Press Coverage: Trey Wingo Q&A, Gruden, Millen & Kevin Kennedy Is a Bona Fide Hero

When ESPN turned on the lights for Saturday's coverage of the NFL Draft, Trey Wingo anchored the main set with Ron Jaworski, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper to his right. Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter were perched up above the ESPN main stage to provide trade details and report on rumors and draft speculation. It was, without a doubt, the best possible lineup for ESPN to put on television for what is now day three of the NFL Draft. Jon Gruden was slated to be part of Saturday's coverage – more on that later – but to someone who has watched nearly every pick of every draft over the last 15 years, ESPN hit a home run with their personnel on Saturday. ↵

↵Wingo took the time after the NFL Draft to answer a few questions: ↵

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↵DL: Are you still mad at me for not selecting you in our "drafting the NFL Draft" post last week? I still feel kinda bad about that. ↵
↵TW: Of course not... I consider myself a "value" pick. ↵

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↵DL: I have been rather critical of the job ESPN did on the draft, particularly in the first two days. Is it more difficult to put on a production like the draft when there's another outlet doing the same event? Do you find yourselves looking over your shoulders now that the viewers have something to compare the ESPN telecast to? ↵
↵TW: I think the event itself is extremely difficult, regardless of who's covering it. From my perspective, competition is never a bad thing... it makes everyone work harder. ↵

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↵DL: Do you, specifically, watch any of the NFLN coverage during the week to see what they do differently? Another way to ask this, I suppose, is: what are you watching the first two days to prepare for the last four rounds on the weekend? ↵
↵TW: I'm watching what we're doing and trying get ready, preparing myself for how we're going to do our show, talking to the producers and trading information with our analysts. In short, I'm trying to only focus on what I can control, which on draft weekend, is very little. It's like free verse. ↵

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↵DL: Part of my criticism of ESPN was about the chaotic nature of the first few rounds, an issue I attributed, for full disclosure, to Chris Berman's lead role on the set. I'm not asking you to defend/critique Berman, per se, but am I being unfair by landing the criticism on him? In other words, how much responsibility is on the host/anchor to drive the bus, and how much of your job is playing Pinochio to the director and producer's Geppetto? Also, how much can you plan for in pre-event meetings for a show as nebulous as the draft, and how much is predicated on the ability for all of you -- host, director, producer, analyst -- to maneuver on the fly? ↵
↵TW: The draft is a team effort. A million moving parts pulling in different directions. It would be completely unfair to pin something on anyone. The draft is ultimate reality TV. Sometimes it's going be bumpy – like a flight over the Rockies – and it gives the viewer a chance to see the chaotic nature of how it's done, and that's ok. Just know that we're along for the ride with them, and we're working on getting it right. ↵

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↵DL: Is there less pressure on the set, and on the host, in the later rounds because you're not hampered by needing to stop the conversation every 7-10 minutes to let the commissioner steal 30 seconds of face time? ↵
↵TW: I really don't think going to the commissioner of the most powerful sports league in this country can be considered "stealing" face time. He and the league are why we're there. It's their show, we're just trying to cover it in the best way we can for our viewers. Plus I would argue there's more emphasis on driving content in the later rounds because the names aren't as familiar to as many people. Not more or less pressure, just a different kind of pressure. ↵

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↵DL: The last few rounds are for the diehard fans, so is it a challenge to balance the coverage between the draft highlights -- Bradford, Tebow, Clausen's drop -- with what's going on in the later rounds? Those still watching in round six have probably been watching since Thursday, so is there more of a focus on what's going on in the later rounds, or the overall storylines in the draft? ↵
↵TW: I think the idea is the same from round one pick one, to round seven pick 255: give the viewer the best information we can and try and let them understand WHY this is important. It's the reason we show the late round picks that have been home runs, ala Marques Colston with pick 252 in 2006. ↵

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↵DL: More than one pundit mentioned they were "rooting" for Tim Tebow. Even Mel Kiper, in a very candid moment, mentioned that he never roots for guys who he gives low grades to succeed in the NFL, but he's rooting for Tebow. Do you find yourself, while doing the telecast, rooting for certain picks? Any Baylor kids or UConn kids? Or even just rooting for a team to pick a kid with a sixth round grade in the fourth round, so Mel and Todd McShay will blow a stack about value? ↵
↵TW: The draft has real moments of drama. I remember a few years back we had a camera on Trent Edwards all day, until he was finally picked by Buffalo. Same with Dan Lefevour this year. They invite us into their homes to watch hopefully a happy but sometimes very painful process. In that sense I like to see those moments pay off for the kids who've let us be a part of their lives. and the payoff with Lefevour this year was great. An Illinois kid with a framed Walter Payton jersey hanging behind him goes to the Bears. Yeah, I'd like to see him make it. ↵

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↵DL: Was there a moment on Saturday where you thought, "uh-oh, this was not what we had planned"? How did you manage to handle it? And yes, I am fully aware that this is the same question I was asked during interviews for any job at Super G or Old Navy I had when I was in high school. ↵
↵TW: At Old Navy I used to say, "let me see what I have in back". As for the draft, there is nothing planned. The whole thing is unscripted, and it goes on for seven hours. It's all about trying to keep the current flowing downstream. And on track. Honestly Dan, from pick one of round four through 255 in round seven very little went as planned. For example: in a matter of 30 seconds I found out that while I was interviewing Mike Tomlin, I'd be getting Jim Caldwell of the Colts next, the producer Ken Menard telling me that in my ear while I was talking to Tomlin. You just have to keep moving and think on the fly. ↵

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↵DL: Important follow: you worked at Old Navy, or you were making a joke? ↵
↵TW: I am so old that Old Navy didn't exist when I would have worked there. Yes...twas a joke. (Ed note: anyone who worked at Old Navy would know there is no "in the back" as their surplus is stored in "upstock" above each rack. So it was pretty obvious he was joking, but just doing my due diligence as a journalist.) ↵

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↵DL: Conversely, was there a moment where you knew what was coming -- a certain player to a certain team, a question you could ask a coach that you knew would get a good response -- that just clicked for you? Was that your favorite draft moment? If not, what was your favorite moment of the draft, with you on the air or not? ↵
↵TW: I certainly loved it when Mack Brown made the announcement of the Colt McCoy pick. I enjoyed having Sean Payton tell the story of the bottle of wine he snarfed from Jerry Jones at St. Elmo Steakhouse by telling them the Super Bowl champions deserve top pick of the wine they want. but I think the Lefevour moment was my favorite. All these kids want is a chance, and he got his with the team he'd been rooting for as long as he can remember. Great moment. ↵

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↵DL: When the draft is over do you wring out your suit and take a giant nap, or are you counting down the next 353 days until next year? Is it safe to assume that Mel has a cot at Radio City that he sleeps on every night so he's not late for next year's draft? Be honest, is that cot really a cocoon? ↵
↵TW: Mel has now retired to his hyperbaric chamber for ten months, where he will be fed intravenously and bombarded with subconscious game tape of future draft picks. Todd McShay has already sent me a list of potential picks for next year. That is actually NOT a joke. I slept like a baby Saturday night, but could go and do it again the next day. Jaws and I said to each other walking off the set on Saturday, that was the fastest 7.5 hours of TV ever. We absolutely do it because we love it. If you're not having fun at it, you should probably go back to Old Navy, or Super G. ↵

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↵Draft News and Notes ↵
↵On Friday we posted an abbreviated Press Coverage about the first day of the NFL Draft, but here are a few more thoughts, with some added information from over the weekend. ↵

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↵Not everyone is going to like every analyst or reporter on TV. That's the nature of the business and part of the reason why ESPN and NFLN employed a combined 66 people to cover the draft. If we all liked the same five people doing the event, those same five people would be the only ones doing it. Diversity is good for the overall product. ↵

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↵Of course, that's all used to hedge before another comment about Jon Gruden. Gruden has already become like Berman from the early 2000s where there's a small, yet loud subset of people who can't stand him on television, but those voices – mine included – are far outweighed by the vocal majority who loves him. Yes, there was a time when the vocal majority – myself included – loved Berman's schtick, but enough of it over time eroded much of the general public's taste for it. Of course, that didn't stop ESPN from giving him a contract extension, but that's not the point of this. ↵

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↵The point, again, is Gruden. Michael Hiestand of USA Today is the latest to fall under the spell of "this guy, right here" in an article headlined "Draft days were breeze for Jon Gruden." The article points out that Gruden is scheduled to appear on Letterman Monday before going over to the Sports Emmy awards, where he is nominated for the best analyst category. ↵

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↵Hiestand wrote, "Gruden, along with the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, turned in one of the better performances on NFL draft coverage," which means he likely didn't watch much of NFLN's coverage on Saturday when Mayock was unable to speak and had to be relegated to NFL.com. Word is that Mayock, who was great on Thursday and Friday while his voice still held up, was despondent over not being able to participate. In his absence, Corey Chavous did a fantastic job, by the way. ↵

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↵In his praise of Gruden, Hiestand even admitted that "Gruden seemed to like every draft pick, suggesting that maybe there's no point in riling up players he might end up coaching — or coaching against." And that has always been the knock on Gruden: at best, he's sugar coating how he feels to protect future interests. At worst, he's a hired analyst who is not giving his honest opinion. But he's a good talker, right, even if you aren't sure you believe the words he's actually saying. ↵

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↵Back to the headline, for a moment. Sure Hiestand likely didn't write the header himself, and the article talks more about Gruden enjoying his time on TV in general than how easy the draft was for him, but it does open the door to wonder if the draft was actually a "breeze" for Gruden at all. ↵

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↵Gregg Rosenthal of ProFootballTalk.com had a report on Saturday that Gruden, who was slated to be on the ESPN set for the entire draft, decided not to show up for work on for day three: ↵

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↵⇥We caught wind of a rumor that Gruden simply decided he didn't want to participate in the day reserved for the diehard draftniks. Contacted about Gruden's absence, ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer confirmed Gruden was indeed scheduled to be part of the draft.

 ↵⇥

↵⇥"Draft producer Jay Rothman gave him the rest," Hofheimer told PFT via e-mail. "It was a mutual decision. Jon could have gone but both he and Rothman knew that ESPN's coverage would still be in great shape with the existing teams in Radio City and Bristol." ↵⇥

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↵I reached out to Hofheimer as well, and he pointed me back to this official statement. The ESPN company line is that Rothman "gave him the rest," and that he "could have gone," which both read in pretty stark contrast to the draft being a "breeze" for the guy. ↵

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↵If you'll allow my obviously-skewed rampant speculation for moment, maybe Gruden figured the ratings weren't going to be as high on Saturday, and with the other top stars on ESPN getting the day off, it was beneath an Emmy-nominated analyst who has a appearance on Letterman to show up on Saturday. Or maybe he just couldn't hack three days on the desk and actually needed the rest. Either way, Jaworski was a welcome addition to Saturday's coverage, even without his booth partner. It makes you question which Monday Night Football analyst really deserves to be nominated for that Emmy. ↵

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↵Matt Millen is a Draft Day Godsend ↵
↵Speaking of Jaworski, did you know he's Polish? Matt Millen did, making a joke during a back and forth on Saturday's draft coverage about fried bologna sandwiches and "Polacks" that clearly raised some eyebrows in Bristol. ↵

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↵Someone at ESPN didn't like Millen's comment so much he was asked to apologize a few minutes later in the telecast (video, set to music by the folks at Tirico Suave):  ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵May your draft-day blunders never leave us, Matt. ↵

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↵Kevin Kennedy: Hero ↵
↵One non-draft note today and it's amazing. Former MLB manager and longtime broadcaster Kevin Kennedy was on a plane late last week when a man started making terrorist threats. Kennedy awoke from a nap and tried to calm the man down. Then, when that clearly wasn't working, he and seven other men subdued the man as he was trying to get into the cockpit of the plane. The New York Daily News spoke with Kennedy. ↵

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↵⇥"The irony is, I was talking about this kind of thing with the guy next to me before the plane took off, what we would do if anything like that ever happened," Kennedy told the Daily News. "I guess it came as a premonition. But it was everybody pulling together. Sadly, the first thing I thought about was 9/11 and the guys in Pennsylvania, and what they did." ↵⇥

↵⇥"When I stood up, he kind of stared me down," the 55-year-old Kennedy said. "I was probably 4 feet from him. ↵⇥

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↵⇥"As soon as he started to go for the cockpit door, we charged. We took him down. We tied him up," Kennedy said. "But it was not an easy takedown. We finally got him hogtied with seat belt extensions from the plane." ↵⇥

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↵Stanley Sheffield was taken into custody as the plane made an emergency landing in Albuquerque. Per the report, Sheffield's ex-wife indicated that he is bi-polar and has been in and out of mental institutions. I guess that'll be in and out and in again. As for Kennedy, he worked the Rays game on Friday night, but will have a much-deserved few days off from his duties with the team. ↵

↵Kennedy has worked a lot of jobs in baseball, managing both the Rangers and Red Sox as well as his TV work with FOX and his time spent with the Dodgers and now the Rays. He also has a show on Sirius/XM's MLB Home Plate. He's got another title he can add to his resume now: hero. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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