John Lennon of the Beatles once noted that “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. Life is happening this week as I wrap up a wonderful season of my career and life. For twenty-six years my life has been ordered by the rhythms of Southeastern Conference basketball. Starting in January of 1984 and every New Year since I have packed up and traveled the landscape of the SEC. This week at the Southeastern Conference Tournament my 26 year run of directing SEC games will end as the Raycom Sports contract expires.
I loved this package and working for Raycom and their predecessors (SPI, Lorimar, Jefferson Pilot, Lincoln Financial). Losing something dear to you is always sad. But life has happened and I am choosing to remember twenty-six years of great athletes and great games. I have had the privilege of directing games featuring superstars like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Allan Houston. My tenure in the Conference saw five national championships spread among Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky. Colorful coaches like Wimp Sanderson, Dale Brown, Rick Pitino and Nolan Richardson prowled the sidelines. I have been blessed to be a part of this.
The games will go on next year. I will not be missed by many (if any) viewers. Charles DeGaulle once made this sage observation.
The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.
I realize how blessed I have been to have had such a lengthy run. I know that I am not indispensable nor are my Raycom colleagues. But there will be some changes that make me sad and that will change the tradition of SEC television. For thirty years viewers have been treated to one of the great broadcasters in this business. Tom Hammond has built an amazing career of Olympic and network success. Yet he has always come home to SEC basketball every January. He worked Starkville and Columbia into his ridiculous schedule for one reason. He loves this conference and this package of games. Tom will wrap up his thirtieth season this Saturday in Tampa. He will be missed.
I am sad because Tom’s partner Larry Conley will also wrap up a great run of analyzing and promoting Southeastern Conference basketball. Larry will be missed. Basketball fans have had three decades of Deans in their living rooms. Joe Senior gave way to Joe Junior and both have entertained and informed generations of fans. I am sad because talented broadcasters like Tim Brando, Dave Neal, Barry Booker and Dave Baker will finish their run with Raycom Sports SEC basketball this weekend.
I am sad because I will not get to work next season with producer Roger Roebuck. He is a good producer and better man. I will remember previous tournaments as I watch the editing and creative wizardry of producer Dave Barringer displayed in the music open “Heroes”.I will miss working with the great Gary Clem at the tournament each year. I will have a 43 second moment of silence to honor my relationship with him.
I am sad because I know I may not get to work again with some of the best television crew members in the business. I am sure we will say the the same things that we do in high school, college and when we move to another city.
“We will stay in touch for sure.”
But generally we do not. I have been so fortunate to work with these world class professionals. A big part of the reason I have lasted twenty-six years is that these talented pros have made me look good. I know that. I realized long ago that I am a pretty good director when I have a really good crew. Go figure. For two decades I have looked forward to my annual reunion with these friends and colleagues. Enjoy their work this weekend. They truly are among the best in the country.
One of the great blessings in my life has been my relationship with Executive Producer Jimmy Rayburn. We started out together twenty-seven years ago doing basketball for USA Network. I have never worked for a better man than Jimmy Rayburn. His loyalty and integrity is legendary. A golden retriever would look disloyal compared to Jimmy. I have been honored to work with and later for Jimmy Rayburn.
I have the amazing privilege of directing the last Raycom SEC broadcast on Saturday. When we fade to black I will likely be emotional. But I hope that I will remember how blessed I have been to work in this awesome conference with great announcers and the best crew around. Not many guys get to put in 26 years on the same gig. We are going through the book of Ecclesiastes at our church. You might be surprised to learn that The Byrds did not write these original lyrics.
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
So that is the plan. Be happy. Enjoy myself. Enjoy my colleagues, friends and fruits of our labor. Might even eat and drink a bit with the guys. And remember that these are gifts from God. I have been grateful for the chance to bring lots of great SEC memories into millions of homes. It has been a privilege.