11W Interviews Ken Gordon

By Jason Priestas on March 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm
Ken GordonLike us, but with more truthiness

We were lucky enough to land an interview with Ken Gordon, The Dispatch's OSU football beat reporter. In it, we find out that Ken is a lot like us in that he writes about the Buckeyes out of his home, but there's that small distinction in that he actually gets paid for what he puts up (that, and he's just better at it, also). We also find out that our interview skills need some grooming as we were under the impression that he covered the Buckeyes during the Cooper years, when, in fact, he didn't. At any rate, read on for some insight into the life of a guy with the perfect job. Oh, and thanks for being a great sport about it, Ken.

Growing up, were you a Buckeye fan? Did you go to school at OSU?

My parents both originally are from the East Coast. We moved to Delaware, Ohio when I was 8 years old. I am the oldest of three kids, and my father was never a sports fan, so I didn’t grow up in a sports household and I wasn’t ingrained with OSU fever. I didn’t start following sports until I was about 13, around 1981-82.

I was a pretty serious Buckeye fan for about 6 or 8 years, maybe until the late 1980s, when I went off to college and became a sportswriter. When you get into this profession, you gradually lose your “fandom” – at least you should. You learn to turn it off. It’s different for reporters than the average fan. I have tailgated at OSU maybe once in my lifetime. I’ve bought tickets to an OSU game exactly once, as well.

I went to Ohio University in Athens. That was perfect for me. I was more of a small-town guy, I would not have enjoyed the urban OSU campus. Plus, Ohio U. has a nationally recognized journalism school, which is what I majored in.

What are some of the different teams you've covered and even different sports you've covered?

I worked at smaller papers in Mansfield and Lima for more than seven years (1991 to 1998), and my primary responsibility there was high school sports coverage. I did manage to get out to occasional big events, such as covering the Cleveland Browns as much as I could. I also did some auto-racing coverage and went to several Indianapolis 500s and Brickyard 400s.

I joined the Dispatch in 1998, and for the first year there, I was the outdoors writer. That was different, but a lot of fun.

I then moved to the Bengals beat. I covered Cincinnati from 1999 through 2003 _ Marvin Lewis’s first year. I covered two Super Bowls in that time, both of them really good ones _ the Rams win over Tennessee and the first New England title, a last-second field goal to beat the Rams.

In 2004, I started covering Ohio State football. But even the OSU football writer is asked to help out with other events during the offseason. I always help at the Memorial golf tournament, and often cover high school wrestling, basketball, baseball or softball during tournament times.

What's your daily schedule like? What sites/news sources do you read, etc.?

I’m lucky enough to be able to work out of home, so in general, my days are flexible. It just depends on what’s going on. Some days, I may work a typical “9 to 5.” Other days, I may work some early, then some more in the evening, there’s really no typical day.

That’s both good and bad. I’m at the mercy of news. So if someone gets arrested for DUI, for example, it doesn’t matter if it’s 9 p.m. on a weekend in March and I’m hosting my kid’s birthday sleepover, I have to excuse myself and work. That’s just the nature of journalism, you have to be on call.

During football season, it’s much more structured. There are interviews on Tuesday all day, then Wednesday and Thursday evenings, then games on Saturdays. I also do Wall to Wall Sports on WBNS-10TV Sunday evenings and Buckeye Roundtable on the Ohio State radio network on Mondays, so during the season I probably work 60-hour weeks. I don’t have a weekend off from about late August through Thanksgiving. That’s completely different from the offseason.

I spend the first 30 to 60 minutes of my day on the Internet, reading e-mail and scanning the news. I generally rely on either Scout.com or Bucknuts.com’s news links to check out the headlines from papers around the state, it saves me a lot of time!

I regularly read Rivals.com, Scout.com and their message boards, plus the Ozone. That’s about it. I keep tabs on what people are talking about, but I don’t go too overboard with it.

What has been your greatest moments as a sportswriter -- both in terms of work you've published and a moment on the field you've witnessed?

Wow, there are a lot of those. Work I’ve published? It would have to start with the really in-depth, human interest feature stories I’ve done. Stories like Troy Smith’s life story in December 2006, or a profile of former Bengals coach Dick LeBeau in 2000, or a “where are they now?” story on the 1993 Lima Senior boys basketball team – stuff like that. To me, those are the types of stories I’m most proud of.

As far as events, the first thing that sticks out is that 2002 Super Bowl. It was the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and it was a patriotic event. At halftime, U2 played. While they played “Where the Streets Have No Name,” they scrolled the names of the 9/11 victims up on the wall of the Superdome. They didn’t even get halfway through the names before the song ended. I had chills. I’ll never forget that moment.

Other moments? Seeing my first Indy 500, way down by the fence track-side as the cars whipped by. Sensing the speed and power was surreal. Plus, that place is so gigantic, it’s a city unto itself.

The OSU championship game in 2003 is memorable, but not in the way most people might think. It was crazy on our deadlines, of course, going double-OT. We had to run down to the field, run back up and write before the game ended, then race back down for interviews and back up again for our second-edition stories. That was quite an experience.

Name the one person you haven't interviewed, but would love to interview.

Well, technically I have interviewed him, but only for maybe a question or two while amongst a mob of reporters. I would love to have 30 minutes one-on-one with Tiger Woods. The man fascinates me. I think that is the essence of athletic competition, that burning desire to be the best that so few sports figures seem to have, at least to the degree he has it. I’d like to sit with him and sense what makes him the way he is.

How has your job changed with the rise of the internet?

Man, I could write a book on this one (I am writing a book, by the way, on recently graduated OSU fullback Tyler Whaley, kind of an OSU “Rudy” type story. Due out this fall.)

OK, shameless plug over. Basically, it has made my job more of a 24-hour deal. Before the late 1990s, you were only concerned about gathering all the information you could before deadline (maybe 10-11 p.m.) and writing one story. Now, there is a rush to get something on the web site quickly, maybe update it once or twice through the day, and THEN I still have to write something for the paper. So it’s more work in that regard.

Also, the public is conditioned to want instant analysis and reaction to everything. As a newspaper reporter, I feel I have to be more careful to sometimes take more time and get the whole story and get it right, rather than just rush to the web with whatever small scraps of info I hear. We have to be the filters of what’s legit and what’s just crazy crap.

I feel there still is a lot of value in knowing that the newspaper, at least, is going to give you more than rumors, innuendo, and partial truths. That’s not to say that many web sites aren’t reputable _ some of them are very good.

One of my pet peeves is when someone posts something on a web site, then it turns out not to be true. Even the “insiders” are wrong sometimes on the web. But when they’re wrong, they really aren’t held accountable, it’s just a shrug and an “oh well, nobody can be right all the time.”

I have to be right all the time, or I get nailed by readers and maybe even disciplined by my bosses.

Of course, the flip side is the web has made reporting so much easier. I can easily access other newspaper stories and a wealth of information that wasn’t available before.

I sound old, I know, but when I started in the business, if I wanted to read a story some other paper printed that day, I’d have to call that paper and ask them to fax me a copy. This was before e-mail, too, of course!

I remember being at the Lima News in 1995, I believe it was, when we installed an “internet terminal” in the center of the newsroom. We all kind of looked at it like, “What do we do with it?”

What's the food like in the press box?

Well, I’m a huge barbecue fan, so the fact that City Barbecue caters the OSU games never gets old for me!

On the road, it varies. Trust me, getting “free food” is not the big perk some people think it is. First of all, you have to eat when you’re in the press box for 8-10 hours, it’s not like you pack a lunch, so really, it’s a necessity, not a luxury.

Secondly, you can only eat so many hot dogs. It gets old quick.

If you weren't a sportswriter, what would you be doing?

Maybe an author (see shameless plug above), I am enjoying stretching my writing wings. I’ve always said my dream job would be a combination travel writer/food critic. I’d love to roam around the country, eating good food and meeting interesting people that I could write about.

Other than that? Maybe a teacher. I would either teach journalism or history. Or I could be a Civil War historian. I’d grow a beard, and then just sit around and wait to be quoted on History Channel shows. I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil War, visited a bunch of battlefields.

If I had all the money in the world, I’d be living in a log cabin (a modern one!) on a hill somewhere quiet, with a patch of woods and my own private pond stocked with bass. And when I felt like it, I’d hop in a luxury RV and wander wherever the mood took me.

What player do you think is flying the most under the radar in terms of impact next season?

Oh man, do we have to talk football? With so many guys back, there aren’t too many unknown impact players.

I am anxious to see if Ray Small’s role expands. I think it should. Brandon Saine also could see a lot more action. Jake Ballard is OSU’s best tight end, I’d use him a bit more.

Defensively, Cameron Heyward should really emerge. I’ve always liked Kurt Coleman, maybe this is his year to make some big plays.

A real “sleeper” per se (at least for 2008) might be Mike Adams. He could win the job at right tackle.

And no, I’m not going to say Terrelle Pryor, just because he’s not under the radar. He owns the radar.

In your eyes, how does Chris Wells stack up to Eddie George?

If he keeps improving, he’ll be better than Eddie when it’s all said and done. They are very similar, actually, both in career path, running style and attitude.

Both are leaders, that’s a big thing. Both have huge hearts. Both overcame fumbling problems early on and became the guy OSU could count on, game after game. Without Beanie Wells, the Buckeyes would have lost at least four games last year – definitely Wisconsin and Michigan State.

If the Buckeyes land Terrelle Pryor, do you think he can push Boeckman for significant playing time next season?

Yes, but only if Boeckman lets him. We all know Jim Tressel is never going to prematurely shove a senior aside for a freshman without an overwhelming reason to do so. That means Boeckman gets every chance to build on his success last season – remember, the guy was being mentioned as a Heisman candidate in early November.

Pryor would get a chance to play early on, a few series here and there in non-conference action. If he looked good, they probably would have a package of plays for him, using him situationally as the season went on.

But unless Boeckman really stumbles, repeatedly, he’s starting all 13 games next season.

What do you think will be the biggest difference in terms of what Rich Rodriguez will bring to Michigan in contrast to what Carr brought?

The spread option. Maybe a willingness to gamble a bit more. I’ll never forget Carr deciding to punt from the OSU 35-yard line, leading with about 5 minutes left in the Big House in 2005.

Troy Smith then drove the Buckeyes down for the winning score, but I always wondered what would have happened if Carr had some guts there. Kind of like Ron Zook going for it on fourth down in Ohio Stadium last year. That worked out pretty well.

What's your favorite Cooper moment (probably a quote about a dog biting as a pup)? What about Tressel moment?

I didn’t cover Cooper. My favorite Tressel moment was after the 2004 regular season, when Butch Davis was about to be fired and rumors popped up that Tressel was a candidate for the Browns job.

Bruce Hooley (then with the Plain Dealer) ambushed Tress on the Woody Hayes indoor field during an Alamo Bowl practice. I’ve never seen Tressel so off-balance, he literally was backing up slowly as he answered repeated questions about the Browns job.

“You aren’t going to write a story about this, are you?” he said at one point.

I don’t revel in a man’s discomfort. But Tressel is always so composed, so controlled. It was fascinating to see him off balance for once.

How is Tressel's staff different in terms of press relations than Cooper's staff was?

Again, I didn’t cover Coop. But I would venture to guess that some Third World dictators are more open and accessible to the media than Tressel.

Have you figured out what you're going to say if you bump into the Song Girls in September?

“Excuse me.” I mean, if a 40-year-old (as of July) happily married man says anything else but that, it can only lead to trouble. Right, honey?