Network sports television jobs are not easy to come by—especially those in connection with the NFL—and rare is the commentator who decides to walk away from his employer, even if he or she has been downgraded on the roster.
Since CBS announced earlier this month that former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo would replace Phil Simms as the network’s lead NFL game analyst beginning with the 2017-18 NFL season, the obvious question was what would happened to Simms.
On Wednesday, we got our answer.
Simms will join the cast of The NFL Today studio show this fall, appearing on that weekly Sunday show along with host James Brown and analysts Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Bart Scott. He takes over the seat previously occupied by Tony Gonzalez, who left the show earlier this year because he no longer wants to travel to New York from the west coast. Simms will also continue on the Showtime NFL studio show, Inside The NFL.
“Listen, I didn’t make any comments for a lot of reasons and you want to sit there and think about it,” Simms said by phone on Wednesday. “Initially was my pride hurt? Absolutely. Of course it was…So it took a little bit. Not long. I started thinking about it in a positive way and then I became excited about it. [CBS Sports Chairman] Sean [McManus] had talked to me over the years about maybe going into the studio. I now get to follow the league like I want to. That was probably the most frustrating thing about my job. You do one or two games a week, you can’t really pay attention to the other teams like I wanted to do. When you do games, you are all-in on those games. On Inside The NFL, I get to say things about stuff that I never get to say in a broadcast.”
“I think Phil will be a terrific addition and it will elevate the show,” said McManus. “I think anyone who has seen Phil on Showtime will appreciate what a terrific studio analyst he is. He is a man who has really strong opinions and he is not afraid to mix it up with other staff members in a respectable way.”
McManus said that he and Simms had been discussing this option for a number of years, though last August, upon talking to this column, McManus did not waver on his opinion of Simms as a game analyst.
“Listening to it with a very critical ear, I think Phil is vastly underappreciated, and part of that is the overreaction to social media,” McManus said. “If you listen to what he said during some of the biggest moments of the season—he was the first one to say if Denver won the Super Bowl, Von Miller would be MVP, and he was the first one to criticize Cam Newton for not jumping on his fumble toward the end of the game. He was on top of most of the storylines for most of the game, and that’s part of the reason we won the [Sports] Emmy [for Outstanding Live Sports Special]. I would just suggest that if people listen to Jim and Phil with an open mind, I think they would recognize what a good job they are doing.”
Seven months later, Simms was out for Romo, who joins Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson on the top announce team for the network’s coverage of the NFL on Sunday afternoons and Thursday Night Football.
As CBS Sports found out two weeks ago, talent changes at sports networks rarely go smoothly. The hiring of Romo was always going to be a significant story given his fame, the position CBS was hiring Romo to fill, and the person Romo was replacing. After the announcement by CBS Sports and a subsequent press conference to introduce Romo, the news cycle continued when former NFL quarterback Chris Simms, the son of Phil, a Bleacher Report analyst, and someone who has called games for CBS, claimed on his “Simms and Lekfoe” podcast that he was the one who informed his father that he would be replaced as the network’s top NFL analyst. McManus emphatically said that he spoke to both Phil Simms and his agent prior to the Romo hire. The younger Simms later walked those comments back. “I would like to set the record straight that I was not aware that [CBS Sports Chairman] Sean McManus had called my father’s agent, Steve Rosner, the day before the news broke to let him know that CBS was pursuing Tony Romo for the role of the lead color analyst for their NFL coverage,” Chris Simms wrote on Twitter. “I’d like to apologize to CBS for this misunderstanding.”
Chris Simms also theorized that Nantz knew about the decision and likely signed off on it. Via Chris Bils of The Austin American Statesman’s Hookem.com, here is what Simms said to co-host Adam Lefkoe on his podcast: “I think that certainly a company like CBS, they’re going to run this by Jim Nantz. If I’m going to sit here and be honest with you, yeah that’s what I would envision happens. Jim Nantz is their guy. He is ‘Hello friends.’ He’s kind of the face and voice of the network, and he’s a bigger linchpin than Phil Simms for that network, that’s for sure. I would think in some degree or fashion—I’m not trying to throw Jim under the bus—but yeah, I would think that he signed off on this to some degree.”
On Wednesday with SI.com, Simms addressed what his son said about Nantz on his podcast. Phil Simms said he and Nantz have not talked on the phone since the Romo announcement but they have exchanged phone messages.
“I wanted to wait for things to settle down before we had a chance to talk,” Phil Simms said. “Decisions are made. My relationship with Jim is good. I did not keep Christopher in the loop. That is the truth I didn’t really tell him so he was out there being a son. He was emotional, and to say he is opinionated is an underrated statement. I’m sure, just like me, it hurts your pride and your family’s pride for a bit…I feel kind of bad I did not keep him in the loop but I think he understands more now and has a different opinion of how it all went down.”
Simms said he has spoken multiple times with Esiason over the last week and is approaching the studio show as a job he hopes to have for multiple years.
“Look, I know the business,” Simms said. “I love doing football. I understand the expectations for what you have to accomplish in the studio. I am definitely not short-sighted but I plan on doing it for a long time.”
It’s never easy for network executives when you transition from one long-time broadcaster to a newcomer. Who knows how viewers will react to Simms on The NFL Today, but for the moment, and these things of course change when egos and agents are involved, CBS Sports has a positive story to tell at least in terms of the public transition from Simms to Romo.
“We have been involved in two major transitions in the last two months,” McManus said. “One was Verne Lundquist, which I think was handled incredibly well. Everybody ended up looking good and feeling good, which is often not the case. This is another really big transition. Phil has been part of the CBS NFL family since we got the NFL back in 1998. I didn’t want to anticipate going forward in our NFL coverage without a really prominent role for Phil Simms. I love Tony Gonzalez and I am sorry he is leaving us but when Tony left it made it incredible easy to have a seamless transition to put Phil in the studio. And it is something we talked about for the last few years. So not only do I think we have our lead analyst (Romo) who will hopefully be in that chair for a generation — Phil was there for 20 years — I feel good about the fact that Phil Simms will still have an incredibly prominently role in our NFL coverage.”