Beano Cook (September 26, 2011):
First, can you let readers know how you got started as a broadcaster and what experiences helped you along the way?
I got into broadcasting by luck. Roone Arledge, then president of ABC Sports, hired me to be in the studio for the Scoreboard show and for any studio work for college football games starting in 1982.
My experience led me to a gain a lot of knowledge about football. It was not that I was more knowledgeable than everyone else, but enough in the opinion of Roone Arledge to get me into the studio.
Who influenced you most as you began your career?
One person was Roy McHugh, who, at the time I met him, was on the sports staff of the Pittsburgh Press. Roy later became sports editor. He taught me a lot about journalism. I never got a Master’s in Journalism, but for me, what I learned from Roy McHugh was better. I would say hanging around and asking questions, listening to the answers, and remembering them was a great asset.
You’ve started a relatively new blog. Can you tell readers about this new endeavor and what you look to achieve with this?
I started the Blog, www.Beano-Cook.com in 2010. I’ve lived a long time and some of my observations, pet peeves, and opinions are what I share. For example, politicians are one of the biggest threats to the welfare of this country. If you look at Congress, it’s obvious we don’t hire the best and the brightest.
I write only one column a month. I don’t have the talent to do more than that.
I don’t write about sports. Whether anyone reads it, I don’t know. But I hope it’s interesting. I enjoy writing it and sharing what I hope contains some truth, a little wisdom, and a bit of humor. I look forward to continuing it.
Where else can fans follow you these days?
I’m on ESPN Radio. I do a weekly podcast with Ivan Maisel and you can find that on the internet. I have no idea how that works, but people do find it. I’m not exactly a Luddite, but I find no need for direct use of even a computer. I live in a building where you need to buzz someone in with a touchtone phone, otherwise I’d still have my old rotary phone.
You started out as a sports publicist for the University of Pittsburgh and held that role for ten years. How was that experience for you and how has that role changed for universities now?
Let me note that now it is a very different job than when I started in 1956. Now, there’s an adversarial relationship between everybody today. It seems that way, anyway. We didn’t have talk shows to worry about, the internet, or everyone having blogs. I shared a secretary when I first started. I sometimes had some help, but now, E.J. Borghetti, who has the job now, gets a car and has a staff bigger than Ike had for D-Day.
But there’s one huge difference: they don’t have as much fun as we did years ago. As college sports became bigger, it became less fun. People don’t have fun today in sports. They just glad to have a job and they’re glad to have the job when they get up the next morning.
This may be a surprise to some but you also served as the Vice President for the Civic Arena under Edward Debartolo. How did that come about and how hard is it for you now seeing the seemingly imminent tear-down of the facility?
First, Paul Martha is the person who hired me. He got permission from Mr. DeBartolo. After a few years, they brought in a “Money Guy” to look things over. He decided I wasn’t necessary and I was fired. I could say I was laid off or “let go” but I was fired. I might have quit a year or two later, but after three years , I was fired. A lot of people have gotten fired, and I’m one of them.
Second, as for the Civic Arena, I don’t see a fifty-year old building as a landmark. Some say fifty years defines an antique. Well, I’m eighty – maybe I am an antique, but I wasn’t at fifty. I least I don’t think I was.
Being from Pittsburgh, you have likely paid close attention to the latest rumblings on potential Big East changes. How do you see this playing out and are these changes a positive thing for the sport – why/why not?
Number one, it was a great break for Pitt to get into the ACC. I thought the Big East had a great future in basketball, but I think Big East Football is shaky. There wasn’t that much interest in most of the games except for West Virginia, and in Cincinnati, when, in December 2009, when that team got to go to the BCS Bowl.
I think the Big East is always going to have problems in football. But I always think it’ll be a good basketball conference, whether it has 16 teams, 12 teams, or 8 teams.
How does the Big East football program get back to greater prominence?
I think the Big East football conference has real problems and I don’t know how they’re going to resolve them. There’s talk of taking in more teams, but I really don’t know if that’s the solution. I have my doubts.
As I said, I think Pitt was very fortunate to get into the ACC, and whoever at Pitt was responsible for that deserves to have his or her salary doubled.
What are your thoughts on the latest scandals involving payments to athletes? Do you feel college athletes should be paid? If not, how else can these issues be avoided?
I don’t know how the issue can be avoided. I think the big difference today compared to when I was at Pitt starting in ’56, is how many of athletes, especially in football and basketball come from one-parent families and from a lot less money than athletes did 60 years ago.
Should they be paid? At one time, I did not think so. But I think the football players- and maybe the basketball players, should get paid. Football is especially hard on you physically.
Years ago, football players got $15 a month for laundry. How much more would that be today, maybe $100? And, normal expenses have increased beyond laundry. Look, I don’t know whether they’re going to get paid, but I don’t see anything wrong in it. At one time I was against it, but now if they get paid, I have no complaints.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences as a broadcaster?
Working for Roone Arledge and getting to know Howard Cossell. Nothing beats those two. Also, I went to ESPN when it was only seven years old. To see how it has grown since 1986 is Unbelievable – it really is. It was chance that I went to ESPN. I was offered jobs at ESPN and CNN. I took ESPN because ESPN studios are in Bristol, CT and CNN in Atlanta.
The flight from Pittsburgh to Hartford was shorter and beat dealing with the Atlanta airport. It was pure luck that I got involved with ESPN.
What players have left some of the more lasting impressions with you, and why?
Actually there are two: Mike Ditka is my favorite Pitt football player and Don Hennon is my favorite Pitt basketball player. They are my two favorite athletes from my ten years at Pitt. I will always be honored to have been the Sports Information Director when they were playing at Pitt. They were just great athletes, truly great competitors.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Well, I consider myself lucky. I’m not trying to be modest when I say I have average talent. That’s what I have. I got lucky: I got the Pitt job when I was twenty-four. Later Roone Arledge came into my professional life. There are a lot of people more talented than I, but I had luck on my side, and I’m not afraid to admit it.