Tom Brady confirmed this week that, after his playing career is done, he will turn his attention to TV, becoming NFL lead analyst for Fox. Unquestionably, he has every quality – name, looks, resume – to break salary records and even overshadow the games he’s covering.
But everybody has to start somewhere and, if history is a guide, Brady will go through some growing pains the way every analyst does.
“People think it’s just a conversation,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, an ESPN analyst. “In the end, like acting, the talent is to make it seem natural. … There’s an art to it.”
Surely, that’s no mystery to Brady. He has spent more than 20 years answering questions on the other side of the microphone, observing how TV people and other media members do their jobs, and dispensing information – sometimes very little information – in succinct sound bites. Chances are, he’s not going to be overly nervous in front of a camera.
Some in the business were somewhat surprised, though, by the news that he’s already heading in this direction.
“Never in a million years did I think he’d be going this way,” said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, who first got to know Brady when they were teammates on the AFC Pro Bowl team, then covered several of his games when Gannon was a CBS analyst and Brady was playing for New England.
“You get a sense with different people when you go around and visit with them,” Gannon said. “Some guys are curious. Peyton [Manning] was curious, he’d ask questions and stuff about the role and the job, the responsibilities, the schedule. I never got the sense Tom was even interested in that. I never got the sense he would be interested in getting into coaching or the front office.
“You think to yourself, ‘I think he’s just going to focus on his businesses and his family, and just get away from it.’ But it’s a pretty good gig. There’s not a lot 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 bit of a grind during the season, but it keeps you around the game and it’s a pretty good transition. Not a lot of people have that opportunity.”
That’s not to say it’s easy. In fact, going from being an elite quarterback to someone learning a new career while under the microscope can be quite daunting.
“You go from being great at something 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 just like anybody else does that goes from one job to another. You have to build your confidence up and figure out who you want to be.”
Warner said it can be particularly difficult not to stomp on the toes of your onetime colleagues, to offer opinions that can bruise feelings around the league.
“That’s one of the challenges as you get 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 to be liked by people, and you have to figure out how to truly analyze and be critical of what’s going on but not be critical of people.
“Everybody’s afraid of, I don’t want to offend anybody, but I also want to do my job and I want to do it really well. It’s something that I’ve struggled with, because I don’t feel as if I ever attack anybody and say, ‘This person’s terrible.’ But there are times when you go, ‘This isn’t 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 in this business. Now, calling games can be different than being an analyst in a studio. But at the same time, you’ve got to be able to be critical. … For me, I never attack a person, but I always attack a problem.”
Reporters gravitated to Young when he was a player, and not just because he was the star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. He was a deep thinker and a great quote. But he says now that when he was speaking to the media, his target audience was really his teammates. He had to shift his thinking when he got into TV – just as Brady will – and that’s not always easy to do.
“When Tom speaks to the press, he’s a master—like Peyton and others who were great at this, every time they spoke, they were speaking to their linemen,” Young said. “They were speaking to their teammates, trying to hold them close. Everything was about that. This is a completely different job.
“I think that’s the biggest issue Tom will have. The communication and who he’s speaking to has to change. It’s no longer a way of gathering his teammates, which has been a huge part of his success. Now you’re on TV and you don’t have that same paradigm. And that’s a real shift.
“If he goes into the job with that same mentality of talking to his teammates, it won’t work. But I know that he’ll have thought that through.”
Then there’s the challenge of calling a boring game, when what’s happening on the field isn’t entertaining enough to keep the audience interested. Every analyst braces for those.
Gannon still cringes at the thought of the first game he called, Buffalo at Tampa Bay in 2005, when the JP Losman-led Bills mustered only a field goal in a 19-3 loss. Gannon remembers it as the slowest, worst game he ever called.
“It was so bad,” he said. “I just remember the producer in my ear saying, ‘Jump in! Jump in!’ He wanted me to be more aggressive because there were all these awkward pauses. I didn’t understand the timing and the 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 the game went?’ ” Gannon recalled. “I said, ‘It was OK. Hard game to call, blah, blah blah.’ He goes, ‘Well, here’s my thoughts. It’s either one of two things. You don’t understand the mechanics and the pacing and timing of the broadcast. Either that or you don’t have anything interesting to say.’ ”
“I said, ‘Trust me, it was the first part—I didn’t understand the timing.’ That’s the only time he had to tell me. After that, as soon as the play-by-play guy was done, I was like bam.”
Like any great quarterback – and certainly as Brady will be – Gannon was coachable.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.