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Volume 21 No. 22
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For Cowherd, a move to a ‘creative mecca’

For Colin Cowherd, the decision to leave ESPN was a relatively easy one — a decision that was made way back in January, a full seven months before the news ultimately leaked out.

In his first interview since leaving ESPN, Cowherd said he had grown disenchanted with Bristol, where he had been a mainstay of ESPN Radio’s morning schedule since 2003. He loved doing radio, of course. But he felt that his show’s simulcast on ESPNU was an afterthought and he would have more exposure elsewhere.

“People ask me, ‘What’s it like to leave ESPN?’ and I say, ‘I’m not leaving ESPN. I’m leaving ESPNU,’” Cowherd said. “That’s what I was on. That network doesn’t even have a sales staff. Now, I’m going to be on Fox. I’m going to be front and center. I’m going to be on bigger projects. I’m going to be promoted. It’s not about being on television. It’s about being on television on the right projects.”

It’s also about reuniting with Jamie Horowitz, president of Fox Sports National Networks, with whom Cowherd has a close relationship. The first daily studio show that Horowitz’s team developed at ESPN was “SportsNation” in 2009, and the first person they hired was Cowherd.

Cowherd, in his first interview since leaving ESPN, wanted a part in bigger projects. “People ask me, ‘What’s it like to leave ESPN?’ and I say, ‘I’m not leaving ESPN. I’m leaving ESPNU.’”
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“What Colin and I have is years of a working relationship and a friendship and a trust,” Horowitz said. “We can enter into an agreement here where we can say that we’re going to get the radio show up and running, line him up in a beautiful studio and make it a real thing on FS1. We trust each other. We know that at some point in the next year or couple months, we’re going to develop something else together. We don’t have to lay it all out right now.”

It’s clear that Cowherd did not have that same level of comfort at ESPN, which tried to keep the popular radio host. ESPN gave Cowherd’s agent, CAA’s Nick Khan, three offers to try to keep him in Bristol — offers that Cowherd described as “unbelievable.” He didn’t counter.

“I could sense with budget cuts coming at ESPN that head count was going to be an issue,” Cowherd said. “The culture at ESPN, I found when I left, isn’t the same as when I came. It wasn’t as much fun.”

For example, Cowherd said that ESPN assigned only two people to work on his radio show simulcast for ESPNU. At Fox, eight people will be working on it. The added manpower should result in more video, better graphics and animation, he said.

Plus, Cowherd believes that his set on the Fox lot in Los Angeles will bring in higher profile in-studio guests.

“Los Angeles is a creative mecca,” he said. “I was looking for the opportunity to work with people — writers and producers and different types of people that were very difficult to access in Bristol.”

Cowherd was tight-lipped about his show, which debuts Tuesday. He said it largely will look the same as the one he did for nearly 12 years at ESPN. But he did say there would be tweaks that he is waiting to announce on-air. Cowherd said he’s looking to add a voice to the show to challenge him on some of his opinions. “I’m going to add somebody on my show that is going to play a very key role,” he said.

As for ESPN, Cowherd says he holds no grudges for the way he left, with ESPN suspending him a week early as punishment for insensitive remarks he made about Dominicans. Cowherd said he still has friends at ESPN and remembers his time there fondly.

“Holding a grudge is the equivalent of chain smoking hate. Who would win?” he said. “There are so many gifted people at all these companies that the public doesn’t really give any credit to or know. Those are the people that I’ve been communicating with for the last nine months — writers and producers and APs. Those people don’t get enough credit.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.