Practically every writer in the country enthralls readers with some form of a mailbag. You know the drill – taking witty or banal reader emails and spinning them into a column one day when thereï¿½s nothing else going on. Gregg Doyel has mastered the art of the mailbag ï¿½ by turning the tables on the emailers and scouring the net for their personal information. Sometimes, itï¿½s funny; often, it is mean-spirited. Either way, itï¿½s different. And so is he. So we interviewed him. Enjoy.
Q:People read your mailbag and instantly think, ‘dude, what a dick.’ Why are you such a dick?
Nice first question. Flattery will get you everywhere. Truth is, I’m not a dick. I’m blunt, irascible and honest. OK, maybe I’m a little bit of a dick. But people do read that thing.
Q: Deadspin, the sports arm of the most popular blog corporation on the planet, Gawker Media, knocked you on your ass recently, basically telling you to chillax with the mean mailbag shit. We never saw a response. You got one?
For the record, I enjoyed the Deadspin thing. I wouldn’t say they knocked me on my ass, and not because I’m trying to be some tough guy, but because I’m not sure they were trying to knock me on my ass. If they’d wanted to, they could and would have. It was more of some “chillax” advice than a rip job. The rip job came later, when SportsJournalists.com got hold of the Deadspin item and declared open season on me for a few days. Which is fine. I pick out the meanest bits of hate mail every week and print them, so I can handle criticism. I don’t respect it from journalists hiding behind a screen name, but it is what it is. As for a response, I did something that week in the mailbag. Let me see if I can find it. I love Google. Back in a minute. I’ll be damned. Google let me down. Anyway, I led the following week’s Hate Mail with my response, which was — off the top of my head — something along the lines of, “I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again.” And then I looked up that week’s first Hate Mailer and made fun of him. Look, I’m going to do it my way. I’ve tried it their way, and their way is no fun. If I’m hanging myself, as some people think and maybe even hope, shut up and give me some more rope.
Q: Have there been any death threats via email after particularly harsh mail bag rip-jobs? Anyone threaten to go after your family for putting them on blast?
People have threatened to kill me, but not for Hate Mail. It has happened after an occasional column, usually something about a school in a zero-levity zone like Clemson or Virginia Tech. Places like Florida, Texas, UCLA … those people are rabid, but they know their school isn’t the only thing going. Places like Kentucky, Clemson, Virginia Tech … some of those people have no sense of perspective, and they’re the ones who routinely threaten to (your threat here) the next time I show up in their town. I’ve had my kids’ names written to me by readers. I’ve had my dog’s name written to me. But this is how people are: The other day some teen-ager was road-raging me after I pulled out in front of him (oops) on my way to the library. He’s screaming, flipping me off. It was ridiculous. Anyway, I pulled into the library parking lot. He followed me. I parked and got out. He parked and got out. I held the library door for him. He slinks past and mutters, “Learn how to drive, dude,” and keeps walking. Guess he was going to the library, too. People are funny.
Q: As the Sportsline college hoops columnist, your were our go-to guy – we’d read you before Andy Katz. We don’t want to say you’ve fallen off the map after the promotion to national guy but … do you feel as relevant?
You’re getting better at this whole flattery thing. After SportsLine gave me that great platform for three years, I had my niche among college basketball readers. Nothing like Katz of course, who gets screamed at like a rock star while I’m slinking to my seat next to him — or three rows up — in silence. And I’m much better-looking than Katz. But I had my niche, which was the anti-Katz. He was going to break all kinds of coaching moves — he’s the king of the transaction scoop — and he’s also going to write what coaches are thinking. He has all their phone numbers, all of them take his calls, and he reciprocates by printing what they say, often unfiltered. So he writes what coaches are saying. I tried to write what they were doing. Big difference, but both ways work. ESPN gets its news and its access. I get to poke Tim Floyd with a stick. What was the question again? Oh, right. My irrelevance. Now you’re depressing me. I went from writing 7-to-10 college basketball columns every week to writing 3-to-5 a week now, so there is a numbers issue for sure. But judging from my hate mail, which is as full as ever, I’m still getting read. Just not by you.
Q: We’ve heard horror stories about small-town reporters covering a college basketball beat who ran into some ‘problems’ with the locals based on stories said writer had written. Got any tales of rowdy locals coming after you with pitchforks?
The only thing that comes close, personally, is the horde from UConn. Before last season I wrote something undiplomatic about UConn coach Jim Calhoun. The next time I saw UConn play was at Louisville in January, and when I walked into the press room literally conversations stopped. The room went quiet. I asked someone from the Louisville SID staff if they knew what was going on, and I was told, “I’ve heard your name whispered quite a bit tonight.” Anyway, nobody said anything to me, including Calhoun after the game. I was sitting about 20 feet away during his press conference. Three weeks later UConn visited Indiana, and it was the same thing. Instant tension. Before the game I told UConn SID Kyle Muncy, who has been ridiculously fair to me, that if Calhoun wanted to talk after the game, I was willing. Calhoun agreed, so after the game we waited out the horde in the UConn locker room and met in private. He walked into the room, looked at me, squinted, and said, “Do I know you?” Hahaha. Nice try. But he was polite. We talked for maybe five minutes, and that was that.
Q: What are your first three non-porn internet stops every morning?
SportsLine is my home page. Then I go to email. Then I’m on ESPN.com’s Insiders, reading newspapers around the country so I can put together my daily blog and get a grip on the day’s news. If you’d have asked me to go 10-deep, thebiglead would have made the cut. If this is where I’m supposed to mention some obscure or intellectual website, sorry. I’m all about the sports. And if I just insinuated that your website isn’t intellectual, well, I wasn’t insinuating. Does this make me blunt? Or a dick?
Q: Give us the coolest three names in your cell phone. They don’t necessarily have to be people that will call you back.
Oh — a free pass to drop names. Woohoo! Um … nobody cool, like Michael Silver, is in my cell phone. My family is in there, but the Doyels are not cool people. Let me go look. I only have about 50 people in there. Most numbers I keep in an actual phone book. Do people still use those? I do. When I was at the Miami Herald — name-dropping alert — Dan LeBatard would always ask me for someone’s phone number, someone whose number I knew he had. He kept them in his computer, and if his computer wasn’t turned on or handy … Anyway. LeBatard’s not in my phone. But I like him. Who is in my phone? Paul Westphal’s wife, Cindy, one of the sweetest people on earth. Bowling Green coach Dan Dakich, who has Knight’s charm and sense of humor without his maliciousness. And my son, Macon. He’s 11 and has one of those kid phones that can only dial four numbers. But he’s cool.
Q: Working at a site like Sportsline, where you’re not going to practice daily, or attending games all the time, is it easy to fall back into the Lupica lap of luxury and start mailing in your columns? Just sitting on the couch, navel-gazing, and sprouting whatever shit pops into your mind? How often are you in the field? Working the phones?
It’s a damn good question. I’m at an NFL or college football game every weekend, sometimes one of each, and soon enough I’ll be going to one or two basketball games every week. But most of those trips produce game columns, and Mike Freeman and I also are responsible for three “My Turn” columns apiece every week. Those aren’t gamers. Most of those are mailed in after a spurt of a navel-gazing. And a lot of reading and a handful of interviews, depending on the column. I’m guessing that, for an average “My Turn” column, I’ll spend 8-10 hours researching the thing and maybe 45 minutes writing it. I read something Newsday’s Shaun Powell said recently about his best columns, how they’re written in 45 minutes; the worst ones take three hours. And he’s so right.
Q: Yahoo, Sportsline, and too an extent, AOL, are all jockeying for position as the #3 most popular sports website source after ESPN and SI. How do you feel Sportsline stacks up against Yahoo and AOL?
No. 3 after SI? SI? It’s not my job to know the numbers, so I don’t, but I want to believe you’re joking or misinformed. Tell me you are. ESPN has a huge head start and endless resources and unbelievable cross-marketing, so I’ll give you ESPN. They’re the Yankees. In this thing, nobody is the Red Sox or Mets. We’re all trying to be the Tigers or Cardinals. Enough of that analogy. I know AOL’s got Whitlock, and he’s quite a drawing card, but AOL doesnï¿½t belong in this conversation — yet. Yahoo has come out of nowhere in the last few years, and that Reggie Bush reporting was awesome. After ESPN, which is McDonald’s — let’s try a different analogy — it’s a matter of individual taste. SportsLine is on the menu. Yahoo is on the menu. SI and Fox are somewhere on there. Have it your way.
Q: Give us your extremely premature Final 4, and a 2007 NCAA hoops champ.
Florida, UCLA, North Carolina and Akron. Florida beats North Carolina.