For the last decade Keith Olbermann has been the Larry Brown of broadcasting, a supremely talented but restless soul who has worn out a string of welcome mats as he hopped from ESPN to MSNBC to Fox and Fox Sports Net. But unlike Brown, who now appears to be ensconced as coach of the 76ers, Olbermann is on the move yet again, having resigned last week after 2� years at Fox, where he'd been hired originally to anchor the nightly Fox Sports News (renamed National Sports Report). Though the network said that the parting was "mutually amicable" and that it was partially motivated by economics (at the end, Olbermann reportedly was earning nearly $1 million a year essentially to do one weekly show, the Sunday-night The Keith Olbermann Evening News), it nonetheless was the latest sign that Olbermann's star, once so bright, continues to dim.
So what's next for a guy who doesn't do play-by-play, is far too cerebral for the fraternity-party style of many studio shows and has passed through most of the sports networks? Last week Olbermann (who didn't respond to SI's interview requests) joked in an e-mail to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News that "I'm being paid in seven figures through year's end not to be on TV and not to do radio—which is, ultimately, my dream job." The reality may be a little too close to that for his own good. "He's very talented, and I'd hate to see him not find a place to express his point of view," says NBC's Bob Costas, one of Olbermann's friends in broadcasting. "From the outside looking in, I'm land of surprised he left, because the Evening News was a perfect niche for him." Though Evening News was smart and provocative, it didn't draw enough viewers, getting only a .30 in the ratings, down from .34 for National Sports Report, which had previously held the time slot.
Olbermann has mentioned radio as a potential next stop, and a St. Petersburg Times editor suggested he'd be a perfect fill-in for Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. The sad truth, though, is that Olbermann's perfect format was ESPN's SportsCenter and Dan Patrick his perfect foil, his well-coiffed, deadpan muse. Their reign, from 1992 to '97, as "tag-team partners" was as good as sports news will ever be, an acerbic nightly ride through the backwoods of the box scores. Unfortunately, Olbermann will probably spend the rest of his career trying to recapture what he had with Patrick. So unless ESPN were to rehire Olbermann (a network source says, "We have no interest whatsoever," and ESPN's director of communications Mike Soltys told USA Today that Olbermann "didn't burn bridges here; he napalmed them"), he will continue to be TV's version of Larry Brown, just without his Allen Iverson.