Pitt has another game on ESPN (ESPNU at noon) this weekend and that means another chance to break down the game with an ESPN analyst. This time, the good folks over there have hooked us up with former Florida State and NFL quarterback Danny Kanell. He'll be helping to call the action on Saturday as Pitt takes on Utah.
As always, I used this opportunity to ask him about a slew of other things besides the game. Besides the game, Danny talked a bit about hiding from the media as a player, his baseball (yes, baseball) career, Bobby Bowden's departure, and being an NFL quarterback.
Before we get started, you can check out the full listings of ESPN's programming over the weekend here.
Onto the Q&A:
Cardiac Hill: I've often said if I were an athlete, I'd never want to talk to the media. I think lots of athletes have the feeling that rarely can anything good come out of it. Did you ever envision yourself going into the media while you were still playing? What were your feelings toward the media when you were a quarterback?
Danny Kanell: That's an interesting question. I went through different phases in my career dealing with the media. I spent some time playing in the toughest media market in the world when I played with the New York Giants and there were definitely times when I didn't feel like talking to the press! Our sports information guy used to have to hunt me down for an interview (usually I would hole up in the training room with a couple other guys playing cards). But I always felt that if I treated them with respect they would do the same for me.
One advantage I had at Florida State was playing for a man who knew how to use the media to his advantage. Coach Bowden always took extra time with the media and it didn't matter if you were with ESPN or with some local high school TV station. He made everyone feel special and never failed to answer any question. I think the media appreciated this and it reflected in what they wrote about him.
I always had a career in broadcasting in the back of my mind and even started to prepare myself later in my playing career when I hosted a radio show in Denver while I played with the Broncos. It was a ton of fun and a great training ground for me. Broadcasting is a really competitive business and anything you can do to get a step ahead helps.
Cardiac Hill: Most fans don't know that you also played baseball at a pretty high level. You were drafted by the Brewers and the Yankees and even went into the minors in between your football stints. Having played both professionally, here's the million dollar question: What's more difficult - Quarterbacking a team or hitting a baseball?
Danny Kanell: Well I will put it this way: I think the toughest job in all of sports is being the starting quarterback for an NFL franchise. I don't think anyone completely realizes it unless you have been there. It takes mental toughness to be able to handle the playbook which nowadays easily exceeds 200 plays. It takes physical toughness to handle the pounding of a 16-game NFL schedule. It takes unique leadership skills. It takes patience and perseverance.
Not to say that hitting a 95 mph baseball is a piece of cake! I think this is probably the single hardest task in all of sports.
Cardiac Hill: I've always wondered what Florida State players thought about the whole Bobby Bowden dismissal. Penn State's in a similar spot right now with Joe Paterno, obviously. How do you think Bowden's situation was handled? For as many things as he's done for the university, do you think he deserved another year to go out on his own or does the university have to make that decision without taking into account past performance?
Danny Kanell: I hated the way that Bobby Bowden's career ended and if you ask anyone who played for him they would feel the same way. He built that football program from nothing and put Florida State football on the map. I don't think you will ever see the likes of Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno again. I think both of these men earned the right to go out on their own terms.
But it is much easier said than done. Teams use the coaching situation against you in recruiting which is what happened in Tallahassee. It even got so bad that Coach Bowden had to hide the fact that he had prostate cancer!
Cardiac Hill: As an ex-quarterback, looking at Pitt's game against Utah, how do you think the Utes will fare this week without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn?
Danny Kanell: It is always a challenge replacing a player like Jordan Wynn and it will be no different for Jon Hays. I think Pitt will try to get after him and bring pressure which they like to do anyway. It doesn't matter who is playing QB for the Utes – they HAVE to do a better job protecting the football. They have lost two games in a row in large part to 10 turnovers in those contests.
Cardiac Hill: Junior Jon Hays has a game under his belt as a starter coming into Saturday's contest against Heinz Field and I think that will help him. You've taken over for injured quarterbacks before as well. Do you think his mindset changed from last week when he was taking over for an undefined length of time to this week, where he now knows he's the starter for the rest of the year?
Danny Kanell: Things have definitely changed for Jon Hays this week. He now has to position himself as the leader of this football team. He is no longer playing the role of reliever but now he is "the guy" for the Utes program. If I were Jon Hays, I would see this as a tremendous opportunity to turn this team around. The Utes have underperformed this season and are a very disappointing 0-3 in Pac 12 play. The best way to make a good impression on your teammates is to bust your butt in practice – stay around for a few extra throws after practice, spend extra time in the film room with your offensive line, and make sure you are ready for the challenge.
Cardiac Hill: Pitt's got their own quarterback issues right now, obviously, with starter Tino Sunseri. Head coach Todd Graham has played Trey Anderson for a series in previous games to get him some work, but last week, Sunseri was effectively benched for a couple of series. Fans hear all the time from coaches that they don't like to change quarterbacks for fear of damaging their psyche. As a starter, what's your mindset if you start a game, are benched, and then have to re-enter the game? What's the more difficult part - the mental aspect or the physical aspect of being thrown back into a game when you've been sitting out?
Danny Kanell: I am a big believer in the importance of a quarterback's mental makeup and the role that confidence has on a QB's play on the field. I hate two quarterback systems and/or a coach with a quick hook. That being said, I have been in Tino Sunseri's shoes. I have been pulled in games and sent back on the field a series or two later. My advice would be twofold. Stay in the game mentally. Stay in the game physically. I would go talk to my coordinator or QB coach and ask them what they were seeing. I would talk to the WR's and offensive line to do the same. I would try to help the QB who replaced me. All these things would keep me engaged in the game. If you go over and pout on the bench your chances to re-enter the game successfully would dramatically decrease. Stay warm by throwing balls and taking a few snaps from the center. And then when you get back on the field, play with CONFIDENCE. Go through your progression and make DECISIVE throws. A lot of times, even if you make the wrong read but throw the ball with authority it will end up a completion!
Cardiac Hill: Utah and Pitt both come into this game struggling a bit. In your opinion, which team at this point has shown more?
Danny Kanell: Like I mentioned earlier, the Utes season thus far has been very disappointing. They are struggling to salvage their season and head coach Kyle Whittingham even admitted they have no chance at the PAC 12 championship game. Now they are trying to replace their QB who has been lost for the year. The Utes are now playing for a bowl appearance rather than a championship.
Pitt has shown a lot more to me. Their two early losses to Iowa and Notre Dame were tightly contested and could have easily swung the other way. Pitt has probably the most underrated player in the country in Ray Graham. The game against South Florida was a coming out party of sorts for this team and I believe the game against Rutgers was an aberration. You see it happen all the time and it is a coach's worst nightmare – your team has a great performance and then starts to believe what everyone is saying about them and comes about the next week and plays uninspired football and gets beat.
The thing people have to remember about Pitt is this: they are still in year one of completely new offensive and defensive schemes. It takes time to get the right people in place and get players to play without having to think. When they get completely comfortable they can play faster and better. When they get to this point they will be a strong contender in the Big East (or, ummm should I say the ACC)
Remember to tune into ESPNU at noon if you're not headed to the game.