In what will be his first visit to a UT classroom since graduating in 1978, Paul Finebaum is coming back to Big Orange Country.
The self-described "Oprah Winfrey of college football," Finebaum has emerged from Alabama as one of the top radio sports talk show hosts in the country; he's returning to his alma mater today to deliver a keynote lecture on the challenge to remain neutral in a social media age as part of the College of Communication and Information's annual Social Media Week.
He will also host his award-winning "Paul Finebaum Show" live from Neyland Stadium at 2 p.m.
The Daily Beacon caught up with Finebaum, a former Beacon sports editor who recalls the days when Pat Summitt's office was actually the size of a broom closet.
We asked him about the SEC Network (he'll be featured four hours each day); his upcoming book ("My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football"); and The Charge (for the record: he said it wasn't a charge.)
Q: What was The Daily Beacon like when you were here?
A: I sought out The Daily Beacon as a volunteer reporter and somehow found my lot in life – it was the center of the universe for me. It was like a bad movie that you didn't think would ever end: we worked together, we went out eating and drinking together, and our lives were intertwined. And in some respects, they still are. It's been a long time, but I still keep up.
Q: How did you get into sports?
A: I did a little bit of news, which I really liked and would bounce back and forth throughout my career. But I gravitated to sports. It was fun covering student government, but I never got the feeling that many people were really (inteterested) – I think really the early stages of my entertainment career were being born.
Q: What do you think the SEC Network will bring to UT?
A: To have a dedicated channel is something that's a long time coming. You're going to see a lot of interaction, things fans want to see. There are going to be thousands of events streamed, because every university will be equipped to do that once the network goes up. It's going to be an opportunity for students, both on campuses and the network.
Q: A lot of Beacon alumni have made it in big market sports journalism, including Woody Paige at the Denver Post/Around the Horn and ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski. How have your lives intersected?
A: I had never spoken to Woody Paige until the other day. We had him on the show because he was pushing his book ("I'm Almost Out of Cha: Woody Paige's Chalkboard Tales"). I reminded him of a line I'll share: As I was leaving campus, Bud Ford (former sports information officer) said to me, 'Finebaum, it took 10 years for the sports information and The Daily Beacon to repair the damages left behind for Woody Paige. You have now destroyed that for perhaps forever. We may never be able to reconcile the two."
Q: And as for Gene?
A: We spent a year together at the Beacon, I was exiting as he was becoming a star. And the day after The New Yorker magazine did a profile on me, I got a call from a literary agent that happened to be in New York. He said, 'You need to do a book.' WoJo's (Wojciechowski) publisher called him with the same thing almost simultaneously. So we sold the book about a year ago, and we were together every week during game day. Most of the heavy work was done right after the BCS championship game. We had about a six-week window before we had to turn it in."
Q: Do you have a clash of allegiances between Alabama and Tennessee?
A: ... I went to UT – that's my school. Yeah, you can't help but live someplace for 30 years and not care about what happens around you and lose a little bit of contact with your school ... but ultimately, I covered Alabama, I didn't go to Alabama. At the end of the day, I'm still a Tennessee graduate.