Lee Corso said it wasn’t exactly his choice to go into television nearly 30 years ago, when he became the colorful character who remains a fixture on the ESPN “College GameDay” set.
“They quit asking me to coach,” Corso said, laughing. “I didn’t have a job.”
Now every college football Saturday starts with Corso offering analysis, making his predictions, donning mascot headgear and hitting his cohorts with the occasional, “Not so fast, my friend!”
Corso, 79, is coming to Omaha this week to be the featured speaker for the Gala & Golf event that will benefit CHI Health projects in Omaha. The banquet is Thursday night at the Embassy Suites at the La Vista Conference Center.
Some thoughts from Corso, who said he has cut back on his appearances and speaking engagements since suffering a stroke in 2009:
Q: If you could name a favorite place for “GameDay,” what would it be?
A: Oregon is one of my favorites. Oregon, because the show is on at 6 o’clock in the morning and the people have been there all night, and there’s thousands of fans there. And the Oregon Duck happens to be one of my favorites. He’s the San Diego Chicken of college football.
Q: What’s the biggest issue facing college football right now?
A: I don’t think it’s much of an issue, but these graduating seniors transferring to another college and not having to sit out another year? That, to me, it kills. I think it’s the same thing (as a non-graduate senior transferring). If a guy leaves a school, he should sit out a year. I’m saying this even though I’m a Florida State fan and they got the Notre Dame quarterback (Everett Golson) coming down there. He’s going to make them a heck of a team.
Q: How did the College Football Playoff look to you after the first go-round?
A: Great. It was magnificent. It couldn’t have been better off. The TV numbers were great. The interest was terrific. The only thing — and I recommended this during the season — is I don’t think they should have ranked the teams until November. Not a criticism but my recommendation.
Q: You ever come down to a 50-50 tossup on a game and then make your pick based on which mascot head you wanted to wear that particular morning?
A: No. I pick a team I think is going to win. I’ve had 257 picks, and I’ve ticked off everybody in America at least twice.
Q: Plenty has happened over the years, but what’s maybe your favorite moment from the “GameDay” set?
A: I think when I had my triplet grandsons on the show, and Florida State was playing Oklahoma. My triplets were maybe a year old, and they were all dressed up in Florida State gear, and I said, “Boys, don’t take this personal, this is strictly business … ,” and I took Oklahoma to win the game. And it was right in the middle of Tallahassee.
Q: Who would you want to replace you on “GameDay” when the time comes?
A: I don’t think of that. I’m gonna stay around as long as I can.
Q: So who would play you in the “GameDay” movie, documentary or ESPN 30 for 30?
A: Billy Crystal. Not that he’d want to play me, but I’d pick Billy Crystal.
Q: What was your biggest regret after leaving coaching?
A: (Giving up) the association with the players. Coaches will tell you they miss tremendously that rapport and that association with the players. You never, never replace that in anything they do. That’s why coaches always come back. The thrill of winning or losing, or getting on the field and coaching on Saturday afternoons, that’s all great. But it’s the association with the players, and that’s lifelong. That is the one thing you miss and you can’t substitute for it.
Q: Could you coach college football now?
A: I wouldn’t coach football now for nothing, and it’s because of social media. That just bothers the heck out of me. People blast ya and you don’t put their name down. I don’t mind being criticized if they do it to my face but not the way they do it now. That would kill me.
Q: If you hadn’t gone into coaching, what other professions might you have considered coming out of FSU?
A: I would have been a college president. That’s what the best job would have been, I thought. I had gotten a master’s degree in administration supervision with it in mind that I would some day be a professor, then get a doctorate degree and move up and eventually be president of a university. That, to me, was a job where you had a lot to do with young people and administration, and you could affect people’s lives that way. Now? No way. Now it’s a fundraising job.
Q: I imagine rooming with Burt Reynolds for a year at Florida State includes some fond memories?
A: People say, “Burt Reynolds is so good-looking” … I used to set him up for bait. I’d send him to the student union, and he’d come back with a beautiful girl and an ugly one. But his ugly girls were better than anything I’d get on my own. With his looks and my car, we’d kill ’em in Tallahassee.
Q: Your car?
A: ’52 Chevy. Metallic green. I loved that car.