First published in The War Eagle Reader. Find it here.
It’s been said that you shouldn’t find a career — a career should find you. If that’s the case, opportunity is chasing down Cole Cubelic on many fronts.
The former Auburn football player is on the verge. Through his daily radio show, his appearances on Paul Finebaum, his far-too-sporadic live game broadcasts, his football analysis for al.com, and countless other media pops, Cubelic is increasing both his visibility and his credibility.
Disclosure: I consider Cole a friend, professionally. We have talked about profession-related issues, and he has been kind enough to include me as a guest on several occasions (including a tribute to Philip Lutzenkirchen that I was honored to participate in).
As the 2014 season finishes, however, even in the face of a major setback (the loss of his Sun Belt gig via the end of the CSS network), Cubelic has as much reason to be optimistic about next season as Muschamp-obsessed Auburn fans do.
Several factors work in his favor. From Twitter to Finebaum to al.com, he combines solid x’s and o’s (particularly analyzing offensive/defensive line play) with neutrality and an engaging on-air manner that is not Millen-esque hyperactive.
He learned the football side as a center and team captain for Auburn from 1997-2000. Soon after graduating, he and former teammate Ben Leard started an Auburn pre-game show for a Huntsville station, which led to weekly appearances on WJOX. And the ride started.
Among his most recent high-profile opportunities was to join Paul Finebaum’s panel for a live combination of game analysis and annoying callers during the Iron Bowl. Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, Marcus Spears and Booger McFarland also participated.
For all the unknowns going in, Cubelic thinks it worked well. While national media were, as usual, fascinated with the Tammys and Phyllises, he was impressed with how Finebaum managed a live machine with an excess of moving parts — even when the phone system crashed.
“One thing about Paul is he knows how to delegate: how to get more out of somebody, how to cut someone off,” he said. ”Maybe there was mystery as far as direction and where the game was going to go, but not about content.”
The broadcast also provided Cubelic with his first visit to the SEC Network studios in Charlotte, and he came away impressed with the technology (“like a kid in Toys R Us”) and grateful for the interaction with other former players turned broadcasters. ”It was the closest thing to a locker room,” he said.
He was referring to media talk more than locker-room banter, of course. Even away from sports, Cubelic shows a personal media-centrism that fits his career’s choice. His Twitter followers, along with Birmingham residents, remember how he became an instant on-the-scene reporter during the Birmingham icestorm of late January.
Driving from Huntsville to Auburn, Cubelic found himself caught in Birmingham just as the weather turned Shrek-ugly. He ended up overnighting as his mother’s house, which allowed him to chronicle from Ground Zero for those two days.
On Instagram and Twitter, garnering hundreds of RTs and “likes,” he provided updates to residents whose family members remained stranded. “You feel obligated to continue to document it, and how you made it from Point A to Point B,” he said. “It was all real time. I know people would be interested in it.”
Such is Cole’s presence on Twitter that his friends even dared him to tweet his own wedding. Which no one would do. But he did, sort of. As his bride, Katherine, entered, and everyone turned to look, Cole pulled his phone from his tux pocket and snapped a photo into a ready-made tweet and sent it off before anyone knew (including her, or worse, his grandmothers). It was almost the perfect crime. As he recalls, “My sister-in-law saw me and gave me the death stare.”
But of course it’s the TV and radio appearances, not the storm or wedding tweets, that build his reputation, and he is doing just that, according to his former broadcast partner, Joe Davis.
Davis has seen Cubelic grow from more of a smart football approach to a relaxed balance. “When we start out, we want to be perfect, so we start thinking about how we’re supposed to sound,” Davis said. ”As time goes on, you realize the importance of being yourself and letting your personality show through.”
For Davis, Cubelic’s sports talk radio experience has helped there. “It’s a rare to have the guy who has the combination of being a game analyst and hosting his own show,” he said.
That show, on Huntsville’s WUMP from 6-10 a.m., gives him yet more valuable on-air experience. Balancing guests, callers and commentaries against the need to fill four hours of airtime is a challenge. But it gives him the opportunity “to get back in front of a listener base that is already familiar to me,” along with the chance to show his stuff.
Throw in a weekly gig on ESPN Pensacola 101.1, from 1-2 p.m. Tuesdays (his only Auburn-centric project), and it’s obvious Cubelic has his bases covered, along with a few outfield spots.
Yes, he has faced disappointments. Even with the excess of bowl games, he was not able to pick up an analyst’s gig. And a 2012 DUI arrest (all charges were dropped) provides sporadic social media harassment.
All that, plus he lacks the name recognition of a former national championship QB or a long-time NFL player. “For him to get the national opportunity that he deserves, he has to fight that,” Davis said. ”To get those top-level jobs is going to take people taking a chance on him, more than just him being a name.”
But looking ahead and not behind, Cubelic knows that he is building a portfolio that will provide a solid foundation for the sports media roller coaster ride that has found him.