First, I want to thank David for speaking with us. He is a prominent reporter covering the Big 12 and has been unfairly criticized at times if he doesn't always say what a fan base wants to hear. We've been under the impression that he's hated us for years. But as you'll see, we were wrong.
VTM: Ok, let's just get this out of the way. On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you hate us?
David Ubben: Only slightly less than Mike Leach hates running the ball, so assign a value to that as you see fit.
VTM: Ok, now I'm just confused, but let's move on. On a serious note, I'm sure you have to develop some pretty thick skin in a role like yours. If you say something good about Baylor, then 9 other fan bases get bent out of shape. Does that ever get old? By the way, nobody is reading this so you really hate Baylor too, right?
David Ubben: You know, it's really not that hard. When I first came to ESPN, some of the mail and tweets I'd get were a little jarring at first, but it doesn't really bug me now. It's not so much thick skin as much as the knowledge that most of these people don't have any idea what they're talking about. If someone wants to bring up a legitimate point, I'll listen. Maybe I'm wrong and I'll learn something, move on and be smarter for it. If somebody just wants to name call and spew hate, I'd say it says a lot more about them than it does me, and I can't do much beyond ignore it.
It's part of the job. It means people are listening and people care, so really, it's a good thing. I'm pretty sure I've been called a homer and a hater for every team in the Big 12, which I'd say is a decent indicator of impartiality. I remember when I first took the job and picked Texas Tech sixth in the Big 12 South. Even Neal Brown gave me a hard time about it (In jest, sort of. I think.), and Tech hadn't finished that low in a long time. Well, Tech finished fifth in the South that year, ahead of only Texas.
I've found that if you write what you truly believe, it comes through to readers, and my only responsibility is to fairness, objectivity and my current employer. That goes for whether I'm writing a breaking news story on an arrest or an opinion piece.
I'm going to be wrong sometimes. We all are. I'm OK with that, but I expect any opinion I'm espousing to be backed with some kind of facts or research. That's my job.
Naturally, you're going to write nicer things about teams that are doing well. That's called objectivity. It's never personal. It's reality. I think those who buy into the popular theory of me hating Tech are ignoring the reality of Tech's shortcomings since I've covered the conference. Until this year, anyway.
VTM: Ryen Russillo has said on several occasions that the 2008 Tech/UT game was the best college football experience/environment that he's ever witnessed in person. What is the best college football experience that you've ever been able to see live?
David Ubben: I wish I had been able to go to that game. I remember listening to that game on the radio in the middle of a 14-hour journey back to Columbia after covering Missouri's game at Baylor in 2009. I am very thankful for major media corporations' travel budgets, but some of my favorite memories in this business come from slumming it on the road as a student reporter for the Columbia Missourian.
To your question, I have to go with three games I've seen in person: Texas A&M vs. Texas in 2011, my first Red River Rivalry game in 2009 and Texas A&M vs. Nebraska in 2010.
The two trips to College Station were just incredible because of all the emotion involved. A&M consistently had some of the best crowds in the Big 12, but those two games were ones that the volume was certainly turned up to 11, if you will. Red River is just an amazing experience on its own, and that was a great game with crazy storylines, too. Sam Bradford played his final snap as a college quarterback that day. The environment is something that has to be experienced to be understood. There's emotion in that stadium every year. A meaning and a real sense that the fans sense the meaning behind that takes a crowd to another level. All three of those games had that.
VTM: And to follow up on that, do you have any personal rooting interests? If so, do you still get to enjoy watching your own favorite team play (because we're all fans) or has the nature of your job and covering all teams sorta taken away from your ability to do that?
David Ubben: Honestly, not really. I moved to Northwest Arkansas when I was four, so I grew up on Arkansas basketball. This is what happens when the local team goes to three Final Fours before I turned eight. I grew up idolizing guys like Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck, Scotty Thurman and Kareem Reid. Nolan Richardson used to live on Paradise Valley in Fayetteville, my home golf course when I was growing up. Playing a couple rounds with him was one of the highlights of my preteen years. I also grew up a huge NBA fan. I got into college football a little later and Arkansas is really where I learned to love it, but I haven't lived there since 2005 or been to a game I wasn't covering since 2007, so I've detached myself quite a bit.
I never really had an emotional attachment to anything at Missouri, to be honest. I was sort of oblivious to Missouri sports until my freshman year back in 2005. I look back on my college years very, very fondly, but mostly because of what I learned and the people I got to know at the J-school and elsewhere on campus, not for anything any team did on the field. I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist since my sophomore year of high school, and I knew doing that job well meant turning in your fan card. I readily handed it over, and I'm better at my job for doing so. It's much easier and I can do my job knowing my perspective isn't colored in any way. That's especially true in covering the Big 12, having grown up in SEC country. I think I just outed myself as a Big 12 hater to the conspiracy theorists out there.
VTM: SEC Country, now we know! I knew this tin foil hat would work! Ok, back to the questions. Will you be covering Men's Basketball? Can you give us any insights on what else you'll be doing at FSSW?
David Ubben: A little bit. Exactly what that will look like is still a little blurry. It won't be quite as comprehensive as our football coverage, but I'll be around some. I'll also be chipping in a little bit on Mavericks coverage and Cowboys a little bit during the offseason, but this is still our first go-around together, so we're still figuring out what my role will look like beyond Big 12 football, which is why I was hired. Right now, we're just trying to get through the season. It's always a bit of a grind. I just want to help our site and network be as good as it can possibly be.
VTM: Do you ever see Erin Andrews in the Fox Sports Cafeteria? What does she like to eat?
David Ubben: Ha, well, I just joined Fox in August, so I haven't even been out to the offices in LA. I spend quite a bit of time on Saturdays in the studio in Irving, though. I'm not sure when or if an LA trip is going to happen, but I know I'll look forward to it a lot more than I looked forward to my treks to Bristol. I crossed paths with Erin a couple times when we both worked at ESPN, but I can't really speak to her eating habits or any other details.
VTM: Please let us know if you ever find out. So, Kliff Kingsbury is the first coach in Big 12 history to get off to a 6-0 start in his first season. Can you share with us some of your thoughts on his meteoric rise through the coaching ranks and the early success he's enjoyed at Tech? It still baffles my mind that 5 years ago he was making $20,000/year as a quality control guy at UH.
David Ubben: It's not too surprising. He knows the game and he's worked under some very, very bright minds in the game. If you impress people like Bill Belichick, Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen and Kevin Sumlin, you stand a great chance of moving up very quickly. Their word carries a ton of weight in the coaching profession. It also helps to get lucky. Would any other school but Tech have taken a chance on him as a head coach this early? I highly doubt it. But like I wrote at the time, it was a risk worth taking. It has paid off even better than maybe even the most optimistic Tech fans could have hoped. The Tuberville mess was frustrating for Tech fans, as you guys well know. It led to Kingsbury, though. I think there's a Rascal Flatts song about that.
VTM: How do you see the Big 12 shaping up now that we're halfway through the season? I picked Baylor to win the conference back in July and everybody laughed at me. I still say they're the frontrunner but a lot can happen over the next six weeks. How do you see things shaking out?
David Ubben: People call it a flip-flop, as if you're not allowed to change your opinion when presented with new information. I'd picked Oklahoma State since January, but the game against West Virginia had me officially convinced. Baylor's the best team in the Big 12. I've said it since January, and I still believe it: The Big 12 champion will have two losses at the end of the year. Baylor is making me wonder if I underestimated the league's best team, but I'll stick to it for now.
My official guess: Baylor wins the real Big 12 title like K-State did last year and represents the league in the BCS, but shares the title with some combination of OSU, Texas or Texas Tech.
I wouldn't have laughed at you back in August, though. I said multiple times that outside of the four accepted contenders, Baylor had the best shot to make a run. If the defense kept playing like it did in November, the Bears would be a force. We're seeing that happen thus far, though what Daniel Sams did to Baylor's front seven last week makes me think that prediction of two losses for the Big 12 champ might be on the money.
VTM: These next six weeks are going to be a lot of fun. And along those lines, Mack Brown said after the Ole Miss loss that they could still win the Big 12. Beating Oklahoma last week was another step in the right direction for Mack. Do you think they have a legitimate shot? Also, you hate Texas too, right?
David Ubben: They've already won a third of their games in the league, and going 4-2 or 5-1 the rest of the way should win them a share. In this league, that's far from an impossible task. Texas won't play a team (besides perhaps Baylor) that it can't beat. The defense is still leaky and Oklahoma inexplicably didn't exploit the loss of Jordan Hicks, but if Texas stays committed to the running game, it's possible.
That said, unless Texas goes undefeated the rest of the way and finishes 11-2 with a BCS win, Mack resigns walks away. He may still do it even if that 11-2 season happens, which I don't see happening.
VTM: Finally, what do you like to do outside of covering football? I find myself having to step away at times and I don't even do this full time. What do you like to do to get away from the job and relax?
David Ubben: Nothing too complicated. I just got married in March, so for now, I'm still figuring that out. It's a big, welcomed time investment, so I'd say that's my main hobby. We love food, so I like getting out to some of Dallas' best restaurants. (Shout out to Sissy's Southern Kitchen, Pecan Lodge, The Porch and 20 Feet). I'm not a huge reader during the season, but I try to get in as much as I can during the offseason. I read a lot of marriage books last offseason before our March wedding (Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage was the best), and I'm looking forward to finishing The Explicit Gospel, written by the lead teaching pastor at my church. I'm also a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell's theorizing and Don DeLillo's fiction.
I've played basketball and golf for pretty much forever, so I like to do that when I can, but my weekly pickup hoops game is on hiatus because of widespread newborn/impending baby duties. (That's a less than subtle hint if any of your readers have an open spot in the north Dallas area.)
I used to go to 10-15 shows a semester in college, but I'm terrible about getting out to them in Dallas. I think Arcade Fire and The Walkmen are the only shows I've seen since I moved here almost four years ago. I'm just so much busier now than I was in college. A familiar refrain, I am sure.
My wife will tell you I'm something of a TV junkie, too. With Breaking Bad over now, my current shows are The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation and Parenthood. We've been known to partake in quite a few cooking shows, as long as there's a competitive element to the show, i.e. Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen. I also like to play a little NCAA 14 on the 360 and the NBA2K and FIFA franchises.
As you may have surmised, I am not much of an outdoorsman.
Thanks again David! Please follow him @DavidUbben if you aren't already doing so. One of the best at covering the Big 12 and maybe someday we'll find out what Erin Andrews likes to eat so we can send her a few cases of soup or chocolates, or whatever she likes.