ATHENS — Verne Lundquist has my dream job. In fact, I’d venture to say that he has a lot of people’s dream job.
This Minnesota born sportscaster is the lead play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports’ broadcasts of SEC football games, does some NCAA Tournament basketball games and gets to sit in a tower next to the 16th green at Augusta National to call the shots during that little invitational tournament known as the Masters.
Now 75 years old, he has worked countless other events, seen a lot of sports history made and made some famous calls, but the aforementioned are his regular gigs. When he’s not working, Lundquist spends his days with his wife Nancy at their home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where in his younger days he regularly took advantage of the great skiing.
Well, Mr. Lundquist was in Athens for a few days this past week. Actually, he makes at least one trek to Athens every year as the Bulldogs almost always have at least one SEC game of the week that CBS televises. But in this particular case, he was in town to impart his considerable knowledge on the local citizens and students at the University of Georgia.
On Tuesday, he served on a panel that discussed UGA’s “Heritage of Sport” at the school’s special collections library. On Wednesday, he spoke to broadcast majors at the Grady College of Journalism. In between, he and Nancy tooled around town and took a day trip down to Madison with their good friends Loran and Myrna Smith.
Fortunately, I caught up with Lundquist briefly before he and his wife jetted back to Colorado for a well-deserved rest. Here are his answers to a few of the questions I was able to slip in before he left town:
Q: You travel all over the world. Where does Athens fall on your spectrum of places to visit?
Lundquist: “We’ve been here a lot. It’s very rare that we don’t get at least one game here. Athens is one of my favorite college towns, just because of the location of the stadium on campus, the beauty of the campus, the importance of athletics and academics on campus. I grew up in Austin, so the University of Texas and Austin are going to be high on my list until the day I die. But I’d put Athens among the top two or three on my list. I liken Athens to Madison, Wis. When I say that, I can hear them yelling in Tuscaloosa and Auburn. I understand that, but we always look forward to coming to Athens. It’s the whole package here. I love the stadium and I love the fact that it sits in this natural bowl on campus, and it’s so much a part of campus life here.”
Q: What did you make of the recent head coaching change?
Lundquist: “My first year of doing the SEC, Jim Donnan was here. My second year was when Mark (Richt) came in and I dealt with him throughout his tenure at Georgia. He was one of my favorite guys in the SEC, just from a personal perspective. He was always so pleasant and congenial with us. (But) I think I understand (making the change). He had a very good and very extensive run here. He got caught with the tag of “couldn’t win the big one,” and I think it wound up costing him in the end. And it might be for the better.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Kirby Smart?
Lundquist: “They made one heck of a hire. Kirby Smart, and we chatted about this last night, we talked about how long he stayed with Nick (Saban) at Alabama. And many of us who had dealt with Kirby over the years always felt he was going to be a terrific head coach someday. In my view, he was patient enough to wait for the best opportunity, and the best opportunity for him quite obviously was in Athens. I think he’s going to be terrific. I really do.”
Q: Saban didn’t allow much media access to assistant coaches. How well do you know Smart?
Lundquist: “We (CBS) did get a little more access than Nick normally allows (to assistant coaches), so we did talk with Kirby quite a bit. First of all, I find him to be a gregarious man. I think he’s going to interact with the fan base on a very, very high and personable level. I just like his personality. I’ll leave it to Gary Danielson to do the Xs and Os with regard to Kirby, but I just like him.”
Q: What’s Smart’s reputation among SEC broadcasters?
Lundquist: “I can tell you this from Gary: (Smart) has an enormous amount of respect among his fellow coaches and certainly from the analysts who have done the Alabama games. He’s considered a tactical master when it comes to defensive schemes.”