Nov. 4, 2013
After briefly spending time with at Middle Tennessee State University, Craig Hoffman figured out what he wanted to spend the rest of his life covering sports on the radio. Hoffman transferred to Syracuse University and spent countless hours putting in work at WAER, the student radio station at the University.
Hoffman went on to establish connections outside of Syracuse, which allowed him to get to where he is today, as a host at ESPN Dallas. Hoffman took a few minutes to sit down and discuss the grueling and challenging tasks that have helped him land a couple of jobs since graduating from Syracuse in 2012.
Farzin Vousoughian: When did you know that you wanted to cover sports for a living?
Craig Hoffman: It’s actually kind of funny because my parents knew before I did. I knew when I was 18, a freshman at Middle Tennessee State. The guy who gave me a tour there gave me a tour of the radio station. He had just graduated, so he was not that much older and still worked on the student station. He invited me to see his radio show. They put me on for 10 seconds the first time I was there and I said “you know what? I this is awesome.” I went to Middle Tennessee State for something completely different, music engineering. I got involved and I went home so South Carolina for fall break. Six weeks in, I told my parents I wanted to change majors. I had interest in sports, but not specifically covering it until I was 18.
FV: So how did you go from music to sports?
CH: Music and sports have always been my two biggest things. I was a huge sports fan growing up; I’d always play pickup basketball two or three times a week. I loved playing sports more than watching them. I’ve always been a sports guy and I was also a DJ growing up too. I was a music producer at MTSU, so I fell in love with radio. But, I had the top sports show and I was the lead beat writer and columnist for my student newspaper too. I covered football and both basketball teams heavily while I was there.
FV: You obviously graduated from Syracuse, so what made you want to leave MTSU?
CH: The student involvement at MTSU was not what I was looking for. We had a show called “MTSU Live,” but we were never live. We couldn’t get the crew to make it work, so we taped it. I knew MTSU wasn’t the right place for me and Syracuse was known for being one of the best journalism schools. I gave up what I had, which was a lot. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted to push myself and go for more. I decided it was a move I needed to make.
FV: You interned at Bristol, Conn. for ESPN Radio. How did you land that internship? You must have had good connections to get that.
CH: Part of it was networking. The other part was busting my tail and being qualified. You have to be good and know what you’re doing so you can have the skills. The way ESPN does internships, they treat you like you’re an employee at the entry level. They want you to do back to your school, come back to do the same job, but a level up. There are a lot of alums I got to know from Syracuse, one of them being ESPN fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry. He came on my radio show and outside of my show, he was willing to help me out. I had to sell myself by proving I could do anything they asked me.
FV: What was the biggest takeaway from that internship?
CH: Colin Cowherd gave me some of the best advice on how to be a good host on a national stage, which is where I’d like to end up one day. I’d like to travel and accumulate stories and share them on air. If you want to be a national host, you have to identify with people everywhere. You must know your audience and connect with them. I grew up in the northeast and have made my rounds to different parts of the country. I’m now in the south and I’d like to move west eventually. Colin told me to travel every chance you get. So when I do get that chance, I try to travel because you meet people and get stories. That’s valuable in radio as a host.
FV: You got your first gig in the summer of 2012, just two months after you graduated, with Great Plains Media. What do you think allowed you to get that job?
CH: I was doing sports radio, but part of what got me the job was that I was versatile and had a unique skill set. Most people who do music radio can’t do sports radio and vice versa. I can do both. That’s an odd combination and they needed someone like that. It can teach you efficiency.
FV: Getting that job so quickly out of college while most people struggle to find a job out of college, that must have been an exciting moment for you.
CH: It was a weird situation. There’s obviously excitement. I know very well qualified people who graduated before me and couldn’t get job for months. I had one within two months of graduation. I had some nervousness of being unemployed. But there’s also apprehension. I’m going to the middle of nowhere and don’t know anyone from Kansas, being far from home. What if it doesn’t work? I ended up being terminated in December. During my time, I didn’t fit. I don’t regret taking the job because I don’t know when the next job would have came. I still learned a lot. I knew I was going to have a show, so I took it.
FV: You’re now in Dallas after landing a job with ESPN Dallas in April. Do you feel like you now fit in Dallas?
CH: Fit is really important. I definitely feel like I fit where I am now. Dallas is a smart, passionate sports town. It’s much more big-time. The thing that’s difficult about a town like Lawrence, KU runs everything in that city. If you’re not sucking up to Charlie Weis or Bill Self, the athletic department won’t be happy with you. In a small town, the football coach could theoretically get you fired. There’s been examples of this when people have been taking off the beat and it is something I saw back home in South Carolina. In Lawrence I was trained differently. In Syracuse, the media is competitive and you can ask (Jim) Boeheim anything. I would ask Bill Self a couple hard questions and I don’t think he was very pleased with my questions at times. Some beat writers try to connect with the coach so they can try to get invited for dinner. That’s not how I was taught to do journalism. You have to walk a fine line too with coaches and an athletic department, depending where you are.
FV: I know your current station, ESPN Dallas, was owned by ESPN until a month ago. But you still worked for ESPN and interned for them. It’s every aspiring journalist’s dream to be part of the “worldwide leader in sports.” What’s that like?
CH: It’s a great place to work because ESPN and Disney focus on hiring good people. There are very few people at ESPN who no one likes. You hear rumors about how certain people are perceived by others. But in the end, there are very, very few people who I came across at ESPN who are dislikable or didn’t want to help. It’s part of the culture, especially in Bristol. They encourage you to take a day to talk to someone in another department if it interests you. They’re willing to risk and try new things. It’s like taking 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. You learn a lot as you become a part of it.
FV: You’re 23 right now, but you’ve done so much. What’s your favorite moment covering sports?
CH: I’d say covering Syracuse during the NCAA tournament during my senior year. The most memorable moment, also a sad moment, was when they lost to Ohio State in Boston. In 2012. It was a heart-breaking loss and my final game I covered as a student reporter at Syracuse. But the experience was great and I hope to have more of those along the way.