Sunday, May 27, 2001

Sports on TV-Radio

Wilcots gets big-time shot for CBS

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are basically two ways to get an NFL analyst job on a network: a) Be a former high-profile quarterback or coach; b) Work your way up.

        Method A is the fast route. Method B, you have to count on talent, breaks and hard work.

        So it was nice to hear last week that Solomon Wilcots had landed the No.4 analyst gig with CBS. Wilcots, the former Bengal, signed with CBS after spending three years at ESPN. He will be teamed with Ian Eagle.

        “To be doing NFL for a major network is a great opportunity,” Wilcots said.

        But it is the kind of opportunity guys like him rarely get. Wilcots, 36, played for six years in the NFL, but being a former player didn't land him the CBS job.

        He worked as an unpaid intern at Channel5 to learn the TV craft. He moved up to weekend anchor at 5. Then he parlayed the work at 5 and a part-time stint at Fox Sports Net into a full-time job at ESPN.

        He made a name for himself at ESPN as a solid reporter. His highest-profile work came on Sunday Night Football.

        But still he was a victim of the high-profile hiring bias. ABC, a network owned by Disney, like ESPN, gave Eric Dickerson a sideline reporting job on Monday Night Football. Dickerson was abysmal in his first year but will be back next year.

        Even with his success at ESPN, Wilcots still wasn't confident he'd land on his feet when his contract ran out.

        “It wasn't a comfortable feeling,” Wilcots said. “I keep up with what's going on at all the networks. Fox Sports Net and CNN were laying people off. It was a huge worry.”

        No worries now.

        Wilcots is looking forward to doing games. Most of his air time at ESPN came in two-minute or shorter segments.

        “Doing a complete game, you get more of a chance to develop a story,” Wilcots said. “You get more in-depth. For the last two years, Matt Millen has been telling me: "You've got to get up in the booth.' He's a big fan. I told him he should be an agent.”

        Millen, ironically, was one of the few people to leave a high-profile network analyst job. He went from the No. 2 role at Fox Sports to general manager of the Detroit Lions.

        He was replaced by Troy Aikman, a high-profile former quarterback.

        Wilcots' chance came when Mark May moved to ESPN. Wilcots said it wasn't a “trade” as reported.

        “He's not doing what I did at ESPN,” Wilcots said. “And I'm not doing exactly what he did at CBS.”

        Wilcots will do some NCAA basketball for CBS and other reporting for CBS.

        At ESPN, he covered everything. Because CBS doesn't have SportsCenter to fill every day, his reporting role will be more limited.

        “One of the things I loved with ESPN was the variety,” he said. “But you've got to give up something to get something.”

        What he got was the NFL.

        “To do a full, 17-week schedule, to be back in the AFC, where I played, is great,” he said. “I might even get to do some Bengals games. It would be nice not to have to get on a plane.”

        If you're on the No. 4 team, Solly, do you really think you'll be doing Bengals games?

        “Look back at the last three Super Bowls,” he said. “Five of six teams weren't in the playoffs the year before. You don't see these teams coming ...”

        Sounds like an analyst already.

        MAC ATTACK: There are a lot of great sports on this weekend — the Indy 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the NHL and NBA playoffs. But the most entertaining TV might come Monday starting at 10 a.m. on USA when John McEnroe does three hours from the French Open — solo.

        His play-by-play partners were busy, so it will be all Mac, all three hours. McEnroe is the most candid analyst working. (Charles Barkley is first runner-up). Mac is bound to say a couple hundred interesting and funny things in three hours.

        LEWIS TO BOSTON: Kip Lewis, the former Channel 5 weekend anchor, has accepted a similar position with a station in Boston.



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