15 January 2009

Q&A with Mike Bianchi

(From RealClearSports)

RCS: Well, Mike, you predicted an Oklahoma victory. What happened?

Mike Bianchi: I thought Florida's defense was good, but I didn't think it was that good. I thought the final score would end up like 40-34 but the Gator defense really rose up there. It was surprising to me. Now you have to wonder why [Florida defensive coordinator] Charlie Strong isn't a head coach somewhere.

RCS: And yet there's just one African-American BCS conference head coach out of 67 schools.

Mike Bianchi: Right, what needs to happen is a Tony Dungy of college football, a black coach who gets a good job and does well at it. Ty Willingham had a chance at Notre Dame, now Randy Shannon's got the chance at Miami. He needs to get it done.

There are so few black coaches who get good opportunities at good schools. A successful one can open a lot of doors. Look at Dungy and the coaching tree that came from him: Lovie Smith, Mike Tomlin, Herm Edwards, they all worked for Dungy.

RCS: But we have a black man who soon will be our president. And you think sports had something to do with that. In fact, the day after the election, you wrote a column about it titled "Athletes of Color Paved Way for Obama."

Mike Bianchi: I think a lot went in that helped Barack Obama become president, and sports had an impact. Sports is the first forum that was truly color-blind. Jack Johnson was boxing against white guys in the '20s.

You look at an NBA game today, 70% of the players are black and 90% of the fans are white. But if you can root for a black man on the playing surface, over time, you become more accepting in other facets of life, including the voting booth.

Look around sports today, you see guys like Jordan, Tiger, they made it big in corporate America. These guys cracked barriers, too.

RCS: Speaking of Tiger, perhaps Orlando's most famous resident, when is he coming back?

Mike Bianchi:
Tiger's nobody's local resident. He lets nobody into his cocoon. I have no idea what his plans are, until he releases it on his web site.

But I do think there's a chance that he plays Bay Hill before the Masters. He loves to play there. He loves to play in Arnie's tournament. That'd be a good warmup for him.

RCS: So in the meantime, what will keep you busy in Orlando?

Mike Bianchi: Orlando really is a one-team town, when it comes to pro sports. But at least now there's a team that can compete for the championship.

The Magic have been in the league for 20 years and this is their best team since the Shaq days. They have the third-best record in the league, and people are starting to get excited. I think they're for real. I don't know if they're going to win it all, but they're capable. Dwight Howard is a legitimate superstar, the best pure center in the league. They have a monster in the middle surrounded by gunners.

The thing I love about the Magic is that they're maybe the most entertaining team in the NBA. They're fun to watch.

RCS: Is Orlando a good sports town?

Mike Bianchi: It's a tourist town and the population here is more divergent. Orlando is an NBA city, but really a college football town, sort of like Jacksonville, it's an NFL city, but really also a college football town. The natives here grew up as college football fans. We really didn't have any pro teams.

For the longest time, the Dolphins were the only ones in Florida, so we grew up following the Gators, Seminoles, Hurricanes. That was our pro sports. And I'm certainly one of them.

RCS: You're a native Floridian. You grew up in Florida. You went to school in Florida. What was your path to the Orlando Sentinel?

Mike Bianchi: I went to Florida in the early '80s. Back in those days, you didn't have to have a high SAT score to get into Florida. I was a student journalist at UF. While most people were rooting for the team from their school, I was investigating it. Let's just say [Flordia head coach] Charley Pell had a unique interpretation of the NCAA rules.

I started at the Gainesville Sun part-time, and got a job at Florida Today (Melbourne), back to the Sun as a columnist, went to the Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) and then here in Orlando, where I've been for seven years.

RCS: You've become very multi-media, doing a radio show five days a week. In addition to your column, why do you feel compelled to host a radio show as well?

Mike Bianchi: I've been doing radio on and off since I was in Jacksonville. I started this new show about 4-5 months ago with Marc Daniels, a longtime radio guy here. I like it. It's sort of a relief, and a fun thing. You don't have to put too much thought into it, you just talk about what comes to your mind. I follow sports anyway, so I give my opinion. And the thing about radio is that people can call in and talk to you. You get more interaction with people than with newspapers and it's more immediate.

RCS: You also write a blog for the Sentinel.

Mike Bianchi: Blogging is just like writing a mini-column. You're basically writing what you're thinking and how you feel at that moment. It's more spontaneous and there's more interaction. People can comment and carry on a dialogue. People like having dialogues with writers and more media access.

Overall, I think it's good. I don't think blogging causes the downfall of journalism.

RCS: Are you concerned about the future of journalism -- specifically, newspaper journalism?

Mike Bianchi: Right now, things are not looking good. Then again, a lot of businesses are suffering, so we're not unique in that sense. I think there's always gonna be a place for people to get local news.

I see newspapers become more localized. For example, we're concentrating on covering the Magic, Central Florida, the Gators and local high school sports. There's national coverage elsewhere, but there's only one place you can go to find all the local stuff.

I think there will always be a place for a newspaper. It may become more and more of an internet product than an actual print product. But I'm one of those guys who like to get to the driveway to pick up my newspaper. It's like getting a little Christmas present on your driveway. That's the way I look at newspapers. I guess I'm old-fashioned.

RCS: We can't let you get away without talking about Tim Tebow. He's coming back to college. Smart move?

Mike Bianchi: No question. I would rarely say a college player should come back if he's ready for the NFL, but he's different. He's probably as big a superstar as he's ever gonna be. He's the face Florida football and a national celebrity. Why not come back for one more year? And he has a chance to become the greatest player in college football history if he wins another national championship, another Heisman.

RCS: When he does go though, is he going to play quarterback in the NFL?

Mike Bianchi: I heard Mel Kiper the other day talking about how Tebow would be an H-back, a Frank Wycheck-type. Maybe that's where he'll end up. But if guys like Tavaris Jackson can start on a playoff team, don't you think Tim Tebow should at least get a chance? Bruce Gradkowski started the last game of the season for Cleveland. I'm sorry, but Tebow is better than him. If Bruce Gradkowski is an NFL quarterback, then there's got to be a place for Tim Tebow.

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