Vitale sounds off; Gruden signs on
ESPN's Dick Vitale addresses issues of bias toward big programs
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer exposes the Browns' woes
ESPN Norby Williamson on why the network extended Jon Gruden
Each week SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
Last May ESPN's Dick Vitale hosted his fourth annual Dick Vitale Gala, a glitzy evening featuring dozens of college basketball coaches -- including bold-face names such as John Calipari, Billy Donovan, and Rick Pitino -- schmoozing amid a well-heeled crowd at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. The coaches paid their own transportation costs as well as lodging -- the tickets were $1,000 per pop -- and the result of the gala was more than $1.1 million being raised for St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center.
The night spoke to Vitale's passion for raising money for cancer research.
It also spoke to how close Vitale is to the people he covers.
One of the longtime criticisms of Vitale -- and it is a valid one -- is that he is an inveterate butt-smoocher of coaches. Calipari and Pitino are among his favorites. Ten years ago, Sports Illustrated's Tim Crothers wrote a lead paragraph in a profile of Vitale that remains basically true today: "Dick Vitale is a very nice man, let us say that right up front. And let us give him the benefit of the doubt by saying that his geniality is the reason he does such a disservice to his viewers by extolling every person and product that comes into his head while degrading the language with ceaseless superlatives."
With the college basketball season upon us and Vitale back to broadcast some the biggest games featuring the biggest coaches, SI.com asked he and fellow ESPN commentator Jay Bilas how they navigate between personal relationships they have with coaches and programs, and the responsibilities they have to the viewer. Bilas played for Duke and later served as an assistant coach for the program. He is also an instructor at the Nike Skills Academy, and the Nike/LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, which annually features appearances by some of the nation's best college players.
Dick Vitale: "I have been accused of singing the praises of Duke and singing the praises of North Carolina and I will never apologize for that. No. 1, I think I am being honest for that and very candid in my evaluation. If I am singing the praises of a program that has 14 wins a year, then you have a right to complain. But when I am talking about a team and program that year after year is winning games, graduating players, in the challenge for a national championship, I have no problem with that whatsoever. I try to be balanced, very simply. We try to be as honest as we can. We are doing a game. We are not in the business of a show like The Sports Reporters. ... But I will tell you this, there is no doubt that we try to be honest and try to be fair and I am always dealing with the best of the best.
"Probably one of the toughest moments I ever had in all my years of broadcasting, I opened the show up [in 1988] with Kentucky against Duke at the Hall of Fame game [the Tip-Off Classic]. I came on that night to open the show about a good friend of mine, a really good friend of mine, Eddie Sutton. We did clinics did together when we were young coaches. But it had gotten so embarrassing what was happening at Kentucky, I said it's time for Eddie Sutton to step down. (You can find SI's Alex Wolff's description of that moment here.) But people want to hear what they want to hear. You can't please everybody in this business. You try to look in the mirror, prepare, and do as best as you can. And that's all I've done and I'm 70 now, and hell, I'm not going to change now."
Jay Bilas: "To me, the key issue is saying what I see and saying what I know to be true. There is the opinion side of what we do, letting people know, here's how good I think this team, player or coach is and here is what they do well, what they do poorly, and why they win or here is why they lose. I say what I think there and what the situation dictates.
"I have situations where I've second-guessed a coach on the air and I try not to even consider what the coaches' feelings will be about it. There are times in dealing with coaches and players you have a relationship with and dealing with comments you get off the record. That's where you hope your best judgment comes in. I worked with Manny Harris of Michigan two summers ago. I have not worked with or been around a better kid. Last year, he was involved in an elbowing incident and I was pretty hard on him. I could have sat there and said, 'Great kid, let's dismiss it,' but I didn't. I said what I thought and I had a lot of critical comments from Michigan fans. But I didn't know any other way to handle it. I worked with Manny again this summer and we joked about it. Adults don't handle that situation better than he handled it. I wish I had the poise that kid has.