Misery makes for strange bedfellows.
The miserable round of slow-motion talent losses at ESPN could provide an opening for rival Skip Bayless and Fox Sports.
With longtime sparring partner Shannon Sharpe out the door, there’s few A-List talents who want to team up with the micromanaging Bayless on FS1’s “Undisputed.”
Similarly, there are few Bayless himself wants to work with except his “brother from another mother” Stephen A. Smith.
But ESPN’s rolling talent cuts could spring loose some strong candidates to serve as Bayless’ next potential debate partner.
Start with Max Kellerman, who served as Smith’s debate foil on top-rated “First Take” for five years.
Front Office Sports reported that Kellerman would likely lose his weekday afternoon TV time slot to make way for new hire Pat McAfee.
Kellerman had a long and successful career in Los Angeles radio with Marcellus Wiley.
As the most experienced “Embrace Debate” talent out there, Kellerman could easily slide into Sharpe’s old chair at Fox’s studios in Los Angeles.
To make the situation even more dicey, the New York Post reported Wednesday that Kellerman’s ESPN Radio morning show with Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams is also being scrapped.
That might not immediately impact Kellerman, Johnson, and Williams contractually. But it’s the kind of insult that might make one, two, or all three, drop a dime to FS1 executives Charlie Dixon and Whit Albohm and ask for an audition with Bayless and moderator Jenny Taft.
On his YouTube show, Wiley said he doubted the network would pair two white men, Bayless and Kellerman, on a “barbershop” style debate show. “Two salon dudes can’t talk barbershop,” he said.
Then there’s former “Sports Center” anchor Neil Everett. FOS reported Everett is leaving ESPN after 23 years. It is easy to envision the Portland-based TV pro sliding into the debate chair for an occasional appearance.
That makes four current or former ESPNers with the chops and experience to take on the enfant terrible of sports TV.
FS1 will likely audition its own candidates, such as Emmanuel Acho and Joy Taylor of “Speak” and Nick Wright of “First Things First.”
And don’t forget former NFL star LeSean McCoy. He’s still relatively green TV-wise. But sources peg him as a strong contender to succeed Sharpe: the three-time Super Bowl winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer (Sharpe himself is in early talks with sports betting giant FanDuel).
Both Bayless and Smith would love to land Michael “The Playmaker” Irvin. But he’s still under contract to NFL Network – although the network has had him on the bench since a controversial incident with a hotel employee at the Super Bowl that has sparked multiple lawsuits.
What’s the next move? That’s up to Bayless, Dixon, and Albohm.
Bayless could choose to debate a rotating list of guests a la Smith at “First Take.” But he’s a traditionalist who’s been basically doing the same show for 15 years at FS1 and ESPN.
There are rumors Bayless – the self-styled Godfather of sports TV debate – will create a new format where he debates a “team” of opponents. But he will likely settle on just one debate partner as he did with Sharpe for seven years.
Yes, any job candidate will have to accept that Bayless runs the show – and that he’ll have the “final say” on their hire.
But times are tough, with virtually every major media company conducting layoffs. A seven-figure annual debating Bayless in sunny LA might be alright.