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To the booth! (Priest Holmes)
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Former Chief Holmes studies for a new career
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
They handed Priest Holmes a playbook, but it didn't contain X's and O's and diagrams of football plays.
This was a playbook for 23 NFL players and former players attending the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp in Mount Laurel, N.J. The aspiring broadcasters were staggered by the volume of instructions and tips for calling a game or working as a studio analyst.
Know the players' names.
Know their numbers.
Their strengths and weaknesses.
And say it clearly, quickly and intelligently.
"I have a new appreciation for anyone who sits in that booth because I didn't realize how much work goes into it," said Holmes, the former Chiefs running back who took part in the program late last month. "Mentally, it was draining."
The program, directed by the NFL Broadcasting Department for the last three years, brought in instructors from the league's broadcast partners who offered their expertise in myriad areas, including field reporting, game analysis, tape study, editing, studio preparation, radio production and control-room operation.
Holmes, the all-time leader in rushing and touchdowns in Chiefs history, discovered it's not so easy on the other side of the microphone.
"As one who has been interviewed throughout my college and professional career, it's pretty much off the cuff," Holmes said. "You talk about the things they're asking you, and you use your experiences to relate.
"Now, when you're in the other position and you're holding the mike and you're conducting the interview, you have to have questions to keep the interviewee speaking. Otherwise, there will be a lot of dead air. If you don't have your information together, you will have a short life in the broadcast business."
Holmes provided color commentary for a tape of the Chicago Bears' 24-20 win over Philadelphia from last season, and he benefited from some lessons from Dick Vermeil, his former coach with the Chiefs, who has had a distinguished career as an analyst.
"He talked to us about preparation," Holmes said. "They were giving him credit as the one who invented the flip board, where you have the offensive and defensive (depth charts on each side) and can use it for tidbits about each player."
Vermeil illustrated the importance of preparation with a game in which he covered, the first Big 12 championship game in which Holmes helped lead Texas to an upset of Nebraska.
"He had his board and talked about how you better know who the third-string running back is because if the first back goes down, and the second and third backs come in, you better make sure you know their name and number and hometown, because you're going to be on the spot when that happens," Holmes said.
"That's what makes these guys so talented, the ones who are so prepared and are ready to call out those names and numbers as if they've known them all their life."
Vermeil said Holmes showed enough potential that he recommended him for a position with NFL Network.
"Priest always had a unique response to everyday questions regarding football but expressed himself in a different way than most guys asked the same question," Vermeil said. "I thought fans might find that interesting coming from one of the great running backs like Priest Holmes.
"He has a great smile. He's a deep thinker. He has a great personality, and for one of those studio shows, he'd do a good job. He has a great understanding of the game, and he sees the game. He sees the real unique little things in the game people ignore or don't take time to evaluate. If they give him the right opportunity, he will be able to come across in a positive way over the air."
Holmes, 35, agreed that he might be better suited working in a studio than as a game commentator.
"I felt very comfortable writing my script, putting it on the teleprompter and reading it off the teleprompter, because you can control that element," Holmes said. "There is not too much that is going to catch you off guard.
"Doing the play-by-play … they're showing a replay and you have an earpiece, and they're telling you they're going to replay this play … boom it's on you. You can't look down and look at that flip card trying to find out information, you've got to know it."
Among the active players who participated in the program were Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew; Cleveland wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and New England guard Matt Light and former players Kyle Brady and Dave Moore.
Each player will receive a DVD of his work that can be given to prospective employers. Of the 40 players who took part in the 2007 and 2008 boot camps, 21 have found broadcasting jobs at the national, regional or local level.
"Jobs are tight right now, but this gives me an opportunity and platform to know that I'll be prepared in the event I take this on," said Holmes, who lives in San Antonio and is involved with his charitable foundation, PriestHolmesfoundation.org that funds scholarships and youth programs.
"Just because you have been successful on the football field doesn't mean it's going to come that easy and be natural," Holmes said of broadcasting. "There's a learning curve, and it's going to take more than four days to prepare you. But it was good to know what it feels like to sit in that chair and have that pressure on you."