Matt Coatney appears calm at an NCAA Tournament venue, but he was busy.
By Randy York
Where else but Nebraska can we use two signature words and a mandatory exclamation point like “You Betcha!” in a headline and countless Husker fans across the state and around the country immediately know we’re talking about Matt Coatney, the play-by-play voice of Big Red women’s basketball. Happy 49th birthday today, Matt! Glad you could experience the last milestone before nifty 50 in a place so close to Marina del Rey and with players and coaches who love you every bit as much as you love them. Saw on Twitter where you scratched getting wished “Happy Birthday” by Bo Pelini’s cat on your bucket list. Know how much that has to mean to you personally, but we’re going to dig a little deeper into why everyone even remotely connected to Nebraska Athletics wishes you the best on this special day. Should your No. 4-seeded Huskers (26-6, 12-4 Big Ten) beat No. 12 seed BYU (27-6, 24-4 West Coast Conference) Monday at 8 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Huskers will advance to their third Sweet 16 in five years.
Heady stuff, to be sure, but we want to salute you and your trusty sidekick, Jeff Griesch, on your birthday for something no one except N-Siders would know – the flawless way both of you handled your last-minute appearance on last Friday night’s Husker Sports Nightly Show, carried worldwide on Huskers.com. You both did an amazing job dissecting the Husker men’s NCAA Tournament loss to Baylor in San Antonio while previewing what Connie Yori’s team would face in its own talented Regional in Los Angeles. Talk about consummate professionals. Who could have guessed how two guys, including one only two days removed from his 49th birthday, would pinch-hit for Greg Sharpe, who was all set to host Sports Nightly from San Antonio on Friday night?
Mike Elliott, Director of Broadcast Operations for the Husker IMG Sports Network, explained how quickly things change when a team is singularly focused on winning its first NCAA Tournament game. The initial charge was win and move on. Losing and a quick flight back to Lincoln were not part of the collective mindset. About 90 minutes after the game ended, Elliott left the arena and was driving men’s play-by-play man Kent Pavelka back to the team hotel when he learned about the team returning immediately to Lincoln. Members of the travel party were quickly packing at the hotel to get on the buses leaving soon for the airport. The change altered plans for Sharpe to host Friday night’s show at a non-public location in San Antonio.
After Quick Analysis, Everything Fell into Place
Since everyone would be in the air before Sports Nightly even went on the air, the broadcast team analyzed the possible solutions. Lane Grindle and Ben McLaughlin were in Iowa City calling the baseball game, and it would be nearly impossible for them to stay connected at the Iowa baseball stadium to host Sports Nightly. Furthermore, both were unable to watch much of the men’s game, so neither would be equipped to talk with callers about what happened. That’s why Elliott reached out to Coatney. “I knew that he was set up and able to connect from court-side at Pauley Pavilion,” Elliott said, “because he tested that out during pregame of our men’s game.” There was one major catch, however. Coatney could not be court-side at Pauley Pavilion because other NCAA qualifying teams would be practicing during Sports Nightly.
Being the team players they are, Coatney and Griesch worked with the UCLA Media Relations staff to find an alternate location with reliable connectivity to get Sports Nightly on the air. At this point, coincidences helped enable a solution. The Husker broadcast tandem ran into former Nebraska Sports Information Director Bill Bennett, now retired as an assistant SID at UCLA. He was there while Coatney and Griesch quickly tore down their court-side setup. It helps that Coatney was a cryptologic linquist in the U.S. Navy because he learned long ago how to get to the bottom of things quicker than most colleagues.
UCLA found an executive conference room that was available. Coatney did a basic setup and tested the connections with Elliott in Texas. Fortunately, it all worked out. “Matt and Jeff finished setting up, rigging up a mini-radio studio in the executive conference room at Pauley Pavilion,” Elliott said, adding that there was a bonus in all the hubbub. NCAA tournament officials in Los Angeles had just ended a meeting in that same conference room, so there was leftover food for two hard-working Huskers who were rearranging all of their broadcast gear, laptops, and iPads before transitioning smoothly and professionally on air. “I emailed them all the copy necessary to do the show, and as you heard, they nailed it,” Elliott said. “Their hosting became the perfect opportunity to help our fans pass the NCAA Tournament baton from the men to the women. Their ability to talk about the men’s game was excellent. Griesch had great insight into seeding and advancing and other NCAA Tournament information that no other radio host could have had.”
Elliott: A Quick, Successful Troubleshooter
Once the return flight was moved up to Friday, the team charter was scheduled to land in Lincoln by 7:30 p.m., giving Sharpe the projected opportunity to be at the Haymarket studios in time for the 8 o’clock hour of Sports Nightly. The charter flight, however, had mechanical problems and was delayed in leaving San Antonio. The team, along with Sharpe, Pavelka and Matt Davison, did not land in Lincoln until after 9:30 p.m., a half hour after Sports Nightly was done for the night. “So much for the plan of Greg taking over for the final hour,” said Elliott, who flew commercially to San Antonio and became a one-man troubleshooter after learning the post-game travel plans had changed. “I was working two cell phones on calls and texting, and on my laptop, and on my iPad, making all the changes and coordination to pull this all off,” Elliott told me. “I’m glad Sunday is Matt’s birthday. Hopefully, he’ll take some time to catch his breath and enjoy L.A.”
At this point, Coatney is concentrating on the little things again. On his Twitter page, for instance, his goal for Monday is a simple one – “not allow ESPN cable pullers to knock us off the air by shorting out all of press row.” He wasn’t kidding. That actually happened Saturday. Marc Boehm, Nebraska’s executive associate athletic director in charge of both Husker basketball programs, was quick to the point in his Tweet after the Husker women defeated Fresno State in Saturday’s NCAA opener for the Huskers. He tweeted: “One game day away from PBA magic!”
Yes indeed. If Nebraska defeats BYU Monday night in LA on ESPN2 (the free live radio broadcast is on Huskers.com), we could be looking at a monster Lincoln Regional next weekend. The inherent beauty of something like that happening simplifies life for a guy like Mike Elliott. If anything goes wrong, it’s only a block or two to the studio for him to fix, not deep in Texas…or somewhere out on the West Coast. And for that, he would be thankful.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thanks for the great article on the Husker Sports Network team. So much goes on behind the scenes and veteran broadcasters like Matt, Jeff, Kent, Greg, Mike and all the rest make it sound so easy. They’re real pros! Dennis Ernest, Gering, Nebraska
I cannot wait for Husker women’s basketball with Matt doing the play-by-play. I purposely do not watch the women’s game, especially the later game times because I live in the Eastern Standard Time Zone and work the next day. Instead I listen to the archive of the game on the Internet just to hear what Matt has to say. He’s the best. His personality lights up the circuitry over the web. God love you all and Go Big Red. Perry Barta, Battle Creek, Michigan