Shep Smith was so ready to get into journalism that he bolted Ole Miss just before graduation. He finds it ironic, seeing as they invited him back to speak at graduation this Spring. With three million people checking in each night (for a $7-8 million check each year), he can still barely read the news if his Ole Miss Rebels are on a monitor nearby. In this season of politics, we like to give the guys who dish and interview on the real stuff a chance to talk sports. It's Shep's turn.
MAG: So you're like the Ole Miss mascot in New York and at Fox.
SMITH: Yeah, and it's fun, I like to get back there a lot for games, and I'm friends with some of the coaches, and with football, we're getting more kids coming, and in a couple years it's going to be really good.
So you're buying on Houston Nutt?
Oh man, it's brilliant. We have to beat LSU. That's the rule. That's it. If you beat LSU you're good to go. He beats LSU! He beat LSU last year when they were No. 1 in overtime at their place. He knows how to coach, he's a proven winner, he's won 80% of his games in the SEC, he's gotten to New Years Day bowl games four times …
But at Ole Miss?
But that's just it. Hey—this isn't Ohio State we're talking about here. This is Ole Miss. He's perfect for us.
Following Ole Miss sports is like a campaign season. Depressing most of the time, with some decent bright spots …
Oh, you suck! Hey, we got the two revenue sports going in the right direction, with Andy Kennedy coming in, and now Nutt, plus beautiful new practice facilities. It's been tough, but you have to build it then they'll come. … And I give em an a**-load of money, so I hope it works out. (Laughs)
You get a suite then?
Really, the bottom line is that kids are leaving Mississippi, period, to get educated, and our state's having trouble. And when that athletic department succeeds, it does a ton for academics. That's what it's all about, and it inspires people, and they want to stick around. Seriously.
And you went back to speak at graduation.
I was blown away by it. You know, I didn't graduate; I made a decision to jump early and get to work. Having a graduation speaker who never graduated, that's kind of funky. Isn't that supposed to be a pre-req?
But you still got to do it …
It was a lot of fun. I talked about my experiences, and tried to remind them that whatever's going on, ten seconds later it can be different, and it can all go to hell or be good, and you have to be able to react to it. I also told them to go away from there and see the world, but then come back. Poor states, in a geographically challenging region need their good folks to come home, and that's a state that needs its good folks to come home. I hope a lot of them will.
Now you're bogged down in the election. There's a real sportsmen equation to the presidency.
Definitely. I mean, when Barack couldn't bowl worth a damn, everybody was all over him, and then you see him shooting hoops, and people are like, "Well hey, he can do that." People relate to it.
So sports plays its role …
Well, I've always thought of politics are like sports in that you choose who your team is, and then you just sort of stick with that, and it's more about 'yay us' and 'boo them' then it is about issues. And when your team or candidate is getting crushed, you tend to go sit down and do something else. And really, for a lot of people it's not a lot more complicated than it is with their team. It's an emotional investment.
You're supposed to be a golden-voiced dude, what about a favorite broadcaster?
I love Joe Buck, but he's sort of in the family here and we've been friends here. I also love Marv.
What about SportsCenter anchors?
I loved Dan Patrick, and there was the other one who I'm supposed to hate now [Ed.'s note: Olberman], but he was great, or at least they were great. But now, there's such a rotating carnival that you don't know them as much anymore. So sometimes I'm like, 'Who is this guy?' The familiarity issue is big.
But you come from a business where 'the same guy' is half the selling point. You give us the news, so we have to trust you. In sports, we saw the game, so they're not making this up.
Yeah, I know, it's sort of drilled in me. And I'm a creature of habit, so if you see a SportsCenter you really like, you want to see those guys again the next day.
So if you move to sports, what can you broadcast?
I could probably hang with SEC football; I've never been enough of a stat nerd, but maybe from the history side I could do the color.
If you did SEC football you could grab the accent, right?
(Laughs) I guess it can go up and down, but we kind of play to the middle of the nation, but to turn it off completely would just seem sort of fibbish.
Favorite sports memory?
I remember when Eli Manning was playing at Auburn, and it was 4th down, in overtime, and to win was to go to the SEC championship, and we never win at Auburn. At that time they had three NFL running backs. I was in the stands, and we won and it was incredible … In 1984, for the first time since Archie Manning, we won at LSU and I was at that game … And for the Yanks, it was a couple of the Jeter plays, like 'the dive' against the Red Sox, but the ones that really matter are Ole Miss. I can't help it.
Speaking of memories, Bill O'Reilly can apparently throw a fastball. He played for the Brooklyn Monarchs and tried out for the Mets. Does he talk about it?
O'Reilly? Does he talk? (Laughs) Oh man … but this is true?
Says right here … played a season for the Brooklyn Monarchs; tried out for the Mets.
Dude I tell you, he's a big guy, he's a frightening man (laughs), if you've seen clips of him lately you do not want to be in his way. His office is right next to mine, and if Bill O'Reilly says he can throw a fastball, I'll be damned, he can throw a fastball.