Rece Davis is almost universally liked among his peers and by sports fans. He’s one of EPSN’s anchors in college football and basketball coverage, and he has tremendous hair. Davis is an advisory board member for the Capital One Cup, and late last month he carved out 15 minutes to talk to The Big Lead. (We spoke prior to his Orange Bowl encounter with Jim Harbaugh.) Davis really enjoyed talking about Alabama (where he went to school), College Basketball Gameday vs. College Football Gameday, and to a lesser extent, the upcoming ESPN Book. He’s bullish on Lou Holtz’s chances in a Steel Cage match against Corso and Vitale.
Q: You’re a big-time BCS guy, and you’re not into the playoff. Is there a reason?
I wouldn’t say that. I just don’t think it is as evil and bad as everyone thinks. Without the BCS, we don’t have Alabama-Texas, we don’t have Texas-USC, we don’t have Florida-Ohio State. I think if you’re going to bash the BCS – which is fine – you also have to admit that it gave us these great, compelling inter-sectional matchups.
I know a lot of people aren’t as old as I am – I just turned 45 – but I can remember the days when you had teams ranked 1, 2, 3 playing in different bowls. I just think the BCS does some positive things. I’m not opposed to a playoff. I’m opposed to a big playoff like 16 teams, which I think is ridiculous for football. If you want to do 8 teams, that would be great, I don’t have any problem like that.
Some criticism of the BCS is legit. There have certainly been flaws over the years, but I think to say everything about the BCS is bad is the wrong way to go.
Q: So how and why did you get into Journalism? Were your parents in the media?
I came from a very middle class background. I always loved sports. When my talent ran out in high school – I played football and basketball – and I couldn’t play anymore, I still wanted to stay in sports. I did some radio work at the end of high school and in college in Tuscaloosa. After college I worked my way up through local television and I was fortunate enough to land a job with ESPN in 1995.
I had always been fascinated by the broadcast of games. I was that kid who was lying on the floor at 5 or 6 years old listening to every game I could possibly find. I would scour the newspaper and go through box scores. I was a freshman in high school and wrote a paper on being a sportscaster. That’s what I wanted to do.
Q: You went to the University of Alabama, and your favorite Tide football player of all-time is …
Ooooo. There are some many great ones. But I think the guys from your earliest memories are the ones that fascinate you the most. I would say my favorite was the first wishbone QB at Alabama, Terry Davis. When Bear Bryant changed the wishbone and USC didn’t know it, Terry Davis was the QB that night. It was the first college game I can remember, and he became my favorite player. There are some other guys who I got to know over the years, like Cornelius Bennett, and Derrick Thomas, but the memories from your childhood are the ones that stick, so I’d go with Terry Davis.
Q: No Keith McCants? Not sure if you saw the news that he was arrested in a strip club parking lot recently.
I did not see that. But let’s put it this way – Keith has not taken advantage of his opportunities over the years.
Q: I tried to hit up some of my ESPN sources for any good sources about you, but everyone says you’re a clean cut guy. The coolest thing I heard was that you nearly coached a Little League baseball team into the Little League World Series.
Not exactly. My son – and you always brag about your kid – is a very good baseball player, and when his group was 10 years old, they won the State championship. But at the time – this was 2-3 years ago – that was the end for 10-year-olds. This past year, the group was 12, and we thought we had a good shot at the Little League World Series.
It went well, except that we had a single elimination tournament, and a team that we had already beaten in pool play upset us. We got denied our dream of a trip to Williamsport.
Q: Non-sports question … your hair always seems impeccably groomed. What product are you using?
[Laughter] Usually I use this stuff called TG Bedhead. It’s gooey. You just rub it in your hands and rub it in you’re hair and you’re good to go. It’s not exactly a Steve Lavin oil slick.
Q: Who wins in a steel cage match – Dick Vitale, Lee Corso, or Lou Holtz?
[Laughter] They’re all scrappy. They’re all tougher than you would imagine. They would also resort to dirtier tricks than you could imagine. I’d have to give the edge to Holtz. He’s just relentless. If you’ve seen that courtroom bit we do, we never know who is going to win and Lou is never kidding when he talks about getting mad if he loses. He want to win it every week. I think in a fight with those three guys, Holtz would eventually make the other two tap out.
Q: My favorite sport is probably college basketball, and I attempt to watch Gameday as often as possible in January and February. It’s a successful show, but it hasn’t quite been able to duplicate the College Football version. Can it? Or is that not even the goal?
I think we all recognize that it’s different. And I especially recognize it since I am covering both sports. I understand the difference and the perception of the regular seasons. Everything in basketball is geared toward making the tournament. From there, you readjust your goals to winning it all or making the Sweet 16 or whatever might be feasible for you.
In football, every regular season game can alter what happens in your postseason life. One stumble – Ohio State, Wisconsin or Stanford this year – and it keeps you from being able to compete for a championship. I think because of that, and other factors, there isn’t the same urgency about any regular season game in basketball that you will find about most regular season games in football. It doesn’t make football better, it just makes it different.
Because of that, I don’t think they’re trying to do the exact same thing as football. Our personalities are different, our sport is different, and our backdrop is different. Most of the places we’ve been, the atmosphere and energy in the arena has been exceptional. We had about 22,000 people in Lexington!
Q: ESPN’s college basketball coverage is overflowing with analysts who used to be former coaches. And sometimes, I feel like the coaches/analysts don’t go after underperforming college basketball coaches as hard as they should. The word “apologists” might be too strong, but … do you think former coaches at ESPN are maybe looking out for their old friends?
I don’t agree with it. I think all of our guys understand what their job is and that they’re fair. Everyone’s opinion, in any walk of life, is influenced by your frame of reference. Nobody is going to understand what a coach who is on the proverbial ‘hot seat’ – what challenges a guy might face, or hurdles he might encounter – better than guys who have been in that situation.
Sometimes, people mistake – let me put this the right way – mistake fairness for a lack of venom and going after them. We live in a culture right now where every reaction is instantaneous. I think the reaction is more vitriolic because you can get it out of your system immediately and put it on any web page or message board or wherever you choose to express yourself. And you get it out and it feels good and you’re over it. And it’s out there.
When you’re on TV, I think you have to be more measured. I think our coaches understand the ups and downs of a season and a career and sometimes might have a better understanding of why a team or a guy is struggling. All of them will tell you that if you don’t win, you’re going to get fired. They’re going to get fired regardless of what our analysts say. I think [our analysts] are uniquely qualified to be fair.
I don’t think our guys have shied away from being critical of coaches who deserve it.
Q: I’ll wrap up with a question about the ESPN book. Is there panic in Bristol? Were you interviewed?
I was interviewed. I spent a great deal of time with the writer of the book in the ESPN Cafeteria. To be honest, I haven’t given [the book] a lot of thought, and I’m not nervous about anything. I don’t know of anything I’ve done that would embarrass me or my family. Same goes for the guys I work closest with. But I guess it’s normal to be apprehensive when someone else is telling a story and you’re not exactly sure what their perspective is or what info they might have been given. The gentleman I spoke with … his questions were very fair.