Dubbed “The Kingmaker” by then-SportsCenter anchor Rich Eisen in 1996, Al Jaffe earned the royal moniker through his 28-year ESPN career. Jaffe, whose real title is Vice President, Talent Negotiation and Production Recruitment, retires Friday following a career where he hired and negotiated contracts with scores of ESPN broadcasters.
Linda Cohn, Rece Davis, Neil Everett, Mike Greenberg, Suzy Kolber, Kenny Mayne, Karl Ravech, Robin Roberts, Stuart Scott, Mike Tirico, Trey Wingo and Stan Verrett are among the many that Al hired at ESPN.
When he joined SportsCenter in 1987, he also hired production assistants, the gateway position to the ESPN production department. The “Jaffe Quiz” which tested the sports knowledge and instilled fear into applicants, included everything from knowing who won the Vezina Trophy to naming the backup catcher of the Kansas City Royals.
Hundreds of people working today in sports television passed the quiz and launched their careers as ESPN PAs, including several current ESPN leaders from Senior Vice President, Production and Remote Events Mark Gross to Senior Vice President, Production College Events Stephanie Druley.
Al says the best part of his job has been identifying and recruiting new talent, particularly taking chances that later paid dividends.
“It’s been gratifying seeing people do well and get rewarded for talent and hard work,” he says.
His 15 minutes of fame began in 2004 when his talent scout skills and quick wit were put to use on-air as the Simon Cowell-like judge for Dream Job, an ESPN show designed to uncover new on-air talent.
The three seasons of Dream Job even led to a live stage show version at ESPN the Weekend at Walt Disney World, with Al the featured judge who, in the spirit of the happiest place on earth, heaped praise on the contestants.
He also got to play himself in a “This is SportsCenter” spot featuring agent Scott Boras (see below) and anchor Scott Van Pelt.
Out of the thousands of resumes he received, his favorite was sent to him inside a plastic wiffle ball bat.
He also remembers one very aggressive candidate who followed him into a men’s room at a conference to hand him a tape and a resume.
Neither approach landed the people jobs. It seems the Kingmaker preferred traditional qualities like smarts and experience.