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A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Colin Cowherd has confirmed his new home. The former ESPN personality (CAA) is moving to Fox Sports in a four-year deal that includes Fox NFL Kickoff (which relocates from Fox Sports 1 to the flagship network in September).
Cowherd, 51, already has moved to Los Angeles, where his daily radio show and its FS1 simulcast will originate from the Fox lot, and he’s expected to get his own FS1 nightly show next year. Unlike recent ESPN castoffs Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann, Cowherd tells THR that the decision to leave was his and was motivated by a need for a new challenge (“I wanted to reboot and rebuild”) and his desire to reunite with former ESPN exec Jamie Horowitz, now running programming at FS1 and FS2. “People who make you think are tough to find,” says Horowitz, whose first ESPN show was the Cowherd-hosted Sports Nation.
Cowherd’s early-September FS1 debut will include coverage of the Sept. 3 Utah-Michigan college football season opener, where he’ll seek a do-over interview with new Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh (their exchange on July 1 was famously awkward). That preceded his fractious final days at ESPN, when the network dropped him a week before his planned departure because of his July 23 remarks disparaging the intellect of Dominicans, who make up 10 percent of active MLB players.
Cowherd talks to THR about his exit from ESPN, a possible follow-up with Harbaugh and which baseball player he’d most like to have on his new show (hint: he’s from the Dominican Republic).
What precipitated the move for you?
Pat Riley says every 10 years you probably should change jobs. I could stay [at ESPN] or I could go to a fledgling, young network with an open canvas that is really interested in doing new things. I don’t want it to come out like I’m not appreciative of [ESPN]. I mean ESPN plucked me out of nowhere and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity. I don’t love the way it ended. But I’m not a grudge-holder.
Were you surprised by the way it ended?
Enterprises need to protect the enterprise. I get that. And I chose my words very poorly. I made a mistake. I can be harsh but I don’t think I’m mean. I hurt people with my words and I regret that. But I don’t want that ending to overwhelm what was a great relationship.
Major League Baseball denounced your remarks. Did you talk to anyone from the league?
No, I’d love to reach out to Pedro Martinez. I had him on my show about three or four months before I left. There is a Rain Man quality to his baseball knowledge. He was an incredible guest.
Are you going to call Martinez?
If my bosses [at Fox Sports] would like me to.
Has the mob mentality of social media changed how you approach your work?
Twitter has created a certain momentum that is not always fact-based. I worry about that because I still live in a world where you need to have two sources. Even when I agree with the Twitterverse, I don’t like the means by which they reach the conclusion. It’s a really scary place. And I’m not comfortable with that.
How important was it for you to have a presence on the Fox NFL pregame show?
I’m not somebody that demands a presence. I would rather be on a thoughtful [program]. I don’t need to be the star. My radio show obviously is built around my personality. To me, radio is about making you uncomfortable. Television is about making you comfortable: Who do you like? Who do you want to be friends with? So I don’t need to tower over people in television. If I can be a part of a really great project, I’m all in.
What’s going on with you and Jim Harbaugh?
I always thought he was a little quirky, but I think he’s an incredible coach. A lot of these coaches, they’re almost like military leaders, and the media is the enemy. Football coaches are just wired tight. So I brought him on and it just didn’t work. At all. It was just awful. But I think he’s going to be a huge success at Michigan. I am completely rooting for him.
Are you going to do a follow-up interview with him?
I hope so. I think he’ll do it. In fact, I think Jim is really smart and I think he knows it would be really entertaining for the audience.
Are there any regular listeners that have surprised you?
Yes. Jerry Seinfeld, Condoleezza Rice. I interviewed her, she’s like, “I listen to your podcast every day.” I’m like, “You’re running the country. Stop it.”
You are part of the ESPN talent exodus of 2015 with Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann. Any thoughts on that?
It makes headlines but I think it’s just the growth of the business. I wanted to live in California. That was a big part of it. I told ESPN whether I work for you or Fox Sports, I’m moving to the beach. One of the things that was really attractive to me about Fox is they have the NFL, and baseball playoffs. Well, this year you could have the Mets, the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Cubs, the Cardinals. Are you kidding me?! Those are big numbers. When I look at Fox Sports 1, they’ve got games, they’ve got the attitude of the oval, they are well-funded. They’ve got, to me, momentum.
There were rumors that you were going to leave sports to do a political show. Did you ever consider that?
I wanted to be Donald Trump‘s running mate. (Laughs.) It was never factual but it gained traction because I talk about politics. I did interview with MSNBC and CNN, but there was no traction. Political radio is often angry. I’m not angry. I like to laugh. I want to be funny and interesting and compelling. You have to know what you are and what you’re not. And I’m not a politico.
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