Thursday, January 3, 2013

Feature Interview: Doug Segrest

Editor's Note by Stan J. Griffin: As a young student journalist for The Crimson White, Doug Segrest was one of the first well-known newspaper sports reporters that I got to know and to become friends with. Unlike some of the other big-name reporters who often greeted me with sometimes snotty attitudes, Doug was always upbeat, positive and encouraging and I have never forgotten that. Fortunately I have been able to maintain a friendship with him in the years that have followed since then, and he has always remained interested in what I am doing and truly respectful and genuinely nice. He came through for me once again by agreeing to be interviewed for our web site and I think you will find his answers insightful and entertaining. Doug, a former Crimson Whiter himself and a longtime sportswriter for The Birmingham News before the decision by that paper to publish three days per week wound up trimming his position there, has made the transition to corporate media and continues to be seen on the ABC 33/40 sports talk show The Zone on Sunday nights at 10:30. He has also recently written his first novel and is involved with another SEC-related project as well. He is a University of Alabama graduate. The following is my recent interview with Segrest.


THE SPORTS CONNECTION: As we all know, the landscape of sports journalism has changed dramatically, with much less of a concentration toward print journalism and a major transition to mainly online media publications, including longtime magazines such as The Sporting News. Even longtime newspapers such as yourself, who had a longtime career with The Birmingham News, found yourself as a victim of this ever-growing trend. Talk about this a bit, and was it something you expected or did any of this come as a shock to you?

DOUG SEGREST: None of it came as a shock. We knew the move would be made from print to digital sooner or later, and I prepared for an exit from The News for three years. While the mode of delivery has changed, the reporting at conventional media like The Birmingham News, Mobile Register, etc., hasn't. You still have quality reporters out there, especially on the beats. I think what has changed is the depth of reporting online, from Yahoo to team websites, which hired professionally changed reporters.   

TSC: Obviously you're human, so did you have any bitter feelings about this or was this all something that you took in stride and tried to keep just a positive approach about.

DS: None of what happened had anything to do with The News. These decisions were made in New York, and were made in other markets, as well. I, personally, think it's short-sighted. But I'm better off financially and I wish nothing but the best to my colleagues who remained. I just hate the aftermath. No one goes into journalism for the money, you do the job because you love the adrenaline rush. A lot of good people are left without their livelihood because of decisions made by people who are looking only at the bottom line.   

TSC: Give us an update of what all you are involved with now.

DS: I've gone to work for a prominent bank and I have a good future there. I'm still moonlighting as a regular on ABC33/40's "The Zone" and I'm free-lancing on a new radio show/website venture called "ITalkSEC.com," which has a terrific future. It's about issues and games -- it's very old school, yet vibrant. Look for ITalkSEC to grow exponentially in the months ahead.   

TSC: You have been a regular commentator on ABC 33/40's sports discussion show The Zone, hosted by Mike Raita, since its inception. Is this something you thought you would ever do, and have you enjoyed doing this a lot since the show started? What do you like most about the show?

DS: I thought I might be a guest on a TV show now and then because I'd done stuff going back to TBS' SEC Basketball Game of the Week in the late 1980s, but nothing regular. Let's face it, I have a newspaper voice and a radio face -- not a good combination for television. But Mike lets Kevin (Scarbinsky) and I -- and before that, Ray Melick -- be ourselves. And I think that clicks with viewers. It must click, we've been on the air since 2004. It's a highlight of my Sunday and I take show prep seriously, although Mike's ideas for topics are always better than mine. He just has that flair......Who am I kidding? I'm a Greek Adonis in real life. Mike makes 'em use an ugly filter to tone me down on TV.    

TSC: Recently you undertook the major endeavor of writing a novel. Tell us about the novel, how you enjoyed doing it, and how well it has been received. Is this something you always wanted to do, and will there possibly be more books on the horizon?

DS: The novel, in my most humble opinion, is a fast, gripping read with a message. It's about three teenagers -- two white, one black -- growing up at the birth of the civil rights movement and it's garnered some positive critical praise. We're actually working on a script now. The book, "A Storm Came Up," is being used by a number of high schools and colleges as a text because of the historical impact (it's set in 1963, and the 50th anniversary is coming up) and ethical and moral conflicts faced in the book. Make no mistake, it's an adult book. The goal is to write more books, and I've started a couple that are much different. But I've got to find time, and right now I don't have a lot available.

TSC: As a longtime sports journalist in the state, you were involved in a lot of feature writing, columns, in-depth SEC coverage and on-site reporting. What type of writing have you always enjoyed the most, certain stories or beats you have gained the most satisfaction from, and key athletes, personalities you have enjoyed covering most if you can narrow those things down at all?

DS: I loved breaking news -- that's why we all get in the business -- but I always thought my strength was feature writing. Telling who people are, what made them this way, and trying to give the readers information that makes them stop and say, "I had no idea." One of my favorite features was on Antonio Langham, talking about the tragedy he overcame to become an All-American. One of my hardest stories was breaking the news of Antonio Langham being declared ineligible and the reasons for it prior to the 1993 SEC Championship Game. To be honest, there are few athletes I haven't enjoyed covering, regardless of the sport or the team. I treat people with respect and very rarely has anyone treated me without the same courtesy. One notable exception: Ellis Valentine, the ex-Expo trying to make a comeback in Triple-A when I was a cub reporter. My greatest moment was playing golf and drinking martinis with Joe DiMaggio at his condo years ago. It took me nine holes to muster the courage to say a word, but once the ice was broken we got along like Mickey and Whitey on a trip to Toots Shor's.

TSC:  Obviously Bo Jackson was a huge star for anyone who has covered or followed sports in this state, and ESPN recently did a quality documentary about the former Auburn Tiger.  What were your impressions about the documentary, and your thoughts about getting to know Bo,, and about getting to both cover and follow his career.

DS: I thought it covered a lot of familiar ground with some new insight, but I thought they missed out a lot on talking to media types who didn't know Bo Jackson from Bo Diddley. They weren't around. All in all, it was still a quality production. Bo was ahead of his time. Bo didn't like the media even when most coaches and athletes did. He still doesn't. But I've always found him easy to deal with, especially one on one.

TSC: At what age did you know for sure that you wanted to be a writer/journalist and was sports journalism always your main focus?

DS: My senior year of college. I was sports editor of the school newspaper and I couldn't wait to get to the office, of practice or a game. So much for law school ...

TSC: As far as some current sports stories affecting the state, obviously most of the sports fans of this state are focused on the national title game with Alabama and Notre Dame. What are your general thoughts about the game, and do you have a prediction yet?

DS: I think Alabama is the better team. But you've seen enough throughout bowl season to prove that where you left off in November or December isn't where you pick back up. Notre Dame's defense, especially in the red zone, is as good as any in the country. The passing game has been fine tuned and may be better that the average attack we saw throughout the regular season. I think it will be a good game, but will fall short of a classic: Alabama 24-13.

TSC:  Do you sense that Alabama fans are overconfident going into the game, or do you think there is a pretty good respect by those fans for the Fighting Irish?

DS: I think most of the Alabama fans who are over 40, and remember Notre Dame's dominance in the series, have a sense of anxiety, and rightfully so. 

TSC: If Alabama manages to get past the Irish and win its third BCS title in four years, where do you think this current Tide dynasty would rank in the annals of college football. Also what do you think it does for Nick Saban's legacy?

DS: I think you immediately put Nick Saban up there with the all-time greats, including Rockne and Bryant. Now, for a lasting legacy on a national basis, he'll need 10 years in Tuscaloosa. That's just my opinion.  I think part of greatness is not only doing something well, but doing it for a long time. For five years, Dale Murphy was the best player in the National League, but he's not in the Hall of Fame because he didn't have enough longevity. I think if Alabama wins the game,  (the possibility of) four of five (BCS crowns) is reasonable. With the exception of the offensive line, Alabama could be a better team in 2013. And the schedule is easier. Five titles in six years is unthinkable in any era, especially the one we're in now with scholarship limitations and the SEC at an all-time high in terms of competitive, championship-caliber teams.

TSC:  Do you ever believe that Saban will leave Bama for another coaching job or does he retire in Tuscaloosa? What do you think would make him leave considering he has what many people believe to be the perfect situation at the Capstone.

DS: I think it depends on a number of factors: Is he bored? Does he get get frustrated with the unreasonable expectations? Does he itch to prove something else? And where does Terry Saban want to live? The last factor is the most important. I believe his next move is to (Saban's lake home in) Lake Burton, (Ga.) personally. I could be proven wrong Jan. 9th.

TSC: Your thoughts about the hiring of Gus Malzahn at Auburn.

DS: I think Bobby Petrino was the best coach out there, but he was unfathomable to too many Auburn people. Gus Malzahn was the best fit, and for that reason a good hire. But I don't think Auburn's biggest problem is Xs and Os. It's culture. There are a lot of people who want to have a say in the way the program is run. It's not dissimilar to what went on in Tuscaloosa before Nick Saban's arrival. Auburn has to fix the culture before it can challenge Alabama again on an annual basis.

TSC: While you have covered many years of college football in this state, you have also covered your share of college basketball. Talk about the state of college hoops in Alabama, and do you think interest is at one of its lowest points in recent years?

DS: Interest is low because Alabama isn't winning and is low as it's been since the end of the David Hobbs era. Yet it's still respectable. At the end of the year, Alabama basketball will rank Top 25 in attendance. I think the biggest problem facing Anthony Grant is the one that faced Hobbs and Mark Gottfried: There aren't the large number of great basketball homegrown players around anymore. Our inner city schools are struggling and a lot of great athletes aren't playing athletics. Many have to work. Some lose interest. Others drop out. So that reduces the number of available athletes in a state where football comes first. It's not a black-or-white issue. It's a talent, education and survival issue.

TSC: Obviously anyone who has ever read your work knows that you are a big baseball fan, and specifically a fan of the Atlanta Braves. Would you say that baseball has always been your first love in terms of sports, and I guess what you consider some of your biggest moments in terms of baseball teams or players that you have followed and covered? I know you have also been able to share your love of baseball with your family too.

DS: Baseball is the one sport I could cover and take my kids with me to watch games, thanks to the relationship I had with the Birmingham Barons. My son, who's a ninth grader and dreams of being an MLB general manager, is obsessed with the game. He loves football, too, but he works at being a baseball player and can tell you what Roger Hornsby hit batting against left-handed knuckleball pitchers with a hangover from 1917-1923. We went to seven Braves' games last year, and all of them were memorable, including a 15-13 victory against the Phillies after the Braves overcame a 6-0 deficit against Roy Halladay, to the wild-card loss and the worst application of the infield fly rule in the history of mankind. My memories are mostly at the local level. In Nashville, Leon Roberts was a veteran slugger who became the Sounds' interim manager. I'd spent nights at Paterson Field watching him as a young buck for the Montgomery Rebels. In Birmingham, I got to cover Michael Jordan (and, as part of a feature story, follow him and Charles Barkley all over town, including a stop at Sammy's). Joe Borchard was the best minor-leaguer I ever covered, but he didn't pan out in the bigs. Gio Gonzalez was one of the best interviews. Greg Paiml was a superb feel-good story, since I'd first met him as a Barons' batboy. In essence, that's the great thing about sports. The stories change annually, but it's the threads that weave that make it all interesting. What better example than Monday's game, with Alabama and Notre Dame meeting for the first time in eons playing for everything?

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