Lee Corso’s been doing College GameDay since 1987. Kirk Herbstreit’s been sitting next to him since 1996.
Corso’s 82 now, having gone from a nearly 30-year career as a coach at six different colleges to just “Coach.” Herbstreit’s 48, and he’s literally grown up on the show he joined when he was fresh off his career at Ohio State.
I talked with Herbstreit Thursday, before the two went on that night’s Ohio State-Indiana preview, during a press tour for All Hands In, a community service project with Allstate. This week in Atlanta, Herbstreit is on GameDay, calling the Alabama-Florida State mega-opener and helping some colleagues and Falcons players with a community garden for the Metro Atlanta Boys & Girls Club.
I asked him a bunch of questions about Corso. These are some of the things I learned about the current grandfather of college football TV.
1. When Corso leaves you a voicemail, he goes into hilarious levels of detail.
He leaves you a voicemail, he’ll say, ‘Hey, Kirk, this is Lee Corso.’ Instead of, ‘Hey, it’s Lee.’
For 22 years: ‘Hey, hey, Kirk, it’s Lee Corso. Hey, hey, gimme a call,’ and he gives me his phone number, which I’ve had for 22 years.
2. When Corso’s at an Oregon game, he’s “legendary” with the Ducks’ mascot.
Asked for a memory of a particular episode that stands out during his run with Corso, Herbstreit points to a few. One was when Oregon’s mascot — whose name is either The Duck or Puddles, depending on your preference — was the show’s celebrity picker.
Any time we’re in Eugene, he always comes alive even more than he normally is. We all love going to Eugene. We just love the show out there. When they were on fire, it was something about starting the show at 6 a.m. local when it’s dark outside and cold and foggy and there’s 12,000 people around the set that early, and you can’t see ’em. You can just hear ’em. Lee just would come alive.
3. Herbstreit also uses “legendary” to describe that hot-mic F-bomb in Houston in 2011.
When we didn’t have the mute button in Houston, that was legendary, when he dropped the F-bomb on live television. That was memorable, because he just kept going right on with it like nothing happened.
4. Corso is the life of every party.
He’s the guy that if you go to a party, there’s 12 people standing around him, and everyone’s laughing. I don’t care where he is. He could be at the White House. It doesn't matter where he is. Lee Corso is standing, and there are 12 to 15 people around him, and everybody’s got a huge smile on their face, and they’re laughing at one of his stories.
That’s just who he is, and that’s who he’s been since I’ve known him.
5. Corso has become kind of like a dad to Herbstreit.
He basically grabbed me by the hand and took me down the Yellow Brick Road. From 1996 to today, that’s how I look at him.
My value with him … is much more than what we do on air. The reason I think you see a genuine love for him is, like any relationship in your life or my life, when people take time to invest in you as a person, they talk to you, they get to know you more than just Saturday from 8 in the morning or 9 in the morning till noon, they get to know about your family and your friends and kind of what makes you tick, and that’s the part for me he’s helped me so much with.
Just questions about being a dad or about being a husband or whatever it might be. Not just the TV side of it. It’s just more of almost a father relationship with him.
6. Corso loves writing things down and reminding you about your plans.
He’s one of those guys that if you tell him anything, he gets his black Sharpie out. He writes it down, and then he’ll say it to you literally 15 times. ‘So, we’re gonna meet in the lobby at 8:15, right? 8:15?’
And I’ll be, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, still 8:15.’
Five or 10 minutes later, he’ll come back to me, ‘So, you're good now? 8:15, we’re in the lobby, right? 8:15, I’ve got it written down here.’
And I’m like, ‘Yeah, Coach, 8:15.’
And it’s not because he’s older. It’s just because that’s who he’s been forever. He’s a coach, and he’s all about details.
7. Corso changes his colleagues by teaching them to have more fun.
From day one, here I was thinking I’ve been hired to analyze football. You know: football, football, football, football.
What I quickly realized was he would make the comment like, ‘Michigan against Arkansas? That’s pickup trucks against Cadillacs. I’m going with the pickup truck.’ And I’m like, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ [Herbstreit’s laughing really hard.]
I quickly learned, just through sitting by him, not to take yourself too seriously, not to sit there and just beat people over the head with analysis and statistics, and have fun.
And honestly, for 22 years, that’s how I’ve patterned my style, is by sitting next to him. If it weren’t for him, I’d be just a guy who’s out there breaking down football all the time, instead of trying to kind of humanize the sport and have fun with it.