Emmitt Smith, NFL all-time rushing leader–fired! Shannon Sharpe, an NFL hall of famer who finished his career atop all of the tight end categories–fired! (last week). Dan Marino, retired with the most broken records of any quarterback in history–fired! (also last week). Joe Montana, the greatest NFL QB of all-time, was encouraged to quit before he was fired. What do these four have in common? They were all dismissed from the jobs they took immediately after their storybook NFL careers ended. “Network NFL Studio Analyst” was the career of choice.
What happened? Certainly they are all subject matter experts with huge followings. They didn’t do anything criminal or out of line. They didn’t say anything “wrong” or mispronounce a name. They got along with everyone. Shannon Sharpe seems every bit as sharp as his brother, Sterling, who has been a studio analyst for fifteen years. Why were these guys shown the door? There really aren’t any objective criteria to point to as reasons for the dismissals. Smith and Sharp apparently had some diction issues, but talk to Lou Holtz about that–it’s not a deal breaker.
The best anyone can tell, they were let go because they were “boring”. They didn’t bring anything to the table that stood out. When they were asked to say what they think, they didn’t have much to say–or if they did (Sharpe) it took them forever to say it. Sharpe and Marino were let go last week because CBS said they wanted a “fresher face” to compete with the Fox studio show. The “fresh faces” at Fox–Bradshaw, Long, and Johnson have been together for over a decade and are all 50+. Sharpe (45) is being replaced by another tight end, Tony Gonzalez (38).
Studio analysts are paid to give an opinion – to pronounce judgment – “He should have caught that!”, “Dumb decision by that coach”, “How can they not replace that guy? He’s terrible!”. Some do it with flair. Two hall of famers at the very top of this profession, Charles Barkley and Terry Bradshaw, have been doing it longer in their respective sports than anyone else. “Sir Charles” has long been regarded as the best NBA analyst going. Bradshaw is currently the longest tenured studio analyst among the 4 major professional sports.
Barkley and Bradshaw have also had their “worthy of termination” moments. They both mispronounce names…often–they’re “known” for it. They’re both somewhat of a mess and tend to “overshare” from time to time.
Perhaps that’s just it. Fans (and producers) feel like they can identify with Barkley and Bradshaw, even though they’re hall of famers, because Barkley and Bradshaw have allowed themselves to be known. It’s really quite rare to not hide behind achievement, championships, and legendary status – to peek around from behind all of that and dare to reveal one’s true self.
Tony Gonzalez has trumped Shannon Sharpe twice. He took his records (he retired after the 2013 season as the top tight end in all stat categories, eclipsing Sharpe) and he took his job. All indications are that Gonzalez will be very good in front of the camera. (He actually will be on two studio shows – Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” picked him up as well). He has the Hollywood good looks and chiseled jaw of Howie Long and has always been upbeat and well-spoken in interviews.
He also appears to be a guy who genuinely cares about being good at his job. So here’s some advice for “Tony G.” – be fully known. Dare to come out from behind those “greatest tight end of all-time” credentials and give a real opinion. Let your guard down a little bit. That’s what the greats in this profession do.
“Being fully known.” Not just good advice for former great players-turned-broadcasters, but words to live by for husbands, wives, sons, daughters, employers and employees. It means stepping out from behind resumes and accomplishments, admitting being fallen and broken, accepting forgiveness, and not being too worried (like Terry Bradshaw) about showing your backside from time to time.