ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit can talk and talk in circles; He makes good points on occasion if you can bear listening

The good and bad of ESPN's coverage. Fowler ribbed Herbstreit for calling a short player, someone with “a low center of gravity”


ESPN’s 15 separate presentations of last night’s title football game was a sports fan’s paradise. I hopped around and tried to sample as many versions as I could. Loved it!

Here are my observations on talent and more. Brian Seitz, Student of the Game, listened assiduously and has his review of broadcasters Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. They follow my rants.

Halby’s rants

  • The mega-cast enabled the ACC Network, one of ESPN’s outlets, to first report that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was riding a stationary bike at the half to stay warm. The ACC reporters speculated correctly that he took a shot to the ribs in the final play of the first half. His physical status became the storyline heading into he third quarter. ESPN’s flagship was busy with center stage halftime festivities and didn’t get to the news until later.
  • Herbstreit talks so much, I can hardly remember a thing he said. Lots of knee-jerk, extraneous and valueless comments, like,  e.g. “If you’re going after Joe Burrow, you better get him because he has other options” or “Everyone has to be on the same page.” One more of many more, “Because of the sack, look. It’s 3d and 19.” This goes on all night. Shush already!
  • I got mentally drained listening to Kirk. I often just tune him out. There’s more style than substance. Kirk camouflages inanities by inflecting his voice with throaty urgency.
  • Surprised? Yahoo Sports headline during the game: “Trump greeted at CFP title game by huge ovation and chants of “U-S-A!!! U-S-A!” No mention of Trump on CNN home page other than the impeachment. What a shock!
  • ESPN’s Legends of the Game segment at HT was well done. It was tough though looking at the great Jim Brown using a cane. He’ll be 84 in February.
  • Herbstreit made a good point at the start of the second half. In recent title games, Clemson has made good defensive adjustments at halftime. It didn’t turn out that way, yet still a timely observation.
  • Jake and Tye Herbstreit, Kirk’s sons enrolled at Clemson. Should Kirk have recused himself?
  • One reason Herbstreit survives is because he rarely offers strong opinions on-air, rarely puts himself on a limb.
  • Kirk is a pretty bright guy but he’s in bad need of a muzzle. Less is more!


Brian Seitz’ evaluation of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herstreit

  • When Kirk Herbstreit said LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has a “low center of gravity”, Fowler responded with, “That is a nice way of calling him short.” When Herbstreit predicted that one of the first things out of Coach Ed Orgeron’s mouth in the post-game presser was going to be something about “the great State of Louisiana”, he was spot on. The coach’s first sentence literally began with, “The great State of Louisiana.”
  • Before the kickoff, ESPN shared the unexpected reason why there was a gash on the head of LSU Coach Ed Orgeron. Fowler tells the audience that the cut was self-inflicted. Orgeron apparently punched himself in practice to stir his team.
  • Clemson played a 3-1-7 defense early, three down linemen, one linebacker and seven defensive backs. It was the same look Auburn used against LSU earlier this year, doing so with some success. But Herbstreit didn’t explain why the defense was effective. (In case you’re wondering, it is because in an air-raid offense the idea is to spread the field and insert talented athletes who can finish on the move. To counter the attack, the defensive team too requires athletes, players with speed and quickness in the open field.) The strategy worked early for Clemson until LSU figured it out. Herbstreit never elaborated on the adjustments LSU made and how it rendered Clemson’s 3-1-7 defense ineffective.
  • Herbstreit nicely compared LSU star quarterback Joe Burrow to an assistant coach because of his focused commitment to spending as much time watching film as the coaches themselves.
  • In the third quarter, Clemson’s middle linebacker James Skalski was hit with a targeting penalty and ejected. Herbstreit said by the letter of the law it was targeting, but I wish he would have offered an opinion on the rule and whether the draconian penalty for violating it is excessive. Was the penalty warranted in the national title game? Herbstreit did stress the severity of the ejection given the fact that Skalski is the leader of the Clemson defense and that he calls out the defensive plays.
  • The officials, a Pac-12 crew, were a topic of discussion when a deep touchdown pass to Clemson receiver Tee Higgins was called back. It would have pared LSU’s lead to ten. The catch was ruled offensive interference. Fowler notes that the Pac-12 refs have been scrutinized all year on how they call pass interference but never specifically said why. He also believes every conference in the NCAA calls interference differently. ESPN’s rule expert Bill Lemonnier believed the play should have been a defensive pass interference. Lemonnier also weighed in emphatically on the targeting call on Skalski. He agreed with it.
  • Herbstreit contradicted himself or left questions unanswered. Early in the game he raved about the LSU receivers’ abilities, strongly suggesting that if they’re pressed at the line of scrimmage they will sprint by and be a threat to catch deep balls. But by giving them space at the line, they will complete quick routes like slants all day long. In contrast later on in the game, Kirk claims it is dangerous to lay off the LSU receivers and give them space. That was after he said you couldn’t do either, lay off or tighten up. Kirk, what defense would you then suggest Clemson play? Based on earlier comments, Clemson is susceptible to either defense.
  • Kirk left half statements hanging, wandering off in the middle of points that he had started sharing. An example of this was at the end of the game when he elaborated about LSU’s offense, claiming that he never has seen a new-school type offense come from an archaic offense. Then Kirk gets distracted by his own point while focusing on offensive coaches Joe Brady and Steve Ensminger. He said that LSU might have the most impressive offense he has ever seen. Kirk talked in circles.
  • Herbstreit tried to cram in lots of information between plays, particularly in the beginning of the game. He essentially told us what we just saw on our sets without providing the whys and hows. But as the game evolved, he did get somewhat better at his replay explanations. But in my view, he never did reach a satisfactory level.
  • Fowler really needs to set up his partner and take control. That’s a play-by-play announcer’s job. Chris asked almost no questions of Kirk about the game. The fact of the matter is that Herbstreit jumps in so quickly before he’s asked any questions. Kirk just yaks. If Fowler would ask, maybe Kirk’s answer would be more succinct.
  • Herbstreit did make accurate play predictions. One was when he pointed out how LSU should throw the ball to receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the slot on a wheel route. Even though Chase was open on a wheel route Burrow threw the ball somewhere else. A couple plays later though Burrow did execute a wheel route for a touchdown. Herbstreit had the right idea on the play and a couple others.
  • Fowler did a good job sharing anecdotes about players. For instance, we were told that Joe Burrow’s dad and brother played defense at Nebraska. The other interesting story had an unfortunate twist. Fowler talked about the decision of running back Travis Etienne, a Louisianan, to play for Clemson. Sadly, some locals weren’t too happy that Etienne crossed state lines to play. Members of his family were reportedly threatened in the days leading to the game.


David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

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Rich Podolsky
4 years ago

Good stuff gentleman. Great observations from you both. Mr. Seitz looks like he’ll be a nice addition for a major paper somewhere. As for herbstreit, the great Beano Cook used to say, “He thinks he’s getting paid by the word.”