Catching up with Kirk Herbstreit

By Alex Gleitman on August 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm
Kirk Herbstreit
ESPN Images

Many Buckeye greats are known for their work on the field while they played for Ohio State. One individual however, despite being a team captain, is better known across America for his work post-football. We of course, are talking about ESPN's best (at least in our eyes) college football analyst, Kirk Herbstreit.

Herbstreit, or Herbie as he is known as around these parts, has often been criticized for not being a Buckeye-homer on the air, and even accused by some as hating on his alma mater on national telvision. The Centerville native caught wind of that this spring and went on a mission to set the record straight. Bleeding scarlet and gray as a second generation Buckeye captain, Kirk took the time during spring practice to talk to various media outlets, as well as the team as a whole to express his love for Ohio State and deflect any whispers that he was anti-OSU.

As we approach the college football season, we here at Eleven Warriors finally got our chance to sit down with Herbie to discuss his experience of talking to the team earlier in the year, his thoughts on the 2010 Buckeyes, whether or not he thinks Terrelle Pryor can play in the NFL one day and much, much more.

What do you feel is Ohio State's biggest weakness heading into the season?

I think physically, this potentially could be one of the more talented teams Coach Tressel has had if you're just looking at the team on paper. You start with Terrelle and you work your way around with the offensive line and the backs, led by Brandon and Boom, and then you look at the receivers, and I know there are some concerns from the people who aren't familiar with the potential candidates, but if you look at what Posey and Sanzenbacher can do. I think Taurian Washington, Corey Brown, Chris Fields -- they're loaded at wide receiver in my opinion. I think they're going to be better top to bottom at receiver than they've been in the last few years, once people have a chance to see what some of these younger receivers can do. Even with the loss of Duron Carter, I think they're going to be okay out there.

I think offensively everything looks in order, and I think defensively, you could say maybe there are some potential concerns at safety, but I just don't see them. But getting back to your question, the big thing I have there is how do they gel? How do they grow as a team? And are the intangibles going to be able to surface and are they going to become a real team instead of a bunch of talented individuals? I think if this team gets great chemistry, then I think they're going to be a really, really dangerous team and I think they will be favored in every game they play this year.

Now, will they run the table? Will they win every game? That's where I go back to the x-factor in championship seasons is whether or not teams can grow and become a unit. I think last year was a great example. I think they were searching for it and maybe it took a loss to Purdue for them to find out who they were. If you think about their last three games and the way they won -- at Penn State, Iowa at home, and at Michigan -- it wasn't the prettiest but I think it really created a lot of confidence, so by the time they went out to Pasadena they were kind of a machine at that point. My hope for them is that they find that early in the year and maybe playing a powerhouse like Miami can be just the thing to help them grow together as a team.

Speaking of Pryor, how has playing quarterback in college changed since the days that you played?

Terrelle has had such unrealistic expectations his first couple of years after being such highly touted and heavily recruited. I think people anticipated him just walking in and being Vince Young, the finished product at Texas. So I think what he has faced is something very few quarterbacks have ever faced, these unrealistic expectations to make every decision and every play perfect. I think he's felt that a little bit. I think he's performed pretty well, all things considered, considering he was a true freshman and true sophomore trying to compete at a very high level.

I think the game has changed the most for these quarterbacks today versus when I was playing 20 years ago is the complexity of the defenses that they face week-in and week-out. The zone pressures and the diversity of how defenses try to slow you down I think is very, very unique and very different, and I think a guy like Terrelle Pryor is doing a pretty good job of getting to the point now where the game is gong to slow down for him and I think he's going to go out there and have a big year. For him, it's never been about physical ability. It's about gaining experience, making better decisions, and making quicker decisions, and then having great footwork and throwing an accurate pass. For him, it's all been about growth in the decision-making process and then the fundamentals. After two years of being around Coach Tressel, I think you'll find him in his junior and senior year really start to take over football games, much like Troy Smith did his last couple of years.

What do you think he needs to do now to prove to NFL scouts that he can play quarterback at the next level and do you believe that he will be a starting quarterback in the NFL one day?

You know, it remains to be seen from me. I'm one of these guys that's so focused on the college game, and with all due respect, I wish him success going on to the NFL, but I really don't care. I love college quarterbacks and I love guys trying to be team guys and win championships. The worst thing he can do is start to listen to critics or listen to what it takes to become a great NFL quarterback. Tim Tebow is a great example of that last year. I think it really affected Florida's growth as an offense because they got so much outside pressure to build an offense to help Tebow show NFL scouts what he could do by staying in the pocket and being under center that I think it kind of affected where Florida was and what they wanted ultimately to do, which was take advantage of his ability to run the football.

I think it would be a colossal mistake to take away Terrelle Pryor's ability to run the football just because he wants to show NFL scouts that he can throw. Look at Sam Bradford, Tebow and these guys. Your personal workout, your combine workout is all you need to be able to show these guys whether or not you have the goods to physically get under center and make a throw in the NFL. Go out and win games. If you want to get drafted high, don't listen to your critics. Do whatever it takes to win games. If it means running the ball, then run the ball. If it means throwing the ball, then throw it. But don't try to put on a rehearsal for NFL scouts and GMs by trying to adjust your game to what you think the NFL wants you to be. Go out and play your game. They want a winner. The intangibles and the mental and physical toughness and the decision-making -- that's what they really are looking at.

If I were him, I wouldn't worry about "I better sit in the pocket and not scramble". Just do what you see, make your reads and let the game take you wherever it goes. I think you're going to see a lot more of that because of the growth and what he's gone through the last two years.

Switching topics to expansion, what's your opinion of Nebraska joining the Big Ten?

Outstanding. Huge coup for the Big Ten. I don't think Big Ten fans, and this includes Ohio State fans, fully have an appreciation yet as to what Nebraska is going to bring to the conference. Right now, if we're buying stock, they would be a stock you would be buying. They are on their way back to being dominant once again led by Bo Pelini, a former Ohio State captain, and I think their tradition, their facilities, the fanbase, everything that they have to offer, is going to instantly put them in the upper tier of the Big Ten. If you put Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa in one conference, that's as good as you can hope for. That right there is impressive and can strong with any teams in any conference year-in and year-out.

I really hope that Big Ten fans will embrace Nebraska. I'm talking about a fanbase that if you don't sell out your stadium, they're going to sell it out. They're much like Ohio State fans in the way that they travel and follow their team. They are sensational, classy, they're great people and I think it's a perfect fit with the culture in Lincoln and Omaha and what the Big Ten has to offer. I congratulate Jim Delany on that and think it's outstanding.

Do you think the Big Ten will add more teams soon, and if so, who would you like to see added?

I think this is step one. I think in the next four or five years, you're going to see a few more steps. I don't think Jim Delany is done. By the time it's all said and done, you're probably going to see this thing go up to 16 teams. I still think this is all about the Big Ten Network. I think they're trying to get into markets towards the East Coast. Of course we've heard a lot about Manhattan, trying to get into New York City. I still think they're going to try to go south to Atlanta as a possibility, maybe a Georgia Tech. I think the obvious other teams are the ones you always hear talked about in the Big East and they're players, but I don't think this thing is even close to being done. And not just for the Big Ten, but across the country. I think you're still going to see [activity from] the Pac-10 and the Big 12, and the SEC, and the ACC/Big East.

I think everybody is going to go to war over these next four or five years and eventually I think you'll have four or five mega-conferences. A lot of it is driven by these conferences wanting their own network and trying to get big markets, so they can go to advertisers and say "Look how many millions of people we have in our reach". That's why the Pac-10 went to Salt Lake City and Denver. Granted Colorado and Utah play pretty good football, but think about what they inherited with all of the homes by the Pac-10 getting into those markets. That's really what this expansion is as much about as anything. That, and money.

I just hope that we're still standing strong and still a vibrant sport -- not just college football, but intercollegiate athletics, when the dust settles and we're standing here five years from now looking back at what the conferences did.

What about divisions and a potential Ohio State-Michigan split. How would you like to see things unfold on that front?

I think it's crazy to even talk about splitting Ohio State and Michigan up and putting them in two separate divisions with the possibility of having two Ohio State-Michigan games. It's very easy. Look at the SEC and use them as a blueprint for how to get it done. Alabama-Auburn has as much tradition as any in college football and they stay in the same division and play that game at the end of the year, with the winner of that game typically going to the SEC Championship, which in that region and that part of the country is bigger than going to the BCS national title. And it's as big, if not bigger today, going back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, so it can be done and you have to keep Ohio State and Michigan in the same division. You have to be able to play that as the last game at the end of the year.

“I think it's crazy to even talk about splitting Ohio State and Michigan up and putting them in two separate divisions with the possibility of having two Ohio State-Michigan games.”

You have to, as you move forward with this new wave of realignment, you absolutely have to hold on to some of your great traditional rivalries. They can't go anywhere, but you also have to look forward to start some new rivalries. Imagine Nebraska on a field with Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State, every year, getting those types of games. Some great new rivalries will be started, but I think you take the big six: Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa on one side, with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State on the other, and what you do with the other six is fine, you separate them however you like. You have to separate the first six and go from there and I think eventually that's what is most likely to happen.

I think the notion of separating Ohio State and Michigan and playing that game in October and then playing it again in a championship game is one of the craziest things I've ever heard.

There seems to be a little bit of an improvement in the overall national perception of the Buckeyes and the Big Ten based off of last season's bowl successes. Have you noticed that within the network and traveling around the country?

It's baby steps. When you have three or four lousy years in non-conference play as a conference and in the bowl games, you can't just have one great bowl season where you knock off four teams in the top fifteen including two BCS bowl games and say "Okay, now, people better respect the Big Ten". That's a great start, but now you have to back it up with Penn State playing well against Alabama down in Tuscaloosa. Ohio State has to play well against Miami. Arizona and Iowa: the Hawkeyes have to go out to Tucson and play well. You have these kind of games, you can't lose to the MAC consistently.

Sometimes I just feel like Big Ten fans are so myopic, that they just look at their team and when they are sitting in the stadium and hear that Michigan State is losing to Central Michigan or Michigan is losing to Appalachian State, they cheer and it's a great thing. And I want to ask them if they've ever been outside of the Great Lakes region because every time one of those Big Ten teams loses, Ohio State loses, the Big Ten loses. Even when Michigan loses one of those games, fans from Florida, USC, Texas and Oklahoma -- it might as well be Ohio State losing those games, and to me, you better be rooting as hard as you can if you want Ohio State to start getting more national respect and you want the Big Ten to get more national respect, you better start rooting for the Big Ten in every single non-conference they play and every single bowl game they play, because the way you turn around perception is you win games. That's it. That's all there is to it. And if you don't do that, then you're going to be looked at as "So, you won the Big Ten. Yay! Big deal! Our 7th place team from the SEC could win the Big Ten" and that's going to take time and a lot of wins to be able to change that, but it can happen.

Right, do you think the conference championship game will help the Big Ten?

Yeah, because it keeps you out in the forefront of the minds and gives you a big marquee game, probably in primetime, on that last Saturday of the season when the SEC or Big 12 typically have the last dance. Now the Big Ten will have an opportunity to send, arguably their two best teams every year, into a championship game. Even when Ohio State, or Penn State, or whoever -- a 13-0 team -- and their season ended in mid-November, two or three weeks later when these games are still being played in the last week of the year, people forget about them because they haven't seen them in so long, so so consequently it can have an impact on you in the polls. You want to stay out there and I think having a championship game late in the year will helpfully help the Big Ten.

Switching gears a bit, can you give us any insight on your new radio show this fall and also your event at the Shoe. We went last year and it was a great event despite UA getting a little beat-down from St. Thomas Aquinas.

Yeah, this is the fifth year for my high school event and every year it just keeps getting better and better. We moved it to the Shoe last year and it was met with an amazing response by the local community in the way they came out and supported their teams. That's really what I like to challenge people with. Whether you went to UA or you go to Reynoldsburg, or if you go to Dublin Coffman or Pickerington Central, or wherever you're from, the chance to showcase Ohio high school football and to come out and support these teams is great. I was really impressed with people not just coming out to watch their team, but coming out to watch all of the Columbus teams. It's more about the state of Ohio, though the last couple of years we've kind of focused on Central Ohio. Next year, we'll probably expand out a little and bring more teams in.

You've got Pickerington Central having a great opportunity. Cleveland Glenville is coming down to take on a really good team down in Florida, Dwyer, which will probably end up being a nationally-ranked team. Jack Nicklaus' grandson, who is one of the more highly-touted tight end prospects in the nation is on that team, so they're going to take on Glenville. We've got some great local matchups and some national games and I'm going to continue to do it. I love high school football, I believe in what it stands for and I think it's important to support it, and I will always do that.

“I grew up in the cold war era and I used to go to bed praying that if there was going to be a nuclear war to end the world, just let me go to Ohio State before it happened.”

So, I'm looking forward to that, and then on The Fan, I haven't been on the radio in probably a year or year and a half, and I'm going to go back to doing a Monday show. It will be every Monday throughout the fall from noon to one with Bruce hooley and we're going to do one hour of college football talk. It's going to be Ohio State talk, it's going to be Big Ten talk, it's going to be the national scene, we're going to have some great guests and it's just going to be one of those shows that will just fly by.

Turning north, what do you think about Michigan this season and what does Rodriguez need to do to keep his job in Ann Arbor?

I don't think you can put a number on how many games he has to win. I think it's more one of those things where he just has to turn around the vibe of Michigan's program, where the fans are excited about the future with Rich leading them into the future. If that means finishing strong against some tough teams late in the year, maybe that's what it takes, but I think going into the season, the deck seems to be stacked against him. They're trying to break in a lot of new people and they have some injuries to deal with. I think this will probably be the most talented team he's had since he's been in Ann Arbor, but there's still a lot of youth in some key areas.

I think the most important thing for their season is to start fast and they have their hands full with UConn at home, who I think is a great team this year and then they go to Notre Dame. If he can start 2-0 against those opponents then that can really create some momentum and some confidence, but if they lose those games, it could get nasty there.

You were John Cooper's first recruit. Can you share a story about what he was like as a recruiter and that whole experience?

My dad played for Ohio State. He was a captain and I grew up a lifelong Buckeye fan. I grew up in the cold war era and I used to go to bed praying that if there was going to be a nuclear war to end the world, just let me go to Ohio State before it happened. I really -- that was all I cared about was playing for Ohio State. To be able to live out that dream, with Coach Cooper and his staff was great. For me, it wasn't always an easy road. There were some tough, tough times for me, but the thing I'm most proud of was being able to see it through and earning an opportunity to be a captain, just like my dad, and have a fun time during the time I was there and building some amazing relationships with a lot of people. A day doesn't go by where I don't think about how lucky I was that I went to Ohio State and how fortunate I am in the position I am in today with ESPN and ABC, I think about how without Ohio State in my background, I don't know if those doors open for me and it's something I take very seriously and don't take for granted.

I know that's one of the things you talked about when you were invited to speak to the team in April. What did that opportunity mean to you and what was your message to them?

I just talked to them about how they were one of the few teams in the country that in spring ball could look around at each other in the room and realize that physically, they have everything that it takes to win a championship. They can accomplish any goal that they want with the players that they have in this room. There are very few teams in the country that can look around their room and say that. And I said, "It's just up to you, how bad you want it and how hard you're willing to work for it and how much you're going to grow as a team in these next few months when nobody is watching you and the coaches aren't allowed to be involved, are you going to go out there and work and do what it takes to become a championship-caliber because the great teams do that." And I just challenged them to do that and I challenged them to deal with a lot of the distractions.

“I have a job to be objective, but that doesn't mean that I don't love Ohio State and want them to win more than anything in the world.”

When you're a school like Ohio State with some great individual players, a lot of individuals are going to get a lot of attention, and you can't allow that to become something that alienates you from one another and you have to stick together as a team through the good and the bad. That's mainly what I wanted to talk to them about and about being a team that's willing to block out all of the adversity and all of the distractions and go out and win games and not be jealous of one another. I told them if they do that, they can do anything they want.

I also talked to them about how -- I got kind of emotional when I talked about what Ohio State means to me because it does, Ohio State is a place that I dreamed of going and I was lucky enough to live out a dream. Like I said, not a day goes by where I'm not grateful for that experience. It's probably emotional for me because standing there looking into the eyes of the players and the coaches and knowing that they get what I'm talking about and yet how a lot of times I get questioned for my loyalty and my love to my school isn't something that I appreciate and I think as long as the players understand what I'm about, and the coaches, that's good enough for me. I have a job to be objective, but that doesn't mean that I don't love Ohio State and want them to win more than anything in the world.

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