'Out of the Pocket' excerpt: The special relationship of Kirk and Coach

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This is an excerpt from "Out of the Pocket: Football, Fatherhood and College GameDay Saturdays" written by ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit with Gene Wojciechowski. The book goes on sale August 17. Pre-order your copy here.

My cell phone rang on May 16, 2009. I looked at the caller ID: it was GameDay producer Lee Fitting. Knowing Fitting, he probably just wanted to catch up, maybe give me a hard time about something. That's Fitting.

Instead, his voice was solemn and softer than usual. He said that Coach Corso had sufered a signifcant stroke that morning. He would survive, said Fitting, but he was having issues with paralysis on the entire right side of his body.

I was devastated by the news. Coach was seventy-three at the time, but he had the energy of someone half his age. How was this possible? The Lee Corso I knew was invincible.

I had seen Coach and Fowler only a few weeks earlier. Each year in Centerville, there is an awards banquet to honor the memory of Sonny Unger, a 1963 Centerville High School graduate and football player who was killed while serving his second tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Coach and Chris had been kind enough to travel to Ohio for the fundraiser. They were a huge hit that night.

Details emerged about the stroke. When Coach awoke that morning, he did what he had done every day of his life: he recited the "Lord's Prayer."

On that morning, though, he couldn't remember the words-not even the frst two, "Our Father..."

At about 8:30 a.m., Coach had walked to the driveway of his Orlando-area home, bent down to pick up the morning newspaper, felt an odd sensation, walked back into the house, sat down to read the sports section, started to ask his wife if she wanted some orange juice ... and then the stroke struck in full force.

His mouth wouldn't work. When his wife saw him, the right side of face had drooped and was nonfunctioning. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors asked him to say something, anything. He couldn't speak. They asked him to swallow. He tried, but his mouth and throat were ignoring his brain.

The man known best for his ability to talk on TV -- and talk loud -- now couldn't utter a word. He would later tell a reporter that he cried like a baby at the hospital that day.

I was concerned and worried about Coach. I began leaving messages for him.

"Coach, you got this. You'll be okay. Nobody tougher than you. I'm here for you. Whatever you need."

I called almost every day. I knew he couldn't talk to me, but he could hear my voice. He could hear the love and encouragement.

Coach was old enough to be my father, and in more ways than he'll ever realize, he is a father to me. I first remember him from his days coaching at Indiana. He had that jet-black hair and he constantly paced the sidelines as if he would give anything to run out there and play. Even as a coach, he had a brash, entertaining personality.

I would come to know the other side of Coach. The one who never misses Catholic Mass. The one who has a kind word for everyone, who will stop and pose for every photo. The one who will outwork anybody and never say a peep about the long hours and the unrelenting travel. The one who cries at old footage of him coaching at the Naval Academy. The one who, when he visits a school's football facility, asks to watch film with the graduate assistants rather than the head coach or the defensive coordinator because he doesn't want to big-time the GAs. I know this because GAs have mentioned to me how much it meant to them.

He won't offer many details about his past. You have to ask him, and even then he will never brag about his accomplishments. I read a story about him years ago in Orlando magazine. He was the only child of Alessandro and Irma Corso, who came to America as immigrants from rural northern Italy. Of his two parents, Irma had the education; she had made it through fifth grade, his dad, second grade.

They moved from Chicago to Miami when Coach was 10, and he saw his dad earn seventy-five cents an hour laying floor tile, while Coach's mom worked in a school cafeteria. The proudest and happiest day of their lives was when Coach reported to Florida State for his first day of college.

You might know the rest: the high school star became a college star in football and baseball, and earned a nickname that we repeat on GameDay today -- the "Sunshine Scooter." His roommate at FSU for a year was Burt Reynolds, then known as Buddy Reynolds.

He became an assistant coach at Maryland and Navy, and a head coach at Louisville, Indiana, Northern Illinois, and finally, at the Orlando franchise of the late, great USFL. He auditioned for a college color analyst job at ESPN in 1987. The other finalist was former Georgia Tech coach Pepper Rodgers.

The story goes that during the ESPN interview process, Rodgers insisted that he travel first-class and not work more than two games per month. When Rodgers told Coach of the demands, Corso said, "I might not get this job, but I know you're not getting it."

Coach, who only asked ESPN for a chance, nothing else, got the job. Then he became a sportscasting revelation. Best of all, he became my mentor, my friend, my second father.

When I auditioned for GameDay in 1996, Coach was there to help me through my sweat-a-thon. He would say later that he remembered watching some of my game film when I was at Ohio State. He said I could throw the ball well (tell it to the OSU coaches), and recalled that I wore No. 4 -- the same number he wore when he played high school football for the Miami Jackson Generals.

Coach turned out to be a tremendous teacher. He helped me with my career without even knowing he was doing it. He taught by example.

When I was hired, I thought I was going to be Mr. Serious Football Guy. Football, football, football, and more football. Thank God I sat next to Lee Corso.

If you saw the video of those early shows, you'd see me staring at Coach in amazement. I would do Serious Football Breakdown, and then Coach would call me "Sweetheart," or say, "Not so fast, my friend," and then follow with a series of crazy one-liners. I'm thinking, "What the hell is this guy talking about?"

In late 1998, I was doing my research for the upcoming bowl games, including the match-up between Arkansas and Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. As always, I wanted to be the most prepared analyst, so I dove deep into the prep work.

When it came to that Citrus Bowl, I broke it down as if I were a graduate assistant fighting for a job on the Michigan or Arkansas coaching staffs. It was exhaustive next-level research. My notes included every match-up-offensive lines versus defensive lines, secondary versus receivers, kicking games, etc.-and detailed analysis of the two-deep depth chart. I was humming.

When it came time for our bowl show, I delivered a thorough Xs-and-Os analysis. Lloyd Carr would have been impressed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Coach looking at me. He was growing impatient with my minute-long breakdown of the difference between the football DNA of the SEC and the Big Ten, and these two teams.

"Are you done yet, sweetheart?" he said. He was looking at me like I was from Mars.

I smiled nervously. I was done now.

"Geesh," said Coach, glancing at me, "all I know is that it's the Cadillacs versus the pickup trucks, and I'm going with the pickup trucks."

Just like that, Coach had analyzed the match-up in a way that everyone could understand. Arkansas was the pickup truck built for power, and Michigan was the fancy Cadillac.

He got the pick wrong (Michigan won, 45-31), but the way he set up the pick was perfect. It was Coach personifed: simple, direct, entertaining. Always entertaining. Meanwhile, I was talking about the two-deep.

Lesson learned.

It didn't take long for the light to come on. This dude knew how to entertain people. He was witty, opinionated, a genuine showman. He-no one else-taught me the value of not taking yourself too seriously. He has told me a thousand times, "We're in the entertainment business, sweetheart, and football is our vehicle."

Because of his influence, I've learned that I can be a football guy, an Xs-and-Os guy, but when the time is right, when it happens spontaneously and naturally, that I also can have some fun and be a little silly. When you watch GameDay, you're going to get serious football talk, you're going to laugh, you're sometimes going to cry when you watch the features, you're going to get Xs and Os. What Coach taught me is the difference between being funny and trying to be funny. I'm not a professional comedian. My job is to talk about football, but Coach's style gave me permission to talk football in a way that was conversational, that allowed for a one-liner here and there.

In 1997, we were at Michigan State to do GameDay. During our Friday production meeting, LC carefully wrote down all his notes and comments with a black Sharpie. Coach doesn't go anywhere without a Sharpie, always black.

Coach always has an opening line ready to go for the start of the show. He calls it his "Hello" comment: Something like: "Hey, it's great to be here in East Lansing, but let me tell you . . ." And then he'll deliver a one-liner to get the crowd riled up.

At Michigan State, he was scheduled to do a SportsCenter hit early that Saturday morning before GameDay began. When I asked him what he was going to talk about, he waved it off.

"Pfft, are you kidding?" he said. "Not even my own mother watches that show. I'm saving my best stuff for the big show." For GameDay. The only show that Coach's mom watched on ESPN was GameDay. If the other shows weren't good enough for Irma Corso, then they weren't good enough for her son.

To this day, in honor of Coach's mom, we refer to the opening segment of our show as "Irma." When we discuss the rundown during our production meeting, the producer will say something like, "Okay, Des, you start Irma, then let's go Kirk, then Coach, then back to Rece."

Flashback: Lee Corso makes his first headgear pick

On October 5, 1996, Lee Corso made his first headgear pick on College GameDay by donning the Brutus Buckeye head while choosing Ohio State to beat Penn State.

During our first four or five years together, Coach and I were more colleagues than friends. Our relationship began to change when we started shooting commercials in Los Angeles during the of-seasons.

A car would pick us up at the scheduled time of 6 a.m., but Coach would be in the hotel lobby at 5:45, pacing near the front door, calling me up, asking, "Where are you?" As long as I've known him, there's Actual Time and then there's Coach Time. Coach Time is fifteen minutes before Actual Time. Lord help you if you're late and he has to wait.

During those car rides in the morning LA traffic and later in the early evening traffic, we got to know each other on a more personal level. I floated a question out there about being a parent-just to see if he wanted to talk about it-and he told me about raising his own kids. Little by little, I asked for more of his advice: about my contract situation, about my mom and dad, about marriage. If there was something that bothered me, I could run it past him.

Sometimes you got Yoda. Sometimes you got Don Corleone. He would listen. Nod. Maybe offer a "Wow. Woo. That's terrible. That's crazy." And then he would pause for a moment, raise his right finger, and say, "Okay, this is what you do."

One time I said, "Coach, they're asking me to do these ABC games, but I still want to do GameDay, too."

Pause . . . right finger, and then he said, "Sweetheart, sweet heart, sweetheart-don't ever get away from the camera. You stay in front of the camera, people know who are. If you do games, they'll never see you. It could be anybody talking during a game broadcast. When you're on GameDay, it's your face and your voice."

When I got married, Coach told me, "You're going to get a house, right? And when you do, when your wife says, 'What do you think of the purple pillow?' you say, 'I love the purple pillow.' If she says, 'What do you think of the paisley wallpaper?' you say, 'I love the paisley wallpaper.' Happiness in a marriage is you nodding your head and saying, 'Yes.' "

That was his advice, and he was right. Confict is overrated.

Another time, we were at an ESPN function and an on-air talent told us a long story about his contract situation with ESPN. This person was upset about his negotiations and the role someone in management was playing in them.

As the story dragged on, Coach acted as if he were sympathetic to the person's situation. He would say, "Oh, my gosh, I can't believe that." . . . "Woo. Wow. Really?" . . . "That's terrible."

Finally, I interrupted the on-air person and said, "Let's hear what Coach has to say about this."

LC leaned forward and told a story about coaching at the Naval Academy. He said he was walking the grounds at the Academy, when he walked past a Navy captain.

"Morning, sir," said Coach as he breezed by.

"Get back here," demanded the captain. "You see these stripes?" The captain pointed to the four gold stripes on his uniform sleeve. "You walk by me, you salute me."

"Yes, sir," said Coach.

The story complete, Coach lowered his voice to a half whisper and said to the person who was complaining about the ESPN executive, "I learned a valuable lesson that day. You don't have to respect the man, but you had better respect the position,"

The story was Coach's way of telling the on-air talent that you might not like your boss, but the boss is the boss.

Because of all the time we spent together (at those commercial shoots, traveling together for the Thursday night games, at GameDay), he became one of the few people with whom I could discuss the most sensitive things in my life. I can tell Coach anything. The successes. The heartaches. I can show him highlights from, say, Zak's high school game and my pride suddenly becomes his pride. I can ask him about a contract negotiation, an Italian recipe, his thoughts on whether to trust a certain coach. He has said that he treats me like a son, which is an incredible honor, given my respect for him.

And like a father, he can gently put me in my place. If I get irri table on the set or in the booth, he leans over, puts his hand on my forearm, and says, "Sweetheart, they're paying us to do this job."

If you ask him his secret to success in business, he says, "Never prostitute your integrity to get a job or to keep one. If you try for a job, and they want you to compromise your integrity, leave- leave right away."

When he's on a roll picking winner after winner each week, he'll say, "When you lose, you say little. When you win, you say less."

During the last month of the 2019 season, Coach worked despite having pneumonia. He wasn't feeling well at the national championship game, but there was no way he was calling in sick. That was the Alessandro and Irma in him.

There were times when I asked him to get his rest, to take care of himself. I worried about him. But Coach could break his arm and if you asked him how he was doing, he'd say, "I like when my is arm broken. It's betta' this way." That's one of his words: "Betta'." He'll never give in.

Coach is the same tough guy who was confronted by angry Miami fans after we did a show there in 2000. It was serious; they were trying to get at Corso. Security officials created a human wall for us, but as we tried to squeeze through, someone reached over and grazed Coach.

Coach stopped and glared at the Miami fans. He immediately assumed an old-time boxing stance, like he was world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey from the 1920s.

"Which one of you sons of bitches touched me?!" he said defiantly, ready to rumble. "Which one?!"

That's the football player in him talking. The coach in him talking. The son of hardworking Italian immigrants talking.

Coach picks his moments to give you a hard time. During Rinaldi's frist season with the show in 2003, Tom did a heartfelt piece on a player whose team was an underdog in one of the featured games that day. It was the kind of lovingly told piece that Tom would become famous for.

When the feature was finished, Tom added a few comments and then tossed it back to the set. Fowler complimented Tom on the piece and then Coach chimed in.

"That was a nice story by Timmy, but they're still going to get crushed," he said.

"Did you just call Tom Rinaldi 'Timmy'?" Fowler said.

From that point on, we called Tom "Timmy."

At a bowl game we covered one year, Rinaldi wandered into a room at the stadium marked "Talent Lounge." When Tom walked in, Coach said, "Timmy, this is the Talent Lounge. You don't belong in here. I'm sorry."

I think I snorted on that one. It was rare when you could leave Rinaldi speechless.

Coach had his stroke on May 16. Our first GameDay show was less than four months away, September 5 in Atlanta, Alabama versus Virginia Tech. After Coach finished crying that day in the hospital, he made a promise to himself. One way or another, he was going to be in Atlanta for that show.

There were people who thought he was crazy. They told him so, too.

"You can't do it, Lee," they said. "It's too soon."

In his mind, there was no debate. "I have to do it," he told himself.

I thought he would come back. I didn't know at what level of capacity, but I knew he would be there. I kept calling. So did Fowler, Fitting, and others.

He began intensive physical and speech therapy sessions. He had to teach his facial muscles to work again. He had to relearn phrases and words. His brain itself had to heal from the stroke. This took time.

Coach could read a calendar. We all could. September 5 wasn't far away.

You know what he did? He worked harder. He began to recover. The words came slower than before, but nobody was going to stop the talker from talking.

He said later that he had great people helping him, and that the Lord was helping him, too. Makes sense, since he began slowly reciting "The Lord's Prayer" again.

I first saw him that summer at a few photo shoots, and then at our annual college football seminar. It was very emotional to see him again.

When you potentially lose someone-and while we were told that Coach would survive the stroke, we didn't know for sure if or when he would return to the show-it makes you appreciate what you have. And we had a national treasure.

You could tell something was a little bit different with him. I didn't care. I was overjoyed to see him again. I also was in awe of his courage.

Television can be merciless. There is no place to hide, especially on live television. You can see a droplet of sweat (me). A fly on a vice president's head. You can hear a bungled word, a botched phrase. It's hard enough to do well under the best of circumstances, but how about the courage to go on live national television, without a teleprompter, and do it less than four months after suffering a stroke? That was Coach.

He was on that set in Atlanta on September 5. He's been there every football Saturday since then. The man is fearless and tough.

He stumbles over a few words here and there. People say, "What's wrong with Corso?" What's wrong? How about, what's right? He overcame a stroke. He still has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know. He still is the consummate showman.

He has slowed down a little bit. He would be the first to admit it. He was a pitcher with a 97 mph fastball and now he's learned to succeed with an 83 mph curveball. He has adapted.

I look out for him in these later years, just as he looked out for me in my early years. I'm not the only one; all of us on the show are protective of Coach.

When we talk on the phone, I end every conversation by telling him I love him. I didn't used to say that, and he's never said it back to me. Lee is one of those guys from a generation who doesn't want to go there. But though he doesn't say it, I feel it from him.

On GameDay, I have always sat to his left. He is my security net, and I'm his. When he returned from his stroke, I told myself, "I got him, I have his back." He didn't have his fastball, but he was still Lee Corso. I didn't want him to have any fear, to worry about making a mistake and feeling isolated on that set. I would do whatever I could-we all would-to sand over the rough spots. If I see him struggling for a word, or searching for the name of a player or coach, or needing an assist during his headgear segment, I'm there for him. We all are-me, Rece Davis, Chris before Rece, Des, David. We would run through not one, but two walls for Coach.

He had done the same for all of us over the years. He has never looked at me as a threat, never said in those early days, "Who's this young guy? Is he going to take over the show?" He looked at me as someone who could help the show get better. And if the show succeeded, then everyone succeeded.

The comment I hear from people the most about my work on television has nothing to do with calling a game or talking about football. Instead, I can't tell you how many times people have said, "Thank you for the way you treat Lee." My own mom says she's most proud of me because of that.

I appreciate the kind words, but how else would I treat him? It's not a burden, it's an honor. It seems, at times, that we live in a society that doesn't value a life lived well and in full. I think it's important for people to appreciate and celebrate those who have been through both the good and difficult experiences in life.

My respect and love for Coach is genuine. People are kind to thank me for the way I treat him, but the truth is, he helps me as much as I help him. He doesn't need many assists.

At the end of the 2010 season, Coach was honored by the National College Football Awards Association for a lifetime's worth of contributions to the sport. About a minute into his acceptance speech, Coach thanked Chris, me, and Desmond for our support and help, "especially the last two years, when I really . . ."

Then Coach broke down. I had never seen him do that. And then I nearly broke down with him. As tears streamed down my face, Coach composed himself after a brief hug from Chris. He turned to the audience and said, "Especially in the last two years, when I really needed you guys, boy."

How can you not respect that vulnerability? How can you not admire that honesty?

Some of his best moments on the show have come since his return from the stroke. In 2011, we took GameDay to Houston in mid-November. There weren't a lot of big games that Saturday, Houston was 10-0 and favored big over SMU, and we figured it was a good way to introduce America to the Cougars' program.

We went down there and it was a great show. Huge crowd. Olympian and Houston alum Carl Lewis was our guest picker. Lots of energy.

When it came to make the final pick of the day, I took Houston. No-brainer-they were huge favorites that day. Lewis did the same, and even predicted they'd go undefeated. The crowd roared.

Coach milked the moment and then turned on Lewis.

"Holy cow, how can you pick against SMU?" said Coach, apparently not aware that the Mustangs were 6-4 at the time. But that's Coach-you zig, he zags.

Then he reached down and picked up an SMU cheerleading megaphone. It was painted red, with S-M-U in white and a thin blue border around each letter.

"Look at that one there," he said, raising the megaphone to the crowd. "Red, white, and blue."

Then he started chanting, "U-S-A," and pulled the megaphone toward his mouth. The crowd had no reaction. Coach was trying to get them fired up by picking SMU. Then he tried the U-S-A thing. Still nothing. Worse yet, the director in the production truck wasn't keeping up with Coach for the crowd shots he wanted, and we were about to blow past the noon handoff to the Nebraska-Michigan game.

Just as I was wondering how he was going to salvage the moment, he tossed the megaphone toward the set and said, "Aw, f-- it!" Then he grabbed the Cougar mascot head, put it on, and did the Corso Miss America wave to the crowd and the cameras.

I was in shock. Fowler dropped his head in disbelief. Bear, who had been packing his work bag of to the side, looked at me and mouthed, "Did he just say that?" I nodded yes.

The crowd reacted this time. Meanwhile, Lewis laughed and said, "Glad there's a delay."

But there wasn't a delay! It was live, and it was spectacular. Through my earpiece, I could hear Fitting and the rest of the truck explode into laughter.

When we were clear and of the air, Coach removed the mascot head and started telling us how much he enjoyed the show.

I said, "Coach, you said 'F--' on the air."

"So what?" he said.

Within thirty seconds of the end of the show, all three phones in the production truck began to light up. It was upper management calling from ESPN headquarters in Bristol. They wanted Corso to issue an on-air apology on all four ESPN networks by the bottom of the hour.

Fitting had to stifle his laughter as he got the order. After all, it was just Coach being Coach.

Fitting walked out to the set and found Corso sitting of to the side. Fitting shook his head and Coach said, "Did it make it on air?"

"Yeah, Coach, it did," Fitting said.

"Good," said Coach.

"Coach, we're going to need you to read this little script here- Card 99-and offer an apology for what you said."

"I'll be happy to. I understand. I'll make good for what I did."

Coach took his seat behind the desk and the camera light turned red. Coach read Card 99.

"Earlier today on College GameDay, while picking the SMU-Houston game, I got a bit excited and used an expletive I shouldn't have used. I apologize and I can promise it won't happen again."

It was perfect, except for the part where Coach read the whole thing, but ended it with a big Lee Corso smile on his face. Fitting made him do it again. This time, Coach left out the smile, and the apology was aired midway through the frst quarter of the noon games.

Right after the show, me, Bear, and Deron Brown (my spotter on the Saturday night broadcasts) flew to Eugene, Oregon, for the USC-Oregon game. When we landed, I ducked into the small private terminal for a few minutes before we headed to the stadium. While I was in there, a guy introduced himself and said he was Phil Knight's driver. Knight was the cofounder and chairman of Nike, and a proud Oregon alum.

"He just wants to say a quick hello, if you have time," said the driver.

I followed the driver outside, where Knight had a luxury RV parked. Knight bounced down the steps of the RV with a grin and high-fved me.

"F--ing Corso," he said. "He's absolutely crazy. How about that. What happened?" So I told him the story of the f-bomb.

Then I got to the stadium and walked down to the field. Oregon coach Chip Kelly and USC coach Lane Kiffin were already there as their teams warmed up.

I was at the twenty-yard line and Kelly was at the opposite twenty. He waved and then sprinted sixty yards to me.

"Dude," said Kelly, "he's my hero. What was he thinking? He's nuts."

He was talking about Corso.

Kiffin came over to chat.

"What's up with Corso?" he said. "I can't believe he did that."

I was worried that Coach might be in trouble. But Coach wasn't your normal ESPN on-air personality. Nothing happened to him, except Card 99. He's the only guy who can drop an f-bomb and people think it's the greatest thing in the world.

It wouldn't be the last time he said something he shouldn't. We were at UCF in 2018 and there was a panel discussion on whether the undefeated Knights belonged in the playoff mix. Coach raised his left hand to make a point, waited patiently, and then said, "Let me tell you something. These people don't give a shit about that."

The crowd applauded and I said, "You did it again. You did it again." Rece Davis, who had replaced Fowler in 2015, handed Coach a note card.

"Here's Card 99 for later," he said.

Coach has dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Been thrown to the ground by Bill Murray. Danced in a leprechaun outfit at Notre Dame. Worn a purple cow head. Addressed the crowd as James Madison. The list is endless.

When Murray threw him down on the set at Clemson, Coach was dressed as Florida State mascot Chief Osceola. He was also carrying a spear, which Murray threw toward the crowd.

Afterward, I asked Coach when he and Murray had time to re hearse their headgear act.

"We didn't rehearse it!" he said. "I had no idea he was going to do it!"

He loved it, though. Entertainment, sweetheart.

Coach doesn't have a laptop. He doesn't do social media. He has never been on the internet. He didn't even have a fax when people used faxes. If you don't have his private number (which he rarely answers), you have to leave a message at the pencil company (Dixon Ticonderoga) he works at two days a week. You'll get his voice message, and at the end of it, he says, "And remember, life is gooood."

He is a creature of habit. Concerns about Covid-19 prevented Coach from traveling with the show in 2020, but during a normal season and a normal GameDay week, he shows up at our Friday morning production meeting fifteen minutes early. He has all his clippings -- forget the internet, he clips out stories with scissors from the Orlando Sentinel.

These days I usually sit next to Bear at our production meetings, but Coach is close by. He rarely says a word in those meetings. He wants to get out of there as fast as possible. Before he heads back to his hotel, he'll make a loop around the food table and stuf his black satchel with candy bars, pieces of other candy, potato chips, Cokes, Sprites, Dr Peppers, root beers, Cheetos.

When he orders his lunch, he doesn't want anything from a national chain but from the best local deli in town.

Once he gets into his room, he lines up his drinks over there, and his snacks over here. He puts on his blue pajamas, his white footies, his white T-shirt, and then he spends the next three or four hours going over his notes, practicing his delivery, and eating his food.

On Saturday morning, he is always one of the first ones in the production room. He gets his makeup done and then finds an empty room or a hallway to work through the vocal exercises his speech therapist taught him. Then it's showtime.

After GameDay is done, he'll go back to the hotel, rest for a little while, and then return to the stadium to watch the game in person. I love that he stays for the game. He's down there on the sidelines, arms on his knees, just like he's coaching again. He reminds me of when my dad would watch my high school or Ohio State games from the sideline. Same stance, same intensity.

Wherever Coach goes on the road, our security team arranges for a local police officer or state trooper to be with him on campus and at the stadium. For those of us who know Coach, we almost feel sorry for those law enforcement folks. They have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.

Coach doesn't watch a game. He lives it. First of all, he only stays on the sideline of the team he picked that morning on GameDay. And once the game begins, he's speed-walking from one end of the feld to the other end. It's almost comical to watch a state trooper, who has to wear all of that heavy equipment, try to keep up with Coach. If there's a punt or a kickof, Coach is gone. By the time the ball drops into the arms of the return specialist, Coach is halfway down the sideline-the ofcer jogging behind him, trying to keep up. And you should see him if the refs make a call against "his" team. He'll wave his arms in the air in disgust. He'll pace back and forth. He's so into the game that you'd think they'd hand him a headset. It's a treat to watch.

Coach turned 86 in August 2020. Has he mellowed? Not a bit.

In 2012, I was prepping for the national championship game between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama. As I studied film of the two teams, I zeroed in on Bama All-American guard Chance Warmack. I did a deep dive on the effect Warmack could have if he got to the second level and was able to block Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o.

During the pregame show, I broke it all down for the viewers. Warmack. Te'o. Second level. Serious football.

Coach had heard enough.

"What the hell are you talking about?" he said.

To this day, Coach says that was one of his favorite moments with me. He loved giving me a hard time. He loved telling me to make people smile, make them laugh, have some fun. And to this day, if I start to talk about Xs and Os, Coach will tell me, "Uh, oh, we're going to talk serious football. Chance Womack time."

It has been more than twelve years since Coach had his stroke. When I had frst heard the news, I thought, "What would we do if we didn't have Lee? What would I do if I didn't have Lee?"

It was a sobering moment, and ever since then I've tried not to think about it. I'm going to ride this thing out as long as I can with him.

Lee Corso is a made man. If he wants to be at ESPN, he'll be at ESPN. That's the way it should be. He's earned that. I hope I'm there with him for as long as he wants to stay