Mina Kimes on her "The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny" podcast. Mina Kimes on her “The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny” podcast. (Mina Kimes on YouTube.)

Following maternity leave, Mina Kimes is back to her usual work at ESPN. That includes her appearances on NFL Live and her twice-a-week podcast, which is in partnership with Omaha Productions and which now airs on her own personal ESPN YouTube channel (she’s just the second personality ESPN has done that for, following Malika Andrews). Here’s the first episode she shared on that channel Monday:

This weekend, Kimes spoke to Awful Announcing about her return from maternity leave. She said coming back last week with some limited work, including an appearance on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, was a nice way back in.

“I actually started podcasting last week just to sort of ease back into things with work,” Kimes said. “I’ve been watching so much football over the last two months now and haven’t had a place to talk about it, so it’s just really great to have an outlet for all of my takes.”

She said it’s been enjoyable for her to go back to normal NFL conversations after maternity leave.

“I was just so excited to be able to talk to someone who wasn’t a four-week-old baby. Don’t get me wrong, he loves my takes too! Everybody loves hearing my opinions. But having someone who can talk back is really undervalued.”

Kimes’ The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny began in 2016 on a limited basis and then started as a more regular show in 2017. Starting last year, in conjunction with Omaha, it went to twice-weekly from once a week. And the show has become quite popular on YouTube in particular, and Kimes said that’s a key area she’s looking to emphasize right now, especially now that she has her own ESPN YouTube channel.

“I started doing it with my good bud Domonique Foxworth who also has a podcast with ESPN, and we would post videos,” Kimes said. “But a lot of listeners would convey, we did a survey, that they wanted a place to find these, where it would be easier to see them and also other things that I was making.”

“And for me, something I’ve been thinking of for a while is one. I want to improve the show quality and two. make sure the show has its own home and its own unique look and that it’s a visual product. And I also wanted to make original videos and have a home for all of the video at ESPN.”

She said this fits into ESPN’s overall emphasis on YouTube as a platform.

“ESPN has invested pretty heavily in YouTube. Just over the last year, there was the addition of The [Pat] McAfee Show. And our staff, which is led by Jeremy Fitch, they do a really good job of seeing where things are going and how more of my listeners were actually consuming podcast content there and going there for all their viewing needs.”

“And so when I was thinking ‘Okay, what could be next for the show, what could be next for me personally at ESPN?’, when I re-signed, that was something that just popped into my head as a way to continue growing and making things and also just kind of follow viewers and listeners where they are. And increasingly, they’re there more than ever.”

Kimes re-signed with ESPN in September following lots of reported interest from other outlets. Similarly to other NFL Live personalities, she cited the chemistry on that show in particular as a reason to stick around.

“The biggest reason is I just really love the people that I work with, especially my family on NFL Live. It’s a little cliche to call them family, but they really are to me. They’re not only wonderful human beings and amazing to work with every day, but they challenge me, we push each other, and we make what I believe is one of the best shows on television. So just for me, probably the biggest appeal was just working with the people that I love so much there in particular.”

Kimes said she also appreciates the wide range of opportunities she has with the network, though.

“But I also love the variety of things that I get to do at ESPN. That was a big draw with Around The Horn, and First Take, and filling in on shows like PTI. That’s obviously very unique to the network.”

And she said the network’s partnership with Omaha Productions (part of a wider ESPN deal on podcasts signed with that Peyton Manning-led company last year) was also a selling point.

“Last year was when I started working with Omaha on the podcast content, and it was such a terrific experience for me. They’re just really creative, driven, content-first people. And so when I was thinking about other opportunities and some of the opportunities came with different podcast partners, a big part of the appeal for me in staying with ESPN was also continuing on with Omaha.”

Kimes also has a deal with Meadowlark Media, including weekly appearances on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. But she said that doesn’t feel like work to her.

“It’s not like a job. It’s hanging out with my pals every now and then.”

It’s notable that Kimes has two quite distinct prominent gigs in different arenas, with the TV appearances on NFL Live and her own podcast. She said she does take somewhat of a different approach to each, and she appreciates the unique audience her podcast has.

“That’s something I’m learning more about with YouTube in particular. I’ve had my podcast now since, I think, 2017 (ed note: it looks to have actually started in 2016, but became more regular in 2017), and it’s a really wonderful audience. I just frankly love the people who listen to it. They’re a really special group. Every time I’ve had a chance to interact with them, whether at live events or on the internet, they’re just really lovely humans. And with that platform, not only do I feel like I can be maybe my weirdest self and my nerdiest self, but I can go down paths that you just don’t have time for on television.”

But she said NFL Live allows for its own kinds of deep dives, too.

“And on NFL Live, we get extremely nerdy. We just did a 12-minute segment on simulated pressures, and I can’t believe…to go back to why I stayed at ESPN, the fact that they let us do something like that is honestly kind of quietly remarkable. And I feel like it really is a credit to the producers there too.”

Still, The Mina Kimes Show with Lenny stands out to Kimes as a spot to explore what particularly interests her.

“Really, every podcast is just taking what interests me and going on weird tangents. It’s where I learned how to talk about football too; I was podcasting before I was on TV. So it’s just kind of like a home for me, and a place where I can have on also voices who aren’t on ESPN. One of the things I’ve really loved over the years with the podcast is bringing on new voices, young voices, football writers who I admire and are coming up. And I think that’s also what distinguishes it for me and makes it special.”

On her podcast visuals on YouTube, she said that’s an evolving product.

“I’m learning a lot on the fly about that. Something that I’ve been working on over the last few weeks, with Omaha, is making it a better visual product. So we have a new studio backdrop, we have better cameras, the production value is better. But in addition to that, for the YouTube kind of extension to the podcast, we’re doing original content. And for that kind of thing, we are coming up with ideas that have visual elements.”

“The wonderful Charlie Kravitz, who used to be the EP of Highly Questionable, is helping me a lot with my YouTube channel, as are the folks at Right Home Productions. And they’re just coming up with really creative visual graphic elements that honestly, really, there’s a lot of similarities to Highly Questionable, because we used to come up with a lot of fun graphics, photoshops, animations. And we’re trying to do the same for the YouTube channel now.”

[Mina Kimes on YouTube]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.