Tom Brady confirmed this week that once his playing career is over, he will turn his attention to television and become a senior NFL analyst for Fox. He certainly has all the qualities (name, looks, resume) to break salary records and even dwarf the games he’s covering.
But everyone has to start somewhere, and if history is any guide, Brady will go through some growing pains like all analysts do.
“People think it’s just a conversation,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, an analyst with ESPN. “In the end, like acting, talent is making it look natural. … There is an art to it.”
That’s certainly no mystery to Brady. He has spent more than 20 years answering questions from the other side of the microphone, watching how people on television and other members of the media go about their business, and providing information, sometimes very little information, in short sound bites. Most likely, he is not too nervous in front of a camera.
However, some in the business were a bit surprised by the news that it is already heading in this direction.
“I never in a million years thought it would go this way,” said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, who first met Brady when they were teammates on the AFC Pro Bowl team, then covered several of his games when Gannon was an analyst for CBS and Brady was playing for New England.
“You get a sense of different people when you go and visit them,” Gannon said. “Some guys are curious. Peyton [Manning] I was curious, asking questions and stuff about the role and the job, the responsibilities, the schedule. I never had the feeling that Tom was even interested in that. I never had the feeling that he would be interested in being a coach or in the front office.
“You think to yourself, ‘I think he’s just going to focus on his business and his family, and just walk away from it.’ But it’s a pretty good job. There aren’t many of them. And if you can get one of those big chairs, honestly, it’s a good life. You can work from home during the week, and it’s a little tiring during the season, but it keeps you in the game and it’s a pretty good transition. Not many people have that opportunity.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, going from being an elite quarterback to someone learning a new career under the microscope can be pretty daunting.
“You go from being good at one thing to wondering if you’re ever going to be good at anything else,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, now an NFL Network analyst. “You have to fight that battle like any other person going from job to job. You have to develop your confidence and find out who you want to be.”
Warner said it can be particularly difficult not to step on the toes of his former colleagues, to offer opinions that can hurt feelings in the league.
“That’s one of the challenges when you go into television: What am I going to be as an analyst?” Warner said. “One of the hardest things is, when you’re a guy like Tom Brady that everybody likes and you want people to like you, you have to figure out how to really analyze and be critical of what’s going on, but not be critical. from the people.
“Everyone is scared, I don’t want to offend anyone, but I also want to do my job and I want to do it very well. It’s something that I’ve struggled with, because I don’t feel like I would ever attack someone and say, ‘This person is terrible.’ But there are times when you say, ‘This is not very good. They should do this or that.
“I’ve seen people take it personally. You can’t just be a nice guy and really be good at this business. Now calling games can be different than being an analyst in a studio. But at the same time, you have to be able to be critical. … For me, I never attack a person, but I always attack a problem.”
Reporters gravitated toward Young as a player, and not just because he was the star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He was a deep thinker and a great date. But he now says that when he talked to the media, his target audience was really his teammates. He had to change his mind when he got on television, just like Brady will, and that’s not always easy to do.
“When Tom talks to the press, he’s a master, like Peyton and others who were great at this, every time they talked, they talked to their linemen,” Young said. “They were talking to their teammates, trying to keep them close. It was all about that. This is a completely different job.
“I think that’s the biggest problem Tom will have. Communication and who he is talking to has to change. It’s no longer a way to bring his teammates together, which has been a big part of his success. Now you’re on television and you don’t have that same paradigm. And that is a real change.
“If you go into work with the same mindset of talking to your co-workers, it won’t work. But I know you must have thought it through.
Then there’s the challenge of calling a game boring, when what’s happening on the field isn’t entertaining enough to keep the audience interested. All analysts prepare for that.
Gannon still cringes when he thinks about the first game he called, Buffalo at Tampa Bay in 2005, when the JP Losman-led Bills managed just one field goal in a 19-3 loss. Gannon remembers it as the slowest, worst game he’s ever called.
“It was so bad,” he said. “I just remember the producer in my ear saying, ‘Jump! Skip!’ He wanted it to be more aggressive because there were a lot of awkward pauses. He did not understand time and rhythm.”
The Monday after that game, Gannon got a call from CBS executive Tony Petitti, who delivered an unflinching review.
“He asks, ‘How do you think your game went?’ Gannon recalled. “I said, ‘It was good. Hard game to call blah blah blah. He says: ‘Well, here are my thoughts. It is one of two things. You don’t understand the mechanics, rhythm and timing of the transmission. Either that or you have nothing interesting to say. ”
“I said, ‘Trust me, it was the first part, I didn’t get the timing.’ That’s the only time she had to tell me. After that, as soon as the play-by-play guy was over, I was like bam.”
Like any great quarterback, and certainly as Brady will be, Gannon was coachable.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.