As rumors swirled and prognosticators suggested it would be a smart move for ESPN, Kirk Herbstreit has steadfastly maintained he's not interested in making the transition from college football analyst to NFL analyst. As he told The Big Lead this week, "the pageantry" of college football is ingrained in his very soul. Leaving that wouldn't be hard. It would be a downright conflict of conscience.
Yet, having now experienced what it's like calling an NFL game for the first time, which he successfully did in Week 1, Herbstreit admitted his thought process about jumping to the pros has changed. Now, he seems at least open to the idea.
"I had an absolute ball calling that game [Steelers-Giants] and it made me reflect a little bit differently toward my future and what I might want to do down the road," Herbstreit said. "Like I said, I hope to always do college football. But if NFL would be in my future, I'm a lot more open to that thought than I was maybe prior to that experience."
Herbstreit's performance calling the Steelers' win over the Giants on Monday Night Football in the opening week of the NFL season was a total success.I wrote about how he integrated the main elements that make him a great live college analyst to the NFL. It was the kind of outing many predicted given his track record as ESPN's top college football analyst. It's also why some, including myself, said he would be a great selection to lead ESPN's then-vacant MNF booth.
Instead, ESPN went with Louis Riddick, Brian Griese and Steve Levy, who have been solid in their debut season thus far. Herbstreit remains the top college football commentator for the network but got the opportunity to call the Monday night opener with play-by-play man Chris Fowler because of the traditional Week 1 doubleheader. It proved to be an eye-opening experience for Herbstreit.
"Most people in my shoes are just looking to grow and grow, 'one day maybe I'll do the NFL.' I've never had that," Herbstreit said. "With that being said, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed that game."
Despite the positive experience, Herbstreit's first love remains college football. His father was a captain at Ohio State. Herbstreit grew up in Ohio and went on to become the Buckeyes' starting quarterback. His sons currently play for Clemson. They are a college football family through and through.
"I have said how much I love college, how much college, just the pageantry of the sport, the marching bands, I'm just built that way, wired that way, probably because of the way I was raised," Herbstreit said. "That's always been my thing and I think it will probably always be my thing."
While ESPN has chosen its NFL booth for 2020, what happens beyond that remains unresolved. Disney, the network's parent company, is reportedly interested in expanding its NFL broadcast rights, including a Super Bowl and potentially other games on ABC. If ESPN does secure additional games when the rights deals come up over the next two years, Herbstreit would likely be one of the first people they consider for an analyst role.
On the flip side, ESPN also just spent over $2 billion to acquire SEC broadcast rights in the future, adding to a college football portfolio that also includes the Big Ten, ACC and just about every other consequential conference. College GameDay is a mainstay on Saturday mornings and Herbstreit is a big reason why.
If the situation arises where he has to choose between college and the NFL, clearly it won't be an easy decision for Herbstreit, his family, or ESPN. But now that he's experienced what it's like calling an NFL game, he can at least say he's more open to the idea of doing it in a full-time capacity in the future.
"I have to be honest, I was just a little bit, not intimidated, I was just a little bit curious as to how they would handle Chris and Kirk coming in from college to do a Monday night game and they could not have been any more gracious," Herbstreit said of the NFL players and coaches he worked with in the leadup to Week 1. "That part kind of excited me, that they were pumped that we were there to do their game."
Herbstreit, likewise, appears more pumped than ever at the idea of calling the NFL in the future.