The Couch Slouch

A fun look at what ESPN is doing without sports

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ESPN without sports is like NASA without space. But ESPN is smarter than NASA – it can still thrive even if its world explodes into the atmosphere. Here is a look at the new ESPN 24-hour coronavirus programming schedule:

8 a.m. ET: "Don't Get Up!"

10:00: "Stephen A. Smith: Unfettered." The real Stephen A. lets loose – unvarnished, unbridled and uninhibited – at a Brooklyn barbershop.

11:00: "Greatest NFL Coaches' Challenges (Season 1)."

11:30: Stephen A. Smith talks smack to first responders on their coffee break.

12 p.m.: Chris Berman runs down his all-time 250 favorite nicknames, alphabetically.

1:30: 1998 French Open women's bracket draw.

2:00: "Burning Bridges with Keith Olbermann." The once-popular "SportsCenter" anchor documents his seven tours of duty with the worldwide leader in sports.

3:15: "Best NASCAR Pit Stops, Volume 3 (2010)."

3:30: "Kiper and Lunardi: The Art of Coaxing." The two iconic ESPN savants discuss how they persuaded the network to turn one-day events into year-round pursuits.

4:30: Stephen A. Smith yells at gate agents at O'Hare Airport.

5:00: "Around the Shoehorn." Nike, Adidas, Puma and Under Armor reps examine best self-quarantine footwear.

5:30: "Pardon the Interruption, Undercover." A hidden camera documents Tony Kornheiser complaining about Michael Wilbon and every single guest cohost with whom he's ever worked.

6:00: 2001 Mid-American Conference men's basketball tournament third-place game.

6:30: "Backstory with Don Van Natta Jr." An investigative look at Adam Schefter's cellphone log.

7:00: "Outside the Lines: The Sunset." The award-winning OTL team chronicles the sun setting in Bristol, Conn. ITAL Live. END ITAL

7:30: World Series of Poker 2003.

8:30: World Series of Poker 2004.

9:30: "Outside the Lines: The Sunset (Pacific Time Zone)." The award-winning OTL team chronicles the sun setting in Pahrump, Nev. Live.

10:00: Stephen A. Smith moonlights as a tollbooth worker who will not give out change.

10:30: "Cricket Tonight." Adnan Virk returns as host.

11:00: World Series of Poker 2005.

12 a.m.: World Series of Poker 2006.

1:00: "Stephen A. Smith: After Dark." The very eligible sweet talker tries his best hot takes in several New York City singles bars.

2:00: World Series of Poker 2007.

3:00: World Series of Poker 2008.

4:00: "The Sports Reporters 2.0." Veteran correspondents from Bleacher Report, The Big Lead, Deadspin and Barstool Sports debate the hot issues of the day.

4:30: "The Making of 'Cold Pizza' (2003-2004)."

5:00: Jeremy Schaap reads select passages from Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."

5:30: Shuttle run highlights from 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

5:45: Charley Steiner ITAL is END ITAL "Macbeth."

6:00: 2014 Pub Darts Challenge (Ireland vs. Wales).

6:30: "BodyShaping" (any year).

7:00: "Kraft Mac & Cheese Presents The Craig Kilborn Show." With sidekick Downtown Julie Brown. Why not?

Meanwhile, Fox Sports 1 has a simpler, adjusted schedule:

9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET: "Skip and Shannon: Undisputed."

1 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.: "Skip All Night." Skip Bayless at home!

9:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Off air for routine maintenance.

Ask The Slouch

Q. After several days of all major sports sidelined, I watched the PBA and saw statistics of MPHs and RPMs on the screen. As a bowler, can you tell me if I am withdrawing from baseball and NASCAR, or is it real and I need some help? (Steve Hintyesz; Spokane, Wash.)

A. It is real – we all need help. I have begged the powers-that-be to wipe the screen clean; alas, they will not listen to a 140 bowler.

Q. Being the wise man you are, can your readers assume that you anticipated this pandemic-related sports hiatus and have a mitigating stockpile of columns to get us through these rough times? (Kim Hemphill; South Riding, Va.)

A. I am currently watching dozens of old Dick Vitale broadcasts that will provide me column content through Labor Day.

Q. Is it true the only reason your marriage to Toni has lasted 12½ years is ever since your wedding night, she has strictly enforced the six-foot social distancing rule? (J.B. Koch; Macomb, Mich.)

A. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt on our wedding night.

Q. After you've written, edited and submitted your column, do you then "take no responsibility" for it? (JC Hodgson; Spokane, Wash.)

A. Many of my columns write themselves; thus, indeed I take no responsibility.

Q. I see Sean Payton has the coronavirus – can't he challenge that? (Kirk Long; Spokane Valley, Wash.)

A. Not reviewable – NFL competition committee will take a look at this during 18-month offseason.

Q. Is it true that Robert Kraft is suing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for entrapment? (Terry Golden; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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