on about clutch genes? Who will they find to take credit for motivating professional sports teams to victory by their opinions? Who will they find to tell tall tales about mediocre-to-poor high school basketball careers?
Those are certainly big shoes to fill. So here are our picks to replace Skip Bayless on First Take. Some of them might even be serious selections….
Alex Putterman: Who should replace Skip Bayless? How about his single biggest critic, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch. For years Deitsch has led the anti-Bayless, anti-First Take chorus from afar, but imagine if he could try to reform the show from the inside. Sure Deitsch is no fan of First Take’s “Embrace Debate” ethos, but he himself has never shied from embracing debate when the situation calls for it. And sure Deitsch might not seem quite hot-takey enough to fit in on First Take, but he does regularly refer to Fox’s Jamie Horowitz as Lord Voldemort, so he’s got promise. Deitsch would bring a calming presence to First Take, but he also wouldn’t be afraid to get his hands dirty from time to time. How likely is this to happen? About as likely as Stephen A. Smith serving as best man at Kevin Durant’s wedding. But we can dream.
Matt Yoder: The choice is easy – a hologram of Stephen A. Smith. SAS is already on ESPN airwaves 23 out of 24 hours in the day, often times appearing on both ESPN and ESPN2 at the same time. Smith debating himself is the only logical conclusion to where First Take can go from here. Besides, in my own good conscience, I can’t put someone who I want to see succeed in life across from Stephen A. Smith yelling at them every weekday.
Liam McGuire: I thought the logical fit following Bayless’ absence was Jemele Hill. She’s become a prominent analyst and personality at ESPN and has previously served as a moderator on First Take. It seemed like a natural fit. The problem is she doesn’t want the job. She tweeted that she wouldn’t consider the job a promotion and is quite happy with her current gig and repertoire with her Number’s Never Lie co-host Michael Smith.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) April 26, 2016
@MMcCarthyREV mike & I have been waiting years to work together. I'll put our chemistry against anyone's. Show is built around me/us.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) April 26, 2016
As Alex mentioned the position should go to someone with a completely different personality than Skip’s and not some old crusty old white guy hot take artist. Perhaps Israel Gutierrez? Just please not Danny Kanell.
Matt Clapp: If we want to go the reasonable person route, someone that could actually make me consider watching the show for the first time in years… Scott Van Pelt. I understand with his solo SportsCenter late at night and his other duties with the network, it could be a difficult fit. But, he has the “debate” background so to speak with his radio show in the past, and seems very intelligent across all sports. He’s probably above this show truthfully, but I think he’d do a great job at it and make Stephen A. look like a dope regularly.
Andrew Bucholtz: I think we have to consider what ESPN actually wants here, which is over-the-top debate and the established ratings that have come with it. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the new FT co-host has to bounce off Stephen A. Smith, too: nuance on one side and screaming on the other doesn’t work well. Absolutely, someone like Scott Van Pelt would boost the credibility of the show, but they already have a role that’s a better fit for SVP, and his logic and nuance wouldn’t work well against SAS’s emotion and takes. This is why I think Danny Kanell is the logical choice. He’s perfected his trolling on multiple fronts, going beyond SEC-bashing to hot takes on a variety of sports, and his time on Russillo and Kanell shows he can offer opinions across the sports world, and do so in a way that will get people to react. He’s Skip Bayless 2.0, and that would seem to be exactly what ESPN wants in this role.
Ken Fang: Trying to think outside the box, perhaps Mark May or Sarah Spain might be one to replace Skippy. May would be there to troll Ohio State and any other fanbases, but he’s known mostly for college football. Can he branch out to other sports? Spain could be an interesting choice being one who could be a Voice of Reason on the show while SAS throws Silly Putty on the wall to see what sticks. But maybe bringing in Gonzalo “Papi” Le Batard from Highly Questionable, would change the dynamic. We could even see the potential for Stephen A. to respect his elders and maybe even calm down for a bit. Or maybe not.
Ben Koo: Kanell is my internal candidate. No filter, totally fine pissing people off and seems to already be doing it on purpose, and full of confident opinions. I like how he’s a former athlete too so it’s not like Stephen A being a loud jackass is going to make him clam up. He doesn’t care what people think of him as evidenced by his wearing of turtlenecks, and that’s a big trait of this job as basically the majority of your peers and hardcore sports fan audience basically lose respect for you as soon as you take the job.
If it’s not Kanell, I think you got to look externally to sports talk radio. And then it hit me. How about Jim Rome? His show just cancelled on Showtime. I mean isn’t that suggestion money? I don’t even feel the need to explain why this is the best answer. I mean, I’ve watched maybe 45 minutes of First Take in my life and I’m even intrigued what could unfold if you paired those two together.
Phillip Bupp: Why does ESPN have to hire someone permanent to take over Skip’s spot? This could be an opportunity for ESPN to bring in someone different every week. At least that’s what I would do if I was ESPN. That way, it does the following:
1) Make Stephen A. the star of the show, which is what he and ESPN want anyway.
2) Showcases different ESPN talent on a highly watched show for a week at a time as well as create an opportunity to market other ESPN properties. Example: Taylor Twellman was on His & Hers last week. ESPN is showing the Euro’s in June. Put Twellman on First Take a week or two before the Euro’s and that’s a great opportunity to advertise the Euro’s on First Take all week.
3) It freshens the show so you don’t see the same two people argue back and forth every day and risk the show going stale.
4) ESPN won’t have to pay someone an outrageous amount of money for someone permanent like they did with Skip.
5) It saves someone at Bristol some sanity that they didn’t need to debate Stephen A. every day for the foreseeable future. A week may not be too bad.