Drew Gallagher, a longtime ESPN producer, told me, “Lee taught Kirk the value of entertainment.” That was of course useful for Herbstreit, but Corso’s advice on other matters was vital, too.
Early in his career, Herbstreit told me, he struggled to make sense of different directives. He would walk up to Corso, explaining that his agent had given him advice and he wasn’t sure if he should follow it. Corso did something perhaps rare in TV circles: he’d just chill. “He’s not interrupting. He’s listening,” Herbstreit said. After Herbstreit stopped, maybe 15 minutes later, Corso would start. “And then he just says two sentences, and you’re just like, ‘Oh.’”
“Our relationship really changed from just being colleagues,” Herbstreit said. He would go to Corso with questions about being a young father, and Corso would share lessons and wisecracks: “He was basically a second father to me or a relative of some kind. And the fact he listened. My dad didn’t listen great. I loved him. It wasn’t like my dad was abusive or not a great guy. He just had a really hard time being in the moment and listening. And I think that’s why I valued that so much from Lee.”
Corso highlights a different sort of counsel he gave his younger coworker. “I tried to help him like he was my son, and I didn’t really do too much in television,” he said. “The only thing I told Kirk Herbstreit was, ‘Don’t ever give up GameDay, where people could see your face.’” After all, when Herbstreit calls games with Fowler or Al Michaels, the camera is pointed at the field. That could be anybody up there, Corso liked to remind him.
Herbstreit is one of the sport’s most connected people. He speaks often with high-powered coaches at big games. He must be the only man in college football who is allowed to bring his golden retriever, Ben, out to midfield right before kickoff at the University of Georgia, an institution that cares deeply about lawn care. (Corso and the dog get on well. “What’s his name? Ben? I call him Max,” Corso noted.)
By contrast, Corso sees his own relative lack of connections as a great asset. “I have no personal relationship with any coaches, so therefore I can say anything I want, because I say the truth and I talk the truth,” Corso told me. “If it is objective, I say it. If it isn’t, I don’t say it. So I have one thing going for me. I don’t talk to coaches one way or the other. I don’t talk to ‘em at all, and so I say what I think, and that’s it.”
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