Inside Blitz: Matt Lauer Sits on Grenade in Latest Today Show Disaster and Sandy Montag's Last Hurrah?

By Jason McIntyre

The idea for a sports/media/gambling column was hatched this summer and you can look for it every Wednesday. If you want to yell at me about something that appeared here – because let’s face it, on the Internet, it’s outrage or nothing: Jmcintyre at thebiglead dot com.

This might be one of the greatest examples in 2014 of sports media news packaged to appear like a big deal, but in reality, it was just the opposite: Sandy Montag, one of the most powerful agents in sports media in the 1990s, is launching his own consulting firm.

Except … what if the real story behind this was buried, and the opposite is true? From the Bloomberg story:

"William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC and Silver Lake Management LLC in December bought IMG from Forstmann Little & Co. for about $2.4 billion."

So a year after IMG – where Montag rose to be the top sports media agent – was bought, he’s leaving (or forced out, depending who you talk to) and the big question is unanswered: Is Sandy Montag taking on new clients, or just playing out the string with the big names he has?

In the last five years, Montag has lost several prominent clients – Kirk Herbstreit, Rachel Nichols and Josh Elliott to name a few – to rival CAA, and the industry chatter about those battles are tremendous, but unconfirmed. I hope the phone call stories about alleged poaching are true.

What to watch for with Montag’s consulting firm: Will he add any new clients in the first six months of 2015, or is 30+ years in the business enough for him?

Jamie Horowitz Out at the Today Show: The Players vs. the Playbook

It was kind of a big deal when NBC stole ESPN producer Jamie Horowitz earlier this year, but that was nothing compared to what went down in the last week:

November 12th in the New York Post: “[Jamie] Horowitz is the insider that NBC folks think has the inside shot at replacing [Deborah Turness]. He’s been kissing up to the Comcast brass with some effect.”

November 17th in the New York Post: Jamie Horowitz fired from the Today Show by Deborah Turness.

Horowitz, of course, is unofficially credited with embracing debate at ESPN, turning Cold Pizza into First Take, taming Keith Olbermann, discovering Michelle Beadle, and making TV stars out of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. NBC thought Horowitz could fix the Today Show, which has been getting beaten in the ratings game by Good Morning America for the last two years.

Though he left ESPN months ago, Horowitz hadn’t technically started at NBC (that was going to happen on December 1st). Who steals someone from a rival network, pays them a lot of money, and then fires them before they even start?

Apparently, this friction boiled down to the Players vs the Playbook. To further the NFL analogy: Turness was the GM. She hired a new coach to improve the team. Except that when the coach arrived, he did an analysis (a “listening tour” and focus groups) and found that the team lacked chemistry, and needed new players.

Horowitz wanted to change the faces of a show that is on a 24-month losing streak. When you’re struggling, you make changes, yet Turness has done little-or-nothing to the cast, except adding Carson Daly.

Turness wanted to change the content of the show.

Once the players found out the coach wanted to make changes, they went to Turness and complained, and Turness, fearful of another Ann Curry-type PR disaster, panicked and fired Horowitz. Because she stuck up for her talent, Matt Lauer went and sat on the grenade this morning, which should buy Turness at least another year to turn the show around.

What a disaster for the Today Show. It feels like NBC is delaying the inevitable. How bad is it for Turness? A source claims NBC News giant Brian Williams hasn’t been on speaking terms with her for months.

So, when does Fox Sports 1 hire Horowitz to create some TV magic?


Hey, a bounce back! From 0-5 to 4-1. Not bad! TCU was the lone loser last week, barely beating a bad Kansas team 34-30 on the road in a game that Gary Patterson won’t soon forget because that narrow win could end up costing him a playoff spot. I’m 16-18 on the season, .500 is well within reach, and with a couple weeks left in the season, I’ll make a guarantee – I’ll finish above .500. This week’s card isn’t pretty, but it’s becoming clear who has quit and who needs to run up the score.

Mississippi State -29.5 vs. Vanderbilt. Massive number, but Bulldogs are looking to impress the committee. You saw how TCU was punished for struggling with lowly Kansas? Go for the glory, Dan Mullen.

Ohio State -34 vs. Indiana. The Buckeyes go home with one thing in mind: What’s a 60-10 result going to mean for our playoff chances? There’s no room for error, Urban.

Virginia +6 vs. Miami. The Hurricanes looked outstanding Saturday night for a half against the Seminoles before folding late. That was their Super Bowl. UVA has quietly had a nice season.

Tennessee -3 vs. Missouri. I don’t think much of the Tigers, and I’d like to see Georgia in the SEC Title game. The Vols just thumped a decent Kentucky team, and played well at home against Alabama and Florida in defeat.

It’s Coming! Finally!

It’s been over a year since Jason Whitlock left Fox and joined ESPN, and it appears his new website is very close to happening. This week, ESPN announced three hires for his as-yet-named website (I don’t think it’ll be called, ‘Black Grantland‘): Jesse Washington, Danielle Cadet and Ryan Cortes.

The biggest name hasn’t been officially announced, but Whitlock plucked Mike Wise from the Washington Post. Wise is well-known to NBA fans because he’s the guy who broke the Michael Jordan-Fired-by-the-Wizards story when he was at the New York Times. Also, Wise penned the definitive piece on Gilbert Arenas in 2006.

The most interesting aspect of Whitlock’s site? I’m told it recently moved from being the domain of control to Exit 31 control. If you recall, Exit 31 was created earlier this year to house “expanding creative storytelling,” and its occupants include Grantland and 538. (Those who like to read between the lines on “why” can do so here.)


I was unaware that ESPN had a giveaway where you could win dinner with Chris Broussard and go to a Knicks-Cavs game with him, and as you can imagine, Phil Mushnick has some thoughts on it … in Philadelphia, Jimmy Kempski is leaving for a promising startup that moneybags George Norcross is backingMichael Kurse is leaving the Tampa Bay Times to join PoliticoAndrew Gribble is leaving the Alabama beat at to write for Cleveland … this should surprise nobody, but blowouts or not, the NFL is going to make even more money from its Thursday night football games TV package … in case you missed it: Five minutes of Mike Francesa talking about the Foo Fighters and the great Taylor Swift … I’ve got no dog in the Tiki Barber vs. Gary Myers race, but for years I’ve thought that the latter was one of the worst columnists not only in New York City, but of anyone covering the NFL. His solution – almost weekly – is to fire someone. He doesn’t drive discussion, he doesn’t provide any relevant information, and as a snapshot of his work, last week he wanted Tom Coughlin to retire, but this week, he thinks Tom Coughlin deserves one more year … if you’re looking for a hard-working columnist who actually produces quality work, there’s Gary Shelton at the Tampa Bay Times, who is leaving the paper to start his own website.