The following are highlights of a Back Sports Page interview with Jonathan Coachman:
On whether or not his time in WWE helped him with ESPN: “It was a lot. Every time I sit on set on all the big shows I know, whether it’s on the 11PM Sports Center or the Sunday NFL show, everything I do, I find myself mentally referring back to the things I learned working with Vince McMahon and everybody in the WWE. People do not understand how difficult it is to entertain, act and make people believe, when most people don’t want to believe it is true. The one thing about working with the Rock, and I have people mentioning it every day to me, is about the skits that we did for so long. To see the evolution of our relationship going from him abusing me to him coming back and us doing things as we were at the same level, was awesome for me. The decision for me to get into the ring and get involved on a physical aspect was a difficult one for me. It was one I felt I needed to do because I had the size of 6’3 and 240lbs and it was something that would earn me the respect of the boys, while making me one of them. What I didn’t’t realize was what would happen and that I would learn to entertain on the highest level… the timing, how you say things, your facial expressions, you know all the little things I utilize today. I wish all of our anchors could go through all that training, knowing that Vince is watching your every move and he is ready to shred you and rip you apart. I lasted almost ten years in that environment, and because of that, it allowed me to be ahead of the game when I got here. I felt like I was working for Mr. Rodgers compared to Mr. McMahon. The different things I did over my career with WWE, has helped me when I am doing things at the highest level. ESPN is the highest level and that is not lost on me, and I do not forget that. Every single day when I come to work weather I am sick or I am healthy. I’m out to give it all I got because I want to improve, because I care. I love people who care and who show me that they want to give an effort in life, whatever it is, because you know you are gonna get my best effort.”
On personal stories he has regarding Vince McMahon: “Vince McMahon is a very unique guy, and he does not trust a lot of people. He had trust in me and because of that, he wanted me around him a lot, whether I was hosting something or not. If he wanted to yell and couldn’t find someone that he couldn’t yell at, he would yell at me just to get it out of his system. Because of Vince having the ability to trust me, and the fact I did anything he needed me to do, the first time we went over to the middle east to Afghanistan, I was one of the 18 people who got to go to represent WWE because I was able to talk, and get in the ring if I needed to. I did get in the ring as I had a match with Ric Flair over there, and I lost to him via the figure four leg lock, and it is a highlight in my career. Some people call it the figure two, but it is what it is (laughs). While there, I got to see firsthand what life was like out in the desert. It was a scary, as we were in the line of the fire, and we went in places that nobody really got to see up close. Those are some the greatest experiences I will look back on because of that relationship I had with him. I will be indebted to him. We get along great to this day, and if there was an opportunity to be on Monday Night Raw and do Sports Center at the same time I would that in a heartbeat.”
On factors that led to his decision to leave WWE: “Once I found out my daughter was on her way,that was what made the decision to leave. There was a lot thought that went into this decision, but at the end of the day, I wanted to be home with my children. I am lucky enough to have two children and I home everyday with them. Also, there were a lot of bad habits that I developed over the last decade, especially when I was in the ring. I knew if I wanted to survive and live a productive, healthy life, then I needed to get out that environment. The overriding feeling was that I really missed sports. I was craving sports. In my last three years in WWE I signed a deal knowing that I had three years to try and get out. I knew how difficult it would be to find a regular sports job after working in pro wrestling for so long. I spent a good portion of that three year contract working at MSG network in NY and CBS college sports. I was working almost every day creating a bridge, because I was not going to go from WWE to ESPN; it was not going to happen. The family aspect opened my eyes a bit, as the travel became difficult. I began dreading going to the airport and I don’t want to do something I would dread .I was burnt out.”
On an infamous prank Vince McMahon pulled on him: “What you read and heard was 100% true. The thing about WWE is you have to be accepted on many different levels. From 2003 on, I was one of the boys. If you were willing to put your neck on the line and get in the ring, that separates you from everybody else. Up until that point, I had to be accepted into the crew, so to speak. Basically, Jerry Brisco came up to me in 2001 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and he said he wanted me to run a football pool. $10 to pick all the games, and everybody did it. And I started on a Tuesday, it was a Smackdown taping, I’ll never forget it. I had my own room I did interviews in, and all the sudden two cops show up. They were very serious, and said I understand you’re running a gambling pool. You sold one to one of our undercover cops here. It’s a felony in North Carolina and we’re going to have to take you in. So we’re walking down the hallway, and we stop in front of Vince’s office, and they said we should probably let him know because you’re not going to be here for a while. We walk in and it’s Vince, Triple H, Stephanie, The Rock, Kevin Dunn and Jerry Brisco. I should have known that, with Jerry in the room, something was going on, but I was so terrified because I was 26 years old. The real cops proceeded to tell Vince they’ve caught me in a gambling pool and we need to take him downtown. Vince got in my face, and he was an inch away from my nose. He was cursing, telling me my priorities were bad, and spending company time to run a gambling pool. This entire riff lasted 45 minutes. At the end of the office bit, the officer said it was $1,500 to get me out, and Vince said F-no, he’s on his own. They handcuffed me, and I asked if there was anything I could put over my face. Vince threw me a pair of sweaty gym shorts that got stuck on my face. I walked out of the office and the first person I see is The Undertaker. He looks at me with shock, and it was so real because no one else was in on it except those people in the office. They walked me out, and all the fans could see me and they drove me about a mile down the road, and got a call on the radio that they had to come back to pick up something. They turn around, come back, and everyone’s there with Vince in front of everybody laughing their asses off. Greatest rip in the history of the business, and for about 10 minutes I literally walked to a place in the building and started crying. I thought my career was over. I thought how can I tell my dad I got fired over a $10 football pool.”
Check out the complete interview at BackSportsPage.com.