As an NFL commentator for Fox, I have relished my role for many years as the play-by-play broadcaster who mentors ex-players and coaches who enter the broadcasting field and look to turn it into a new career.
What I’ve been able to do is offer advice through my experience of many decades and help them develop their skills.
The goal is simple and straightforward. Help those who excelled on the field to become successful expert-analysts covering NFL games each weekend.
I am proud of the fact that every one of Fox’s experts have been under my wing at one time or another.
The list includes our top game analyst, Troy Aikman, as well as the rest of the weekly lineup: Charles Davis, Daryl Johnston, Chris Spielman and Ronde Barber.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way responsible for their success.
Every one of our experts had to have the talent, intelligence, drive and the intangibles that were there from the start, to be developed.
Nothing beats experience.
The more you do it, the better you become.
There have been others besides those I’ve named, such as John Lynch who advanced to Fox’s second position behind Aikman, before Lynch decided to accept an offer to become the General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
I have worked with former Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, Jim Mora,( just let go as head coach at UCLA), and others, such as Kirk Morrison, Donovan McNabb, David Diehl and Brady Quinn, who is making his mark as a top college football expert for Fox.
This year, my partner is Mark Schlereth, who has had a world of broadcasting experience, but little in the way of game broadcasting.
Mark had been with ESPN for over a decade as a studio analyst, has a daily talk-radio show in Denver, and has a neat resume as an actor as well. When he’s not beside me in the booth, he appears on other Fox sports talk programs, and is extremely effective.
When you work closely with a partner, spending an entire weekend in meetings with teams, and in production time, including meals, you get to know who you’re working with beyond the basic ritual of broadcasting a football game.
I didn’t know Mark Schlereth, other than what I knew about his football career. I knew he had played 12 years in the NFL, six with the Washington Redskins, and six with the Denver Broncos. I also knew he had three Super Bowl rings; one with the Redskins and two with the Broncos. I also knew that he was at one-time, a member of one of the most celebrated offensive lines in football history: the “Hogs”, as they were known in Washington, as well as one of the guardians of the great quarterback, John Elway, in Denver.
Schlereth has a nickname that has stuck with him for decades. He is known as “Stink”. It is a moniker that is meant to be amiable and warm.
He tells me the name comes from the practice of those salmon fishermen in Alaska who would bury the heads of salmon and then retrieve them and prepare them as a delicacy. I don’t ever call him by his nickname or even enjoy writing how the name originated. Let’s just leave it at that.
But Mark grew up in Anchorage, was a distinguished football player at the University of Idaho, and was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
He is 51, and played professional football from 1989 until 2000.
He feels he is an overachiever. That would be an understatement.
There are hundreds of athletes who would have loved to have the career Mark had.
He also endured 29 surgeries, 20 of them on his knees.
Truly, he was a warrior!
That’s where my appreciation for Mark Schlereth starts.
Before working with my new partner, I had four other sidekicks who were offensive linemen.
Dan Dierdorf, Randy Cross, Brian Baldinger, and David Diehl all were partners of mine. Dierdorf, a Hall of Famer was alongside this reporter for one year before he left CBS for an outstanding career on Monday Night Football.
Cross was part of the 49ers dynasty, one the lineman in front of the great Joe Montana. Baldinger played for coaching legend Tom Landry in Dallas, and Diehl was part of two Super Bowl championships won by the New York Giants.
But what I have learned from Schlereth about the offensive line has changed my outlook on the game. I always knew it was important to have a solid and staunch offensive line to win in football, but now I have a new appreciation of just how valuable the five men up front are to the success of a team.
Offensive linemen are not the best athletes on a team. They are rarely given the credit by fans or the media for what they do. Their names are only talked about when there is a holding penalty on one of them, which often nullifies a big gain by the offense.
This is what I know. This group is the only unit on a football team that has to have perfect teamwork. I realize quarterbacks and receivers must develop timing to execute what they do. But that’s more of a one-on-one deal, than five big linemen operating in perfect unison for any play to work.
Fans key on the quarterback when a play begins. They follow the ball, as they should. But the unspoken indication of the degree of success of a play is predicated on how the five hulks up front execute.
Their play determines if a back has room to run, or if a quarterback has time to throw.
It’s interesting, that when it comes time for the playoffs, and you check who manned the offensive line each game during the season, the teams that had it’s line virtually intact all year are playing in post-season.
The teams that avoid injury to their tackles, guards or center are still around.
The ones who don’t are home watching on television.
I’ve learned through Mark Schlereth, the nuances of winning line-play. How and when you can get away with holding a defensive player, which techniques work and which ones do not.
I’ve also learned about pride and humility in football. How an offensive line stays together and bonds after practices, and how they realize they are generally not individual stars but a true team within the team.
Mark Schlereth has been a winner on the field, in his broadcasting career and a man without ego. Except to do the best he can. He is coachable and cool under pressure.
Working games may be relatively new to Mark, but he never shows the effects of how new it all is, in what is a difficult arena.
I have enjoyed the varied skills and personalities of everyone I’ve worked with.
Mark Schlereth is the latest “project” for me. It’s one of the most satisfying I’ve had.
By now I have a pretty good sense of whether a partner will win as a broadcaster.
For Mark..he’s on his way…As a person, he’s already there.
Enjoy Dick’s FREE podcast, “Stockton!” where he shares a different perspective on the world of sports along with stories that he has collected from his unique front-row seat.
Download for FREE at the iTunes store http://apple.co/2lwjg8F