Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Gary Parrish Experience

As has been the case recently, we here at 3 Shades of Blue have been fortunate enough to interview some fascinating figures on the local sports scene, including Geoff Calkins and Peter Edmiston. Today we get to present another local legend, as we got the world famous Gary Parrish to answer a few questions for us. Gary first received national recognition for breaking the Albert Means recruiting scandal while with the Commercial Appeal. Since then, he has become CBSSports.com's lead writer on the College Basketball front.

3Shades of Blue: We already asked your co-host Geoff Calkins this, so we'll give you a crack at it too, since he has assured us that he knows how you will answer. What niche do you feel you and Geoff can fill with your show that isn't being filled now and how did you get involved with radio in the first place?

Gary Parrish: What niche, you ask? The awesome niche, of course. But in all seriousness, I don't really think in those terms, about what I can bring or add or whatever. Honestly, I just want to keep people interested, offer insight, tell funny stories, make them think and laugh and not want to drive their cars into telephone poles. I just want people to have a good time listening to Geoff and I speak to each other and our various guests for two hours every morning. If we can make their drive to work more enjoyable or stimulating, then I've reached my goal. I want to make people pull into a parking lot and consider whether they can wait an extra five minutes listening to us before they leave their cars and start their days. I always found that interesting, how talk radio at its best can make you sit in a car in a driveway or parking lot because you just don't want to leave in the middle of this conversation. I'd like to make people do that from time to time. That's a nice goal, too.

As for how I got involved with radio in the first place, I was just a guest around town on various shows as Gary Parrish from The Commercial Appeal. I'd go on and talk about high school sports or Memphis basketball or whatever I was dealing with at the time. People would ask questions. I would answer them. Nothing really exciting. But then I started becoming a semi-regular guest on Chris Vernon's old show at Sports 56, and that's where things took off. I've always had a rather large (and unique) personality, if I do say so myself. And being with Chris -- who is around my same age -- allowed me to express it, get off on rants, tell stories, talk about real life, etc. See, Chris is just as goofy (if not goofier) as I am, and we have always both agreed that straight sports talk is boring as hell. Mix it up. Get into real life when possible. I don't think it can be forced, but I certainly don't believe it should be forbidden. So Chris and I just kinda meshed, played off each other and started genuinely having a good time on the radio. It's worked well, and that's why I'm where I'm at now, because Chris allowed me to come on and not be "Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com" or "Gary Parrish, college basketball expert." I mean, I can play those roles, I guess. But mostly, I'm Gary Parrish playing the character of Gary Parrish, if that makes sense. And I just realized I'm typing in the third-person, so I'm going to stop now. Next question ...

3SoB: For our Preseason Predictions thread, where we asked local media members to predict the number of Grizzlies wins, you gave us a concise statement that turned out to be very accurate when you said, "Thirty-six wins. Why? They're just not very good." Are you considering a future career in fortune telling or perhaps just moving to Vegas full-time? Just kidding. What do you think are the most pressing issues facing the Grizzlies and how can they be remedied?

GP: I'd love to move to Vegas fulltime, just so you know. But honestly, did it take a fortune-teller to realize the Grizz weren't going to be good? I hear people all the time talk about this and that and try to dissect stuff, but basketball is almost always much simpler than we pretend. You wanna be good? Get good players. Otherwise, you're probably not going to be good, which brings us back to the Grizz. They simply do not have the players to win in that league. Period. End of story. But the most-pressing issue facing the Grizz isn't anything on the court. Rather, it's the ownership mess, because nothing will ever get better until ownership is resolved, and by resolved I mean Michael Heisley must be reasonable in his dealings with the local owners, make the sell and get the hell out of town. He's turned this franchise into a joke and the blame falls squarely on his shoulders, and when you have an owner who doesn't seem to care then it's hard to ask the average fan to invest either emotionally or financially. Heisley might be a smart businessman, but he's a terrible NBA owner, and this franchise will never succeed in this market as long as he's the one in charge.

3SoB: What players do you see in college basketball this season that will have a definite impact in the NBA next year? What players do you think will be expected to be quality NBA players, but whose game won't translate that well at the next level?

GP: Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley are all high-level pros. Two of the four are knuckleheads (Mayo and Beasley), but I can't imagine any way possible that Rose and Gordon, particularly, aren't future NBA All-Stars. I'd draft either, but I believe I like Gordon more than any other prospect. As for guys who won't translate well, Tyler Hansbrough is the obvious choice. He's tenacious and he'll be fine, but he won't go from being a college All-American to an NBA All-Star because he's an undersized post player for that level, and that's not a good thing to be. Chris Lofton is another. He's a college All-American who will be lucky to play in the NBA. At best, he's a specialty player, i.e. an off-the-bench shooter for his career.

3SoB: You say that the Grizzlies don't have the talent to be competitive in the NBA. Do you think this is something another high draft pick would fix (and if so, who would you take) or will it require some trades to "get rid of" certain players?

GP: The funny thing about the Grizz's problems is that they could all be solved rather quickly. Here's the order I'd like to see it go down:

1) Heisley sells to the local owners.
2) Chris Wallace makes a significant trade, if only to shake things up.
3) The Grizz get lucky in the lottery, land Eric Gordon (I think he'd be my top pick).
4) Gordon turns out to be a smart top pick, develops into a superstar.

If those things happen, the Grizz could go from a terrible franchise to a thriving franchise, all within the next seven months. But to me, that's what it'll take. An ownership change, an overhaul in personnel and a lucky bounce of ping pong balls resulting in the drafting of the perfect franchise player to play beside Rudy Gay. So just keep your fingers crossed, I guess.

3SoB: You were the Commercial Appeal's beat writer for Memphis Tiger basketball before "movin' on up" to CBSSports.com. How much has that change affected your style of writing or the amount of time you spend on work-related task?

GP: A lot, actually. But I'm a workaholic by nature. I enjoy working. I hate not working. I get bored with days off and so regardless of whether I'm at The CA or CBS, I've always been wired to put in the hours and really invest, and I suppose that's one of the things that got me from there to here. That said, the work is different. I now write for millions of people, and I'm a columnist instead of a beat writer, which I believe suits me better. If you listen to me at all on the radio, you know I'm not the most normal human on the planet. I don't think, act, dress or speak like most people, and CBS recognized all that and has encouraged me to be me, to be the same personality you hear on the radio. In other words, they did not hire me to just write about basketball; lots of people can do that. They hired me to be a personality who happens to write about basketball, and that's how I've approached my job, for better or worse. At The CA, my bosses were afraid of my personality and would've never turned me loose like Vernon or CBS has done. So that's what makes my writing different now. I'm being asked to be something different than I've ever been, and I'm just trying to learn as I go, see what works and what doesn't.

3SoB: To follow up on what you said about both Verno and CBSSports.com allowing you to be yourself, do you feel that by allowing your personality to flow through your writing that instead of being a basketball analyst, you are moving more towards the genre established by successful online figures like Bill Simmons and Dan Shanoff in recent years? The analysis portion of the content is still there in their writing, but it is portrayed from the viewpoint of the everyday fan. Is that something you see more writers shifting towards over the next few years? You've also broken some big stories in your career to this point, most notably the Albert Means scandal. Do you still consider breaking a story the most satisfying part of your job?

GP: The last thing I'd consider myself is an everyday fan. Sadly, I'm not really a fan in any sense any more, which I don't necessarily like. I mean, I grew up loving sports. It is part of the reason I chose this profession. But I do not follow sports like I used to follow sports, and I'm not sure why, exactly. Now, I know college basketball and what happens in Memphis, plus boxing to some degree. But past that I'm kinda lost (I heard the Patriots were good, though). Thus, I don't consider myself cut from the fabric of Bill Simmons. At my core I'm still a reporter ... just a reporter who writes columns with the help of his personality. A new-generation columnist, if you will. So often people in newspapers tell you that you are "not a part of the story". Well, I don't believe that. Sometimes it's fine to be a part of the story as long as you also know when to get the hell out of the way. But to answer your question, I have no interest in being Bill Simmons. Don't get me wrong, he's great at what he does. But he just sits back in LA and writes what he sees. There's a place for that, sure. And he dominates that place. But I'd rather talk to the people I write about, get out, go to games and practices, spend hours on the phone in search of information. I'll never stop doing that. To just opine from my mountaintop would be to marginalize myself. Anybody can do that. But with my position at CBS comes access to places and people most writers cannot approach. So I try to take advantage of it as best I can.

As for the second part of your question, yes, I still believe breaking hard news is the most rewarding part of the job. These days, there are so many places to get opinions -- from radio to papers to national websites to blogs to message boards -- that it's simple to get lost. I mean, who wrote the best Barry Bonds/steroids column? Did you read them all? You probably didn't, but what you know for certain is that the guys at the San Francisco Chronicle blew the whole thing open. So that's the best way to get noticed, to deliver hard news. And I still try to do it whenever I can.

3SoB: We've all heard the horror stories that young sportswriters deal with when they are getting their feet wet. It is almost always a temperamental coach seeking to emasculate someone and put them in their place or possibly a story you're assigned to cover that just doesn't work out like you've planned. What was the worst thing you encountered early in your career?

GP: Remember, I started at The CA when I was, like, 22 years old. I was young and stupid so I did a lot of young and stupid things. Still, nothing major really sticks out from a journalistic standpoint. But I've had several confrontations with people. Chris Massie once threatened to kill me the day before the NCAA Tournament. That was kinda scary. John Calipari and I certainly exchanged bad words, at least once a year. But probably the most terrifying moments came during the Albert Means scandal. I had death threats seemingly every other day. I changed addresses, phone numbers. Got security to walk me to my car at The CA. Those were strange times because I was really young and at the heart of one of the biggest recruiting scandals in NCAA history. I seriously went from covering Germantown-Bolton volleyball one day to breaking that story the next, and I didn't fully grasp the depths of it all until I was right in the middle of it. It was a wonderful experience, but quite terrifying at times.

3SoB: I've been to some of those Germantown-Bolton volleyball games -- they are intense! You've covered the Memphis Tigers as their beat writer and now you cover college basketball in its entirety. We've discussed the "freedom" you're allowed in your writing style for CBSSports.com, but do you also feel that the leeway to cover a popular sport from top to bottom has given you a vastly expanded canvas on which to paint with analysis, commentary and opinions? I suppose what I mean, is that instead of just focusing on one team, you are now allowed to pick and choose from 300+ teams what to write about, therefore allowing you to find the most interesting and creative stories to pursue rather than conjuring something out of thin air during a slow period -- something we're familiar with in being a team-centric blog. Is that an accurate portrayal?

GP: That's very accurate. I have complete control over everything I do for CBS. Anywhere I want to go, I go. Anything I want to write, I write. The people there have been better than I could've ever expected and really allowed me to figure this out on my own and without any sort of travel or budget restraints. It's not possible to have that kind of creative and financial freedom at most newspapers, particularly in this era when papers seem to be cutting space and budgets in the spirit of the bottom line. So yeah, I'm really, really fortunate to be in this situation. I mean, I just flew to Arizona for three days to work on a story about a junior college coach. I just told CBS I wanted to go and they told me to go. No questions asked. So my options are limitless, which is great.

3SoB: How long do you see yourself covering sports, either on the radio or as a writer? Will we see you on Around the Horn 10 years from now, battling an even more insane Jay Marriotti and less coherent Woody Paige? Can we count on you to take up the mantle of Sam Smith and Charley Rosen to be that guy that nobody really puts much stock in, but still reads every day anyways? You've admitted that you're a workaholic -- will you ever be able to retire and maintain peace? Or would your wife force you to become a greeter at Wal-Mart to get you out of the house?

GP: Honestly, there's not much else I know how to do besides the things that I do. This is all I've ever done and I don't plan on changing anytime soon, though TV is the natural next step. I will always write, I believe. But would I like to do TV someday, too? Of course. You should see those guys' paychecks. As for retiring when I'm older, I'm certain I'd just get bored. So I'll always be doing something because I'm not very good at simply relaxing. I think I need medicine. I'm gonna check into it one day ... when I get some time.

You can hear Gary's morning show with Geoff Calkins every weekday morning from 7-9 AM on 730 ESPN.


Rony Seikaly said...

well done SOB's. good read. you have officially decreased my work productivity by about an hour a week. thank you

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