Bobby Pope

Many changes in personnel have hit ESPN

Samantha Ponder, left, and Kirk Herbstreit present the award for vocal duo of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.
Samantha Ponder, left, and Kirk Herbstreit present the award for vocal duo of the year at the 50th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

There are a lot of changes going at ESPN, the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader in Sports, and it primarily centers around personnel.

Samantha Ponder, who has been a mainstay on “College Gameday,” is leaving that show to take over as host of “Sunday NFL Countdown.” She replaces Chris Berman, who is stepping away after 31 years but will remain with the network in reduced capacities. With Ponder’s departure from “College Gameday,” she will be replaced by the SEC Network’s Maria Taylor, a former basketball player and volleyball player at Georgia. Taylor has hosted the SEC traveling pregame with Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum. Taylor’s replacement is Laura Rutledge, a former Miss Florida, who has been with the SEC Network as a reporter since 2014.

In another move, former Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly moves to the broadcast arena taking over as an analyst on ESPN2’s college football pregame, halftime and studio shows. Kelly, who signed a multi-year deal, replaces Butch Davis, who is now the head coach at Florida International. If Kelly gets the right coaching offer, that longterm contract won’t mean much.

But the big news from ESPN is that more than 100 employees, including quite a few familiar faces, were laid off in late April. If you watch that network, I am sure you will recognize some of the names. Among the 100 plus were NFL reporter Ed Werder, college football reporter Brett McMurphy, college football and auto racing reporter Jerry Punch, NCAA basketball color analyst Len Elmore, NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, MLB analyst Jim Bowden, college basketball reporter Andy Katz, MLB writer Jayson Stark, college football analysts Charles Arbuckle and Mark May and “SportsCenter” anchor Jay Crawford.

And finally, Sara Walsh and Danny Kanell were both let go. Walsh began her broadcast career at WPGA as the sports director in 2001 and after staying in Macon for three years, moved on to stations in Nashville, Tennessee and Washington D.C. before joining ESPN in 2010. The “SportsCenter” anchor had been on maternity leave and was scheduled to come back to work a week after her firing. Walsh and her husband, Matt Buschmann, a minor league pitcher who was just released by the Kansas City Royals organization, became parents for the first time in February with the birth of twins, Brees and Hutton.

Kanell was a former quarterback at Florida State and had worked with ESPN since 2009. Kanell, who had played in the NFL with the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos and with the New York Dragons in the Arena League, was a co-host of the ESPN radio show “Russillo and Kanell,” which started in September of 2015. He also served as a color analyst for Friday night college football and baseball games and appeared on ESPN’s college playoff selection show. Like Walsh, Kanell also got his start in the broadcast industry in Macon. He was the color commentator for the first time when I worked with him calling the play by play of a Macon Knights Indoor Arena Football League broadcast in 2001.

One reason for the layoffs may be that ESPN has lost 12,000,000 subscribers during the past six years. The network reportedly has lost an average of 10,000 cable or satellite customers every day in 2017.

With all the layoffs at ESPN, who made the decision to keep Stephen A. Smith and Dick Vitale?

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