Behind The Scenes

Davis on Paterno and Coach K

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Photo credit: Mark Selders/Penn State Athletic Communications

Rece Davis is no stranger to sharing a set with smart and talented analysts and legendary former coaches, but the chance to moderate an in-depth and candid conversation between coaching legends Joe Paterno and Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t come around too often.

The ESPN college football and basketball studio and game announcer earned this rare opportunity on June 20 as host of the 90-minute special Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno & Krzyzewski which was recorded at Penn State University and airs Thursday night on ESPN (8 p.m. ET) and continues on ESPNU (9 p.m.).

The program features Paterno and Krzyzewski discussing coaching, ethics, integrity, legacy, pressures and issues associated with intercollegiate athletics, and more.

Davis talks to Front Row about sharing the stage with these two coaching immortals.

FR: How was the experience of hosting this special with Paterno and Krzyzewski?

RD: It was awesome. By early next basketball season they will be the winningest coaches in the history of their sports (Krzyzewski has 900 victories, three shy of breaking the Division I record held by Bob Knight). And with the way the coaching profession has changed, they could hold those records forever. I had a real sense of the historical significance. To see two guys who had more in common than you might think discuss what’s made them great teachers and leaders was neat. The respect they had for each other was evident.

FR: Did you learn anything about either of them that you were not aware of before the special?

RD: I found out that Joe knows how to Skype but doesn’t really like it. He’s adaptable. I think I got insight into how they have changed without compromising their standards. 

FR: Did you have any concerns about moderating and potentially having to step in to keep the dialogue moving?

RD: If you mean, ‘Was I afraid Coach K would make me run suicides if I had to interrupt him?’, then no I wasn’t concerned. He was far more likely to make [ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay] Bilas get up from his seat in the audience to run. Not really concerns, but you have to judge when to do so. There’s a studio audience and the danger of stepping in too soon is that you could stop them before they say something memorable, or you could annoy the audience — both the live one and the people who will watch at home. Nothing wrong with letting a guy finish his thought if you aren’t bound by the constraints of a live broadcast. I did step in a few times but I tried to use discretion.

FR: If you could pick two people for a second Difference Makers program, who would they be?

RD: Sticking with college coaches, I’ll say either (Michigan State basketball coach) Tom Izzo and (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban or (LSU football coach) Les Miles and (Connecticut basketball coach) Jim Calhoun. The second one would be entertaining though there might be moments when subtitles were in order.

FR: You work with analysts who have strong opinions and credentials in both football and basketball. Which crew is harder to manage: Lou Holtz and Mark May or Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis?

RD: I don’t look at it as being tough. We are a team. I’m the quarterback or the point guard depending on the sport but it’s not like I need a whip and chair. Well, maybe sometimes for Digger. The strength of our shows is that we have free discussion and all of those guys who have such impeccable credentials and intelligence trust me to steer the boat. They accept challenges without getting offended. You’d hear the same discussion if you went to dinner with us that you’d hear on the set.

Editor’s Note: The same night as Difference Makers, Davis will also host the one-hour Gruden’s QB Camp: Terrelle Pryor (9 p.m., ESPN and 10 p.m., ESPN2). In addition to Gruden’s film session with the former Buckeyes quarterback, Davis will provide a timeline and perspective on the events at Ohio State that forced head coach Jim Tressel’s resignation and eventually lead to Pryor’s decision to forgo his final year of eligibility and make himself eligible for the NFL’s supplementary draft.

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