Former New England Patriots leaders make smooth transition from field to national TV roles

Patriots alums thriving as national football analysts. (1:17)

Patriots alums thriving as national football analysts. Video by Mike Reiss (1:17)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- National television, National Football League and New England Patriots Super Bowl championship alums.

It's a winning combination, indeed.

Life has been good for Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Rob Ninkovich since they hung up their helmets for the final time, making the transition from being coach Bill Belichick's key players to high-profile football analysts on the national media scene.

Now they come together with their 10 Super Bowl championship rings and 39 combined Patriots seasons to share one microphone, highlighting what life is like in their second careers and how their time in New England provided an invaluable springboard.

McGinest, 49, enters his 11th season as an analyst at NFL Network, playing a prominent role on the flagship "NFL Total Access" show. Harrison, 48, kicks off his 13th year with NBC's wildly popular "Football Night in America."

Bruschi, 48, has been at ESPN since retirement in 2009, where he is part of the signature "Sunday NFL Countdown" program and unknowingly opened the eyes of Ninkovich, 37, to follow in his path.

Patriots paved way

Harrison: "I would not have this job had I not gone to the Patriots. It's not that we won the Super Bowls. That's obvious. It's the fact I learned so much. I think the common denominator is that Coach Belichick teaches you football in such deep detail, and gives you so many different perspectives, that now you're able to see the entire football field. I bet you people will tell you that if they hadn't experienced the Patriots Way and Coach Belichick, we probably wouldn't be the type of broadcasters we are. It's kudos to Bill. He set guys up for this."

Bruschi: "We had a coach who knew how to teach the game well, and in a way that simplified things -- the complex being simple. Then also, we were in a media market and it had to be practiced to express yourself intelligently on a regular basis. I think those two things were huge factors for all of us. The success we had didn't hurt, either, because people want to know, 'How'd you do it?' There are 1,000 different layers of how we did it, and what we went through, and to have that experience I think is valuable."

McGinest: "With [former Patriots coach Bill] Parcells and [Belichick] -- especially [Belichick], the run we had -- I think the one thing he always said is 'We want smart players.' We had a smart room. Mike Vrabel was one of the smartest guys; he's a head coach now. To have the ability to articulate and break down the game is one thing, but you also have to be able to translate and pass along information for people to digest. When you see these guys on television, they're the guys that were leaders at their position."

Ninkovich: "There's a lot of guys -- like Willie, Tedy and Rodney -- that played for the Patriots and have a great understanding of football. There's a whole bigger picture of 'What's the offense showing you? What's the defense showing you? Down and distance? Personnel? What's the situation?' And that all goes back to [Belichick]. The better understanding you have of football, when it comes to situational awareness, that's basically wins and losses. I sound like a coach now. And I think using the football knowledge you learned with Bill and the Patriots, you take it into broadcasting, people respect that. Tedy, in 2009 when he retired, I remember being like, 'Man, he has it all figured out.'"

How it began

Ninkovich: "Tedy had a big influence on me deciding to get into being on television. [He's] not dogging people. Not throwing people under the bus and being overly critical. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the guy talking about football, not a guy just making headlines. I'd always bounce questions off Tedy. After the 2014 Super Bowl, me and [former Patriots running back] Shane Vereen went out to ESPN and that's when I realized, 'I think I can do this.' Then after 2016, I think I realized if I can't play because I'm getting older, I can still be involved in the game and it's not the same time commitment [like] if I wanted to get into coaching. With a family and kids, being able to enjoy both sides of studying and talking about football/still being involved, and being around for my kids, it was the best of both worlds."

McGinest: "I didn't go to the NFL's 'Broadcast Bootcamp,' and I didn't study it in college, but being in the locker room, you start going on television with mandatory dealings with the media. As one of the captains, one of the leaders on the team, I always spoke and made myself available. In the offseason, I was going on Fox, with John Salley and Chris Rose. I would go on the shows at NFL Network, because I was local in California. Next thing you know, I started doing guest appearances. When we weren't in the playoffs, which was rare, I did a couple playoff runs with NFL Network and came to like it. It was just something I started doing to get the helmet-off type visibility. I just continued doing it and the next thing you know, I got an agent, and now it's 11-12 years in."

Bruschi: "The initial thought was entered into my mind from my mother [Juanita]. That was in high school; I remember coming home one day and it was really the first time I had been interviewed for a story on TV. I said 'Mom, mom, mom! I'm going to be on the TV! On the local news tonight, 5 o'clock, we have to watch this!' I was so excited and when it was finished, I was like, 'Mom, what did you think?' She said, 'That's great, Tedy, but next time stop saying 'um, you know and like so much. You may have a future in this, but you need to clean it up a bit!' So just from that point, I don't know if I was thinking about broadcasting, but I was thinking of just cleaning up the way I expressed myself, especially in a public manner with cameras and reporters. I continued to work on that, through college, and getting into the NFL. So next thing I know, I retire and three days later ESPN calls."

Harrison: "I was a communications major in college, but I didn't really expect to go into broadcasting. I had some people tell me, 'You'd be good; you should go into it and talk about football.' While I was playing, I was one of those guys who would always stand up there and talk to the media, always give them the time. Then when I got hurt my last year in New England, Atlanta came and offered me a contract -- they were about to pay me. My wife said, 'It's up to you, but one thing to consider is that if you sign, you're coming off an injury and you're probably going to have to use all the money to heal yourself.' NBC gave me the opportunity to work at the Super Bowl when I was still an active player. A few months later, they offered me a job. Once I was able to get in there and be able to still watch tape, study it, and ask questions and comment, that was really the fun part. Still being a part of the game. Still being able to relay your message and your opinions. It's a lot of pressure, but it's a lot of fun."

Rookie moments

Bruschi: "I just had no clue what I was getting into. When [ESPN vice president of production] Seth [Markman] called me, he said, 'Come on in, we're going to put you on air.' I drove two hours, had my suit with me, and he told me I was on at 4 [p.m., ET] "NFL Live" with Trey Wingo and Darren Woodson. I changed in his office and went out in front of the camera. The show is about to start and I hear in my ear, 'OK, on the jib in 5 ...' And I was like, 'What's the jib?' Trey looked at me and said, 'Tedy, just look for the red light and talk football.' I said, 'I can do that!' So Trey was a really big piece for me in my beginning. Darren Woodson. Mark Schlereth. They just calmed me down. It simplified things for me and helped a lot." [A jib is a boom device used to mount a camera on one end, and a counterweight with camera controls on the other].

Harrison: "Remember the game when Bill went for it against the Colts [a 35-34 loss in Week 10 of 2009] -- fourth down, their own 28-yard line? They didn't get the first down. It was my first year in broadcasting and they're like 'Rodney, we have to come to you.' I'm like, 'Holy crap! You're coming to me?' And they're like, 'Yeah, a 1-on-1, and Bob [Costas] is going to ask if you agreed with the call, what Belichick did.' So they ask the question and I said that I've known Belichick for a long time, and I've seen him make a lot of decisions, but this had to be one of the worst I've ever seen him make. To say that, and be critical of your coach -- a person you have a lot of respect for, that gave you an opportunity -- that was a defining moment. You could have backed off of Bill and protected him. But you didn't. That's what you have to do in that moment."

Ninkovich: "My first few weeks, you're literally learning on the fly. I had a hard time having somebody tell me '10 second wrap!' while you're in the middle of saying something. You can't stop talking. So you're saying something, and hearing somebody in your ear, and you still have to continue on."

McGinest: "Put on a uniform and go out and play in front of thousands, that's no pressure. But it just seems like when that little red dot pops on, and you're talking, it's different -- you're talking to millions of people, but it's just a camera right there in front of you. That takes getting used to. Getting comfortable with yourself, and understanding how to work cameras and that stuff, and talk to your audience and fans, it's a process."

Lessons learned in media

McGinest: "A lot of people think just talking about the sport because you played it is easy. But it's not. There are a lot of nuances. You have to understand that you're talking to an audience. If you play the sport and know certain things, not everyone is going to know what you know. So you really have to be thorough in breaking things down. But you have to get to your point. People always ask me 'what's the hardest thing?' If you have friends, and have relationships in the sport, and they do something that isn't good, you can't be biased. You have to be honest. That's the hardest part."

Bruschi: "This is not an easy profession. I've learned to respect so many people -- like Field Yates, Adam Schefter, [author] Michael Holley, Jackie MacMullan, others -- and how much work is put in. And taking it from my perspective, I say, 'I have to watch more, study more.' It doesn't just stop after you stop playing -- learning the game. I've just had so much fun, being with Randy [Moss], and Rex [Ryan], and Matt Hasselbeck, and Sam Ponder. How much [fun] I'm having with that team on "Sunday NFL Countdown." I really think we're the best in the business. I'll end it with that [laughing]."

Harrison: "If you're going to be good in this business, and you're going to have a long career, you have to work at it. I think that's one of the misconceptions people might have -- that we just wake up and go on television. You have to do your research. You have to watch tape. And you have to enjoy doing those things. And the second, and maybe the most important, is that you have to have an opinion. So many guys go on television and they don't have an opinion. That's what can separate people."

Ninkovich: "I started at the local level first -- Patriots preseason games, working for NBC Boston doing a pre- and post-game show. I don't think I could have gone from playing right to an ESPN studio role and sounded OK. So that was a good progression for me, almost like a rookie quarterback. Sometimes being thrown into the fire might be too big of a stage at first, but if you ease into it, then slowly you gain confidence, you're off and running. The other thing -- you can't just settle for 'that was OK.' It has to be good stuff and I think that's also a reflection of the guys that are on the Patriots -- you don't just want to be average, there is a mentality of constantly trying to win with what you're doing."