When assistant managing editor Craig Neff recently returned to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED after five years as managing editor of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR KIDS, he left behind some big shoes to fill. Actually, they were a pair of Shaquille O'Neal's size-20 Reeboks, one of the many amusing props Neff kept around the office at KIDS that new managing editor Neil Cohen now occupies. "It's nice to help put out a magazine for grown-ups again," says Neff, "but I'll miss the toys. The mission at KIDS was very different from the one at SI. We'd ask athletes things that SI writers would never ask, like, 'What is the grossest thing you ever ate?' "
Neff leaves behind some large metaphorical shoes as well. During his tenure, SI FOR KIDS, our monthly sister publication geared toward readers ages eight to 14, increased its circulation 25%, to 1.1 million, and won numerous honors, including the 1992 Acres of Diamonds Award for best publication launched in the preceding five years. Last week KIDS earned two nominations for the 1996 National Magazine Awards, one for general excellence. Neff also helped create three KIDS TV specials, all of which featured Buzz Beamer, the magazine's popular cartoon character.
But here at the grownup SI we consider the youthful-looking Neff, 38, an old hand. After he graduated from Colgate in 1979, Neff spent 11 years covering some of the biggest sports stories of the late '80s for us, from sprinter Ben Johnson's positive test for steroids at the Seoul Olympics to Pete Rose's ban from baseball. In quite a different article, on Rose's breaking the career record for hits, Neff told the story from the ball's point of view.
The choice of Cohen to take over for Neff was obvious. "Neil has been like an incredible offensive coordinator," says Neff of his former assistant managing editor. "Your team is running up 60 points a game, and you know he's going to be a great head coach. And, unlike me, he actually has a kid." Cohen's first issue as managing editor scored major points with his son Ben, 5, a huge fan of Michael Jordan's, because a cartoon of Jordan appeared on the March cover of KIDS. "Ben's not quite old enough to read the magazine yet," says Cohen, "but he loves the pictures."
Early in his magazine career, Cohen, 43, a graduate of Queens College, in Flushing, N.Y., worked at several trade magazines, including Dairy & Ice Cream Field. In the eyes of most kids, that position alone would have qualified him for his new position, but we were more impressed by the rest of his resume: eight years at Sport magazine, where he worked his way up to editor in chief, a stint as a senior editor at The National sports daily and five years at KIDS. "Craig is a tough act to follow," says Cohen. "What I hope to do is find ways to introduce the magazine to more kids via on-line, books, television. And we want to continue to use the magazine to get them excited about reading."
When Neff moved, he didn't bequeath all his toys to Cohen. "I couldn't leave behind my tabletop basketball game," says Neff, "and I brought my dictionary, for the big words."