After previously splitting time between NBC, Bleacher Report and other outlets, Chris Simms is settling into a full-time role with NBC. That started in March, and includes everything from the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast to work on Football Night In America, Pro Football Talk Live, and Notre Dame broadcasts. Simms spoke to Awful Announcing earlier this month, and said joining NBC full-time has been great for him.
“It’s been amazing. For one, it’s nice just to be working in one building all day long instead of the way I was doing where I was going like NBC, Bleacher Report, back to NBC, it’s made life easier that way. NBC really not only made an investment in me personally but has really gone above and beyond to put out and publicize my podcast Unbuttoned. They gave me an opportunity at first to start off on Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio. And obviously I proved my worth to them to some degree to where they wanted me full-time.”
A big area of focus for Simms right now is that podcast, and he said a key goal there is to bring the football knowledge he’s picked up over his lifetime to his audience.
“My goal is to really inform people about football. I’ve had a very fortunate life as far as being able to be around a lot of smart football minds. And I was the type of kid, even when I was four years old, I knew every player on every team and I knew their number and all that stuff. So not only did I grow up in NFL football, you know, with my dad and all his stories about how Bill Parcells managed football teams, and my experience being at Texas and being a quarterback who played for Jon Gruden, and longer than any other quarterback he’s ever had, Or being around Jeff Fisher, being around Josh McDaniels in Denver and then going to New England after my career was over and being around McDaniels and [Bill] Belichick.”
“I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been around some really smart football minds and I’ve learned a lot of football that way. I have a lot of friends throughout the league that I have connections with. And I just hope to give the listener, or viewer depending on where you’re watching or listening, insight and maybe nuances that other podcasts aren’t going to bring. Whether that’s just things that I feel like are going on behind the scenes in the NFL or getting into in-depth breakdowns of players that are coming out in the draft or free agency or in-depth breakdowns about games, maybe disproving some of the media headlines that are out there.”
“Like, ‘The Packers didn’t play good because Aaron Rodgers was bad.’ Well, if I’ve seen on film otherwise, I can go ‘Okay, now this wasn’t Aaron Rodgers. Nobody was open all game long and he didn’t have pass protection.’ I hope that I can bring the truth of what happened and maybe dispel some of the dumb narratives of the world that are out there.”
Focusing on the Xs and Os can sometimes limit a show’s audience, but Simms says he wants to keep that in balance, and keep his podcast informative but accessible.
“I try to balance it. I feel like I have the ability to talk the game in a technical aspect and still lay it out in layman’s terms. …I welcome that person that is maybe not knee-deep in the NFL or in the weeds of football all the time to come on the podcast. Because hopefully I can teach them certain things or angles on
how to look at something and evaluating a player or whatever it may be. But I would also think that we do appeal to the guy that is obsessed with football.”
One challenge for many who cover the NFL is providing criticism when warranted, which can be harmful to relationships with players, coaches, and front-office personnel. Simms says he isn’t worried about backlash even when he’s critical, though.
“We’re going to hit all topics on the NFL. I have a big mouth and I’m not necessarily afraid to give my opinion or my fact-based opinion, no matter who it might be against or whatever it is. And I hope people can appreciate my honesty and truthfulness, no matter how unpopular it can be at times. I am going to give the honest take, whether the guy’s my friend or I knew this quarterback when I was younger or whatever it may be. I think my track record is proven, I can be very fair or unfair equally to everybody.”
He said he has experienced some pushback from those he’s criticized, but he understands that.
“Definitely, there’s no question about it. There were players, coaches that didn’t want to talk to me at the NFL owners’ meetings because I might have said something bad about them during the season or whatever. It does come with the territory; I understand it’s the business I’m in. And if you’re going to be truthful all the time and really study the game, you’re not going to always make everybody happy. And I’m not saying I’m always right, either. I understand that.”
Simms said his willingness to look back at what he got wrong is one way to address that. And a recent example of that came from an episode with Houston Texans’ WR DeAndre Hopkins, where Simms and Hopkins went to New York City’s Washington Square Park with a “DeAndre Hopkins is the best wide receiver in the NFL: change our minds” sign. Simms had previously been critical of Hopkins himself, and he addresses that at the start of this clip:
Simms said he’s committed to looking back at his past comments and reevaluating them when more information becomes available, and his change of stance on Hopkins was both an example of that and an example of how being honest with players can work out.
“I take great pride, one of my things about the podcast is I scout myself, as I say. It’s kind of becoming a running joke. I am perfectly willing to admit when I’ve been wrong about the evaluation of a player and DeAndre Hopkins was certainly one of those guys. And at the end of the day I think he really appreciated that I was honest with him about not seeing how good he was early on in his career. And that I was willing to admit that I think really set up for a better interview. But I don’t want to be that guy who talks out of both sides of my mouth now, and hopefully it comes off that way.”
“This is another thing that I want to do with the podcast, be somewhat of the players’ podcast. I think out of all the athletes we have in our country, NFL football players are the least known. Everybody just knows their uniform number and what they look like in a helmet and a face mask. It’s just different from the NBA or baseball, where there’s facial recognition and everybody can feel warm and cozy about the guy. ‘Oh, there’s Derek Jeter. He’s so handsome, what a great smile, I love him.’ You don’t really get to see that aspect of NFL players.”
“And you’re not going to see that when they’re on the sidelines and their helmet is off because football is so intense. More times than not, unless you’re like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, everybody else is super focused and intense. Those two are awesome, so they can just relax and laugh and have a good time. So I want to be able to not only get people to know football players, because there’s a whole lot more good than bad and bad somewhat gets the headlines more than they deserve.”
Simms said he also wants to showcase players like Hopkins who don’t necessarily always get a ton of press.
“And also, I really get off on showing or bringing people who I think are stars in the NFL but maybe are not getting that household national recognition yet because other people are dominating the headlines. And with DeAndre Hopkins, that’s what fit in there. When we talk about wide receivers, it’s always Odell
Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown. And I feel like he gets left out of that conversation; I think he’s right there with with those guys. I like giving him the credit for what he’s done and the success he’s had on the field.”
With the news that the Alliance of American Football was suspending football operations earlier this month, Simms had some interesting thoughts on not only that league (which his brother Matt was playing in), but the wider idea of if a high-profile spring football league can ever succeed.
“Well, I have serious doubts of whether a league outside the NFL can work in the U.S, I do. I was rooting for the AAF, my brother was playing in the league so I
certainly didn’t want him to fail and wanted to see the success. And I do think there needs to be some farm system or minor-league to the NFL to a degree, I certainly think something has to be figured out that way. But to say that I think there can be a spring football league that can actually compete with the NFL, man I’m gonna have to see it to believe it.”
“And that’s no disrespect to anybody, but, you know, I go back to one thing. People watch sports and football because they want to see greatness, and they want
to go ‘Oh my gosh, I want to turn this on. It’s Aaron Rodgers, I’ve got to see what he’s gonna do. There’s five minutes left in the game, what’s he gonna do? Oh my
gosh, it’s the New England Patriots and Belichick and Brady in the playoffs, let me turn on this greatness and see what they’re about to do. They’re going to make a run at the Super Bowl.”
“And to me, that’s where some of these other leagues are gonna fall short. I just don’t know if there’s going to be enough stars that are going to be polarizing enough to get people to tune in and watch the game on a consistent basis. I guess that’s where I worry about it. And in the eighties, the USFL did get stars and stole people like Jim Kelly and Steve Young away from the NFL, Reggie White for a period of time. But then the finances weren’t right and that didn’t work either. So I guess my long long story short is I’ve got to see it to believe it for sure.”
Overall, Simms is thrilled with what he’s been able to do at NBC so far, and excited for what’s ahead.
“It’s just a special company to be a part of. I think it speaks a lot to the leadership that people are really cool, they don’t try to tell me what’s going on in football. Instead, they listen to me, because they know I know a whole lot about it. And we try to frame our discussions around that. Where I think at other companies it can be a little bit vice-versa at times. Like, ‘Oh, this is what we’re talking about, and deal with it even though it’s stupid.’ I just appreciate that.”
“And it’s really been a pretty big honor not only to be a part of Pro Football Talk, but I get to do pregame and halftime of Notre Dame football. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? I still get goosebumps with that. Then I got to be on Sunday Night Football for like 11 weeks this year, which was, for a kid like me and just a football historian, I mean, gosh it just doesn’t get any bigger than being on that stage as far as the NFL is concerned and then for them to have enough belief in me to sign me full-time and put so much behind my podcast, it’s been pretty awesome for me.”