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Rece Davis Interview: Managing Holtz And May, The Joys Of Small Market TV, And Jesse Palmer's Ties

Spencer Hall talked with ESPN's Rece Davis at the unholy hour of 7 a.m. ET about his role in the Capital One Cup, working in the studio with Mark May and Lou Holtz, and about the pinnacle of his broadcasting career, his time working for a station in Columbus, GA with one broadcast truck and technology Radio Shack would turn its nose up at.

SBN: Tell us first about why we're talking this morning.

Rece Davis:  I'm on the board of advisors for the Capital One Cup. It's great to reward athletic programs for their excellence on the field, which is what the Cup tries to do for all the sports a program has. There's a premium put on sports that people pay a little bit more attention to whether it's men's  football basketball, women's softball, etc, but each of the men's and women's programs that score the best will not only get an award but also $200,000 to fund graduate scholarships. It's a great new initiative from Capital One, and it's cool to work with guys like Doug Flutie, Robin Ventura and Lisa Leslie on the project.

The standings will be something fans can keep up with for bragging rights over the course of the season. Each group of sports--the fall season, the spring season, the winter season--those standings will be updated with a bit more weight given to those sports that people pay more attention to. Everyone in college sports likes to brag about their alma mater and their team being better than the other one, so it's just another way to involve fans and also provide an opportunity to fund scholarships at the graduate level for student athletes.

SBN: Moving on to work-related questions: what's it been like doing play-by-play every week this year?

RD: Well it's not entirely new, since I've done some games, though not on a weekly basis, over the past four or five years with Mark and Lou. Generally we'd have about five games a year. I think the thing that has been different for me this year is that you get the repetitions weekly. You can go back, watch what you've done, and hopefully improve yourself. You can say "Hey, I need to work on that" and do it the next week as opposed to waiting four or five weeks to do your next game. 

It's been very helpful to have great partners like Craig and Jesse, guys that already had a good chemistry together along with the guys in the truck and the crew. The producer of that show is actually a neighbor of mine and we ride to the airport together sometimes. It's been a blast.

Getting to go to some of the venues that we've gone to this year, some of the places that put a premium on the Thursday night games, that has been a real pleasure. Virginia Tech sort of feels like they own Thursday nights. Same thing with Morgantown and West Virginia. It's become a great franchise for ESPN and for college football. It's the Monday Night Football of college football, and when you see coaches around the country tell you that everybody stops and watches on Thursday night, even when they're watching while putting the finishing touches on their own gameplan. It's been fun.

SBN: Is there an expiration on Les Miles Hat references?

RD: No, I think some things are going to remain permanent, and I think Les Miles' hat is with us for the duration. I didn't really intend to tag him with it forever, I just thought it was funny. I don't remember him wearing the hat quite the same way at Oklahoma State. To Les' credit, I think one of the things he's done is sort of embrace it. At one point last year I think he started talking about how he liked to have "a hat with a great superstructure." Nobody knows what that means, he was just sort of playing along, but Les has a great sense of humor.

I do think he got a little bit irritated when some of the things went wrong at the end of the Tennessee game and people said he had "magic under his hat," but for the most part he's really played along with it and had some fun with it. We sort of took it from the Hat to the Mad Hatter when he started going for it on fourth down and eating grass and all the stuff he does, and it's taken on a life of its own. It always makes me proud when I see a writer or a blogger or someone refer to him as the Mad Hatter.

SBN: I'm going to try and rebrand him as the Great Ruminator after the grass-eating incident this year.

RD: You might be able to. All kidding aside about Les, his tortured syntax is what keeps the whole myth and legend around him alive. I find him to be a very smart guy, very approachable and a good guy. He's a far better coach than he's given credit for, and the results this year on the field might have persuaded people of this. Maybe people, most notably LSU fans, have hopefully started to think he's a little bit better than we thought.

SBN: A question from one of my Twitter followers, @GatorDJ: "Does the TV add 10 lbs to Jesse's ties, or are they that big in person?"

RD: Before he went to the real Mad Men skinny narrow ties, they were much bigger. You should see them now. They're about the size of spaghetti strings. He thinks he's Don Draper.

SBN: When you're in the studio working Lou and Mark, what have you learned about working with them, and the chemistry between the two?

RD: We've been doing this together for 10 seasons now. We really know each other, and are really close friends. My wife will joke when Mark is over for the holidays that Mark and I finish each other's sentences as much as she and I do. We spend a lot of time together, respect each other, and have a natural chemistry.

The thing with Lou developed over the first year when he came in for Trev, and what he's added is a sense of comedic timing and a great deal of credibility based on his coaching record. Lou is a guy that understands the game at a level I never will. What I've learned from Lou, and he would tell you the same thing, too, is that Lou likes it better if he gets to work off Mark. That doesn't mean I'll always go to Mark first, but Lou said early on that he has a lot of things when he watches a game that come to mind: things he's noticed, things he'd say to his assistants to get them back in line, he's got a list. Sometimes it's harder to convey the entire list in a halftime setting, so Lou focuses on one point and works that in based off what Mark's saying. He'll challenge Mark's point of view, add to it, or work off it.

In terms of timing they're both naturals with timing and knowing when to get in and out of highlights, but in terms of discussion or if we're starting up on a game or a particular topic, I'll tend to go to Mark first and Lou works very, very well off of that.

SBN: CD Barker's question is next: does it worry you that so many of the leading play-by-play voices for college football are over 60?  Is there a rising generation out there?

RD: We've got so many guys who are good at what they do, so many guys that I learn from here. The two guys in football who I think are tremendous from the younger set are Nessler and McDonough. McDonough is just textbook. Now, I can't go in and be Sean McDonough. It's like when people used to call me about Sportscenter, I'd say "Don't say 'en fuego,' but watch the way Dan Patrick goes about his business on the Sportscenter set." I feel that way about Sean in the play-by-play role. I can't be as witty as he is,  but in terms of calling the game, in terms of working his analysts in and out of games, in terms of telling a story that is going to really get people into the game, there's no one who does it better. Ness is great at all of that too. He captures big moments very well.

I know those guys are veterans and have been around, but I'm assuming the question refers to guys like Verne, who's a legend, and Brent, who's as good as there's ever been in our business.

SBN: The last Twitter-sourced question comes from @Bert_Stewart, who wonders if you will ever equal the career pinnacle of being the sports anchor on Columbus TV in the mid-1990s .

RD: Easily the moment that I'll never forget was when I realized that the station, which was owned by Malcom Glazer, --who clearly spent more on facilities for the Bucaneers and Man U than he did into the station--we went out one Friday night shooting college football in the one functioning news van we had on a 3/4 deck and these big cables that would allow you to press a button on the camera and start recording. Everyone in the free world used these cables, these Radio Shack cables. Everyone, that is, except us.

It was a place that at the time I wondered why I had been put in that situation, and why that was my life, but I met my wife there. The pinnacle of my broadcasting career was also where I met the sales girl, who became my wife and the mother of my children. So that was the best.

SBN: Last question-type question: What are you looking forward to re: the rest of the 2010 season?

RD: It hasn't been 2007 in terms of chaos, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how Boise and TCU finish in the standings. Should Oregon or Auburn stumble, it'll be interesting to see if voters put either of the two non-AQ schools in the game. The computers will probably be there, but the real question is whether the voters will follow suit.

We thank Rece Davis for his time, and for serving the people of Columbus well in the mid-1990s.