Rumors have been swirling throughout the off-season, but CBS made the news official on Tuesday by announcing Verne Lundquist will step down as the lead voice of the network’s college football coverage — primarily the SEC, but also Army-Navy and the Sun Bowl — to be replaced by Brad Nessler after the upcoming season.
“Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC on CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage. We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.”
Lunquist will continue with the network covering college basketball and golf, but will cede the college football chair in what was certainly a contract bullet point to lure Nessler away from ESPN.
“Being a part of the SEC on CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” said Lundquist. “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth. I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC on CBS is in great hands. Brad and Gary will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”
Nessler leaves a plum gig at ESPN, where he, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe called the ESPN Saturday primetime game and one of the two College Football Playoff semifinals each of the past two seasons.
“Verne has been a friend for over 30 years and someone I’ve always looked up to in this business,” said Nessler. “I’m not replacing him as it would be impossible to replace Verne. I am truly honored to carry on where he leaves off and work to maintain the standard of excellence he has set calling the SEC on CBS. I am excited to rejoin the CBS Sports team this season and look forward to working alongside Gary again in 2017.”
As more and more money pours into college sports, athletics directors are making more money than ever. All except the leader of one of the most profitable brands in college sports.
According to a report from Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas interim AD Mike Perrin is working without a contract at a reduced rate of quote-unquote only $750,000 a year. Perrin’s predecessor, Steve Patterson, signed a five-year contract starting at $1.4 million a year back in 2013.
Perrin, of course, stepped in for Patterson after his September firing.
Finger notes Perrin’s at-will employment status is common for high-ranking officials under new UT president Greg Fenves.
“Since Mike Perrin is a key member of university leadership, he and president Fenves agreed that his appointment should be consistent with other university leaders and that no formal contract was needed,” spokesman Gary Susswein told the paper.
Perrin’s $750,000 salary basically amounts to volunteering for him after a lengthy and lucrative legal career. Running a business with a $180 million budget on a $750,000 salary is the statistical equivalent to running a $1 million business while bringing home $4,167 a year.
“The situation with Mike at Texas is not normal,” Chuck Neinas said. “He’s made his money (as a lawyer). He’s basically doing the university a favor. He’s an outlier.”
Perrin’s original agreement is set to end on Aug. 31, but his handshake deal with Fenves asks the former Texas football player to run the department through the 2017-18 athletic year.
In a tweet that he surely regrets on a daily basis, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze famously challenged anyone with information regarding any possible NCAA violations to come forward with them.
“If you have facts about a violation, send it to email@example.com. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he posted in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 1, 2013, the day Freeze inked his highly-touted, highly-controversial class headlined by Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.
Which, of course, the NCAA did.
The Rebels were hit with 28 total violations — nine of which the school confirmed originate from Freeze’s staff. And that’s not including the allegations regarding Tunsil that popped up on NFL Draft night.
Ole Miss has suspended unnamed assistants from recruiting in the wake of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, but Freeze has denied anyone under his employ knowingly broke rules.
“The first thing I would say is that I own it. That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad,” Freeze told ESPN’s Chris Low from the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. “But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”
As for the text messages showing Tunsil asking off-the-field staff member John Miller for mone, which were not included in last week’s release?
“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”
To be fair, most of the allegations against the Rebels’ current regime are relatively minor in nature. A comped hotel room here, a loaner car there. Because of that, Freeze said he won’t fire anyone on his staff.
“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits. There’s none of that in there.”
However, there are major allegations against coaches wearing Ole Miss red and blue, as former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders are accused of running an ACT fraud scheme. Unfortunately for Freeze, the NCAA may take out the sins of Houston Nutt‘s staff on his own.
Continuing a trend we have witnessed at Baylor over the past week, incoming and future players are looking elsewhere while players already in the program are preparing to stay put. In the past 24 hours, a lot has happened with the program with the resignation of athletics director Ian McCaw following the hiring of head coach Jim Grobe. While the school still works to gain control of the situation, Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced he intends to stand by the program.
“Can’t wait to get back on that grind [Tuesday] with my brothers,” Stidham said in an update posted on his Instagram account on Monday. “This year is going to be different than the rest in many ways, but either way we will make a statement to everyone. Excited for the opportunity God has presented this team with to overcome adversity and become even closer as a family. Stick with us Baylor nation, we got this.”
Stidham was a major addition to Baylor’s recruiting class in 2015. After initially pledging his commitment to Texas Tech, Stidham later flipped his commitment to Baylor. Although Baylor appears set to have a healthy Seth Russell (who also has been making statements on Instagram) leading the offense this fall, all signs point to Stidham being the starting quarterback in 2017 (if not sooner).
Baylor has managed to keep all current players on the roster in Waco, which is not too surprising. Unless the NCAA chimes in later and drops a hammer of the weight it slammed on Penn State four summers ago (which is perhaps not all that likely to happen for a number of reasons, and they have no comment at this time), there is likely no reason to expect a mass exodus from the current roster. The recruiting game, however, is a different story.
Some key pieces of Baylor’s Class of 2016 — including running back Kameron Martin, offensive lineman Patrick Hudson and offensive tackle J.P. Urquidez — made the late decision not to enroll in summer courses this week, which means they may still land elsewhere before the start of the fall football season. The Class of 2017 has quickly been dismantled and reduced to just a small handful of players for now as well.
How much Grobe can keep the recruiting ship afloat will be fascinating to watch, especially if he is simply on a one-year deal with no real chance to be the long-term head coach.