Bucknuts had an opportunity to visit with ESPN’s Lee Corso on Thursday, following a breakfast in Dayton.
The former coach is one of the most recognizable faces in college football – and he is just as entertaining in person as he is on television.
Corso broke into college football in the 1950’s as a quarterback at Florida State. His teammate and roommate while he was with the Seminoles was none other than Burt Reynolds.
“Burt was a very good football player,” Corso said. “He was a tremendous runner and was also very good on defense.
“But my favorite story to tell about Burt was that he was so good looking, I would send him out for bait. He would go to the student union and bring back one gorgeous girl and one kind of ugly girl. But I quickly learned that his ugly girl was better than anything I could get on my own.”
After his playing days were over, Corso was an assistant college football coach for 11 years: one season as a grad assistant at FSU, seven seasons as Maryland and three at Navy.
His first head coaching job was at Louisville. He then moved on to Indiana, where he coached for a full decade.
“I enjoyed my time at Indiana,” Corso said. “I lasted 10 years and nowadays that’s a lot of years for a coach to last at Indiana.
“It is a great school with a lot of great people. Two of my kids have degrees from Indiana.”
While leading the Hoosiers, Corso had a few opportunities to face off against Ohio State and Woody Hayes.
Corso was asked to share some good Woody stories.
“Well, there’s 100 of them,” he said. “One of my favorites was when we got ahead of them 7-6 at Ohio Stadium and I stopped the game to get picture of the scoreboard and Woody was not happy. Woody was never behind Indiana for 25 years. Not only did he never lose to them, he was never even behind them. Best thing I ever did was get ahead of Woody and take that picture under the scoreboard.”
After leaving Bloomington, Corso began his television career. But he still had the itch to coach.
“When I got fired at Indiana, I went to ABC and began doing (United States Football League) games on TV,” he said. “The next year, I took the coaching job with the Orlando Renegades of the USFL. After that, I retired from coaching. I always said it was easy to retire from coaching because they stopping calling.”
Corso then landed at ESPN where he has spent the last 17 years.
He is now famous across the county for his work on College GameDay, a show that began with modest roots.
“The GameDay show began years ago with Beano Cook and Tim Brando and they would do the show from the studio,” Corso said. “I eventually joined them into studio.”
Corso explained why the show decided to take its act on the road.
“One time, we went to Florida State-Notre Dame and it became a huge hit,” he said. “We did it that one time, and now we go on the road 14 times a year.”
Corso never expected GameDay would grow to be as big as it is today.
“Not really,” he said. “But when we got back from that Florida State-Notre Dame game, I said, ‘We might have something big here,’ and I predicted everyone would be going on the road. It gives you that instant reaction from the fans and the ratings are good.”
After Craig James left GameDay, he was replaced by former OSU quarterback/captain Kirk Herbstreit.
Corso and Herbstreit don’t agree all that often, but they have good on-air chemistry. Corso’s famous catch phrase, “Not so fast my friend!” is more often than not directed at Herbstreit after one of his predictions.
“Herbie is a superstar in the making,” Corso said. “He’s very articulate and he knows what he’s doing. He’s loyal and he’s a great tribute to Centerville and his parents. He’s a very, very fine analyst and he has a tremendous future.”
GameDay requested to come to Columbus for the 2004 OSU-Michigan game, but was reportedly turned away by OSU.
However, look for the GameDay crew to be in Columbus Sept. 10 for the Texas-OSU showdown.
“Oh yeah, I would think if we’re going to go anywhere, we have to go to Texas-Ohio State,” Corso said. “It just sounds great. Texas-Ohio State. Two top five teams. I always love going to Columbus – there’s no better fans in the country.”
When asked if he believes the bad blood between OSU and ESPN is a thing of the past, Corso replied: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
However, he did come to the defense of Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
“The guy won four national titles at Youngstown State, then he comes to Ohio State and wins a national title and beats a great Miami team,” Corso said. “The guy has done a great job. There’s some adverse public relations right now and whatever happens, the public relations have to be cleared up. But, I don’t think it’s anywhere as bad as the media portrays it, but that’s just my opinion.”
Corso thinks very highly of Ohio State, and he says it’s not just lip service.
“I don’t think there’s any place better than Ohio State when it comes to college football,” he said. “I say that because of the great tradition and how the whole state of Ohio rallies around the Buckeyes. I’ve always had great respect for Ohio State and I still do.”
You can expect to see Corso on College GameDay for many years. He’s not tired of putting on those mascot heads just yet.
“As long as I can keep stealing, I’ll keep doing it,” he said. “My job is like stealing. I fly first class, stay in first class hotels, eat good food, see the best games in the country… and they pay me! You can’t beat that.”
Corso says his favorite part of the job is: “Going to the games and meeting the students and players.”
The entire Corso interview will be aired in a future Bucknuts Radio Hour program.