Joel Klatt: My Life As A Wheel

BY MATTHEW JONES | Special To Sports Link

It’s noon Eastern. The remote is in my hand. The notebook with my rankings and all the games for the day is on the coffee table.

I just finished watching Lee Corso make his weekly headgear selection on College GameDay and it’s time for a full day of college football. The only option in my mind is putting on FOX so I can watch the revolutionary team of Gus Johnson and his color analyst, Joel Klatt.

Joel Klatt

As Stuart Scott-esque as Johnson is, it is Klatt that makes me watch whatever game is on at noon on FOX. Nobody can explain the game of college football more clearly than Klatt.

Not only does he professionally present himself in the booth, his practices have trickled down. They are transforming others not only in the broadcast industry but in life in general (including myself) through his loyalty, work ethic, integrity, faith and humility.

Simply put, to me, Klatt is the single-greatest man in college football and one of the best this world has to offer.

Klatt was the starting quarterback at Colorado from 2003-05, setting a total of 44 records at the school including all-time leader in passing yards (7,375), touchdowns (44), completion percentage (60.8) and completions (666).

His college football career was initially delayed after high school to pursue another sport — baseball.

Selected by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, Klatt played two seasons in the club’s minor league system before focusing on football in Boulder.

Klatt was invited to the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints rookie mini-camps in 2006, and was signed as a free agent by the Saints. After a very short stint in New Orleans, Klatt returned to his home in Colorado with his wife Sara.

Shortly after in 2006, an executive at FOX Sports Rocky Mountain, who knew Klatt from his time playing at Colorado, called and asked him to fill in at a high school football game for another analyst who got sick. 

Shortly thereafter, he became a studio host for FOX Sports Southwest’s Saturday college football coverage from 2007-08 and then into the booth as a color analyst for FOX Sports Net in 2009. 

Prior to the 2015 season, Klatt was elevated to FOX Sports’ lead college football game analyst, teaming with Johnson.

“(FOX) gave me my first break,” Klatt said. “They’ve remained incredibly loyal to me and I, in turn, feel incredibly loyal back to them.” 

Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt

Loyalty is a trait that is sometimes hard to come by in this day and age. People are constantly jumping to the “next best thing” and are so quick to “cancel” others when they make a mistake. I wholeheartedly value this trait in Klatt and strive to make a point of this in my work at Ball State and beyond.

Klatt has been perfecting his craft over the years which was aided by his loyalty to FOX. This has allowed him to build a strong work ethic and respect for people, and others in the industry notice these traits.

“I think everybody can learn a lesson from Joel Klatt,” said Mick Tidrow, a graduate of Ball State’s nationally-recognized Sports Link program and current play-by-play broadcaster at BEK Sports. “On the air, he is so knowledgeable. He preps as good as anybody. Everybody knows the saying of ‘poor preparation, poor performance;’ and he never lets that get in the way.”

Klatt’s work ethic has permitted versatility in his role with FOX. He can call the game on live TV like no other but can also visit with studio shows and talk about the sport. He contributed to FOX Sports’ coverage of the U.S. Open Championship from 2015-19.

FOX gets the whole bundle with Klatt. He is a diamond in the rough, a household name and someone FOX can use to continue to bring eyes on their product for years to come.

Joel Klatt and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka

“Joel packages himself well,” said Sam Neidermann, the voice of Stony Brook University Athletics. “He is a professional dude with a professional sound and professional look. He answers the bell, still has opinions, sticks to his guns and is not afraid to stir the pot.”

Tidrow and Neidermann share a lot of Klatt’s tendencies themselves. Both of them have continually supported me in the growing pains that we all experience in our various professions. They both embody professionalism and integrity as broadcasters and men in this world. Like Klatt, they are getting to where they want to be because of this and because they’re achieving what they emphasize. 

“I’m a big believer that you achieve what you emphasize,” Klatt said. “I told FOX from the day I was hired, regardless of what they were making me do, my main objective was to be a lead analyst in college football. I was very clear about what I wanted, and it paid off in spades.”

Packaging myself in such a way that emphasizes what I want to achieve and stand for has been a difficult battle over the years.

I haven’t always been clear about what I wanted and would often beat around the bush as opposed to the bush itself.

That started to waver on March 27, 2016 (Easter Sunday) when I saw a tweet from Klatt that encouraged me in an area that I wanted to package myself in… my faith.

“I don’t shy away from it,” Klatt said. “I’m not afraid of putting a tweet out and sharing my faith.”

But it is not just his Twitter followers who see Klatt sharing his faith. He does it in his everyday life no matter how many times he may fall short.

“I always think of my life as a wheel,” Klatt said. “There have been times when my faith has been a spoke on that wheel and there have been times when my faith is the wheel itself.

“The times when I am at the most peace and am the best husband, father and broadcaster I can be is when my faith is a wheel and not a spoke. I constantly fall short, but my hope is that my faith is intertwined in every interaction I have.”

I have often struggled not to be a spoke. Case in point, when Tidrow was wrapping up cables after a Ball State basketball radio gig my sophomore year. He asked me how I was doing in his soothing, what I can only assume is a “Utah” accent.

I was so eager to tell him about what God was doing in my life but didn’t. Nerves got the best of me. I achieved what I emphasized in a sense, because I achieved a disjointed conversation while I was emphasizing the things I didn’t really want to talk about.

I apologized and explained to Tidrow after that instance why the conversation was awful from my end and how I was scared to bring up faith. His response has cemented itself in me ever since.

“Don’t be afraid to talk about faith,” Tidrow said. “There are more people that are open to it than not.”

Someone open to talking about it is Neidermann who attributes where he’s been and where he’s at to God’s plan and the blessings God has given him.

“You have to be thankful and grateful for what God has given you,” Neidermann said. “I don’t want to waste blessings. I want to manifest what God is doing. The faith walk evolves day to day. You are part of a bigger game.”

That “bigger game” is how Tidrow sees his role in broadcasting beyond the booth. He isn’t just there talking to you about a game. There’s a greater purpose for what he does.

“I really do believe that I was placed in this career field to help people,” Tidrow said. “I want to be a resource. I want to make a difference. That’s the (greater) purpose.”

Tidrow has been so humble throughout my time knowing him, constantly willing to help with whatever I was doing, putting the needs of others in front of his own. I see a lot of Mick Tidrow in Joel Klatt, who is the king of humility. 

Klatt is one of the busiest people around, especially during the college football season (and the scheduling nightmares that COVID has caused), but he still took the time to have a Zoom call with a student (and a fan) who was wanting to write a story on him for class.

Who does that? Someone who loves and understands the importance of helping others.

“Lots of people contact me and ask for help,” Klatt said. “I am more than willing to give help to anybody, but it is pretty apparent to me right away who just wants you to pull them up and who is actually seeking out advice.”

I was the latter.

“I love helping people out,” Klatt said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the help of several others. The little things that I have learned along the way that can help someone else, I’m more than willing to share.”

Whether it was through his early days at FOX Sports Rocky Mountain or his lead role at FOX, Klatt has learned to help and be a light to others in broadcasting by never saying no.

“I learned to never say no in the industry,” Klatt said. “If someone says, ‘hey we want you to do this sideline gig’, don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m not a sideline person’, Okay. Somebody else is going to get that gig then. Reps in this business mean everything.”

Tidrow and Neidermann live by that belief. For Tidrow, his continued time with Ball State Sports Link, especially as a graduate assistant, helped get him a break and the chance with BEK Sports to continue his dream profession.

For Neidermann, it was the waiting period after he graduated from Indiana University to his position at Stony Brook ( which COVID caused) that enhanced the importance of never saying no.

“The opportunity was right across the desk,” Neidermann said. “It was a godsend. I said, okay, this is a chance – maybe this is where I’m supposed to go.”

Where am I supposed to go? That’s a question that a lot of us attempt to answer daily. Seeing where I have been and what I have learned over the years helps me answer that question more vividly.

It was Klatt that I saw and heard on my TV when I said, “I want to do that.” It was Neidermann who helped me start broadcasting in high school. Ball State Sports Link was the reason I wanted to attend Ball State.

It was Tidrow who helped me get my feet wet once I arrived at Ball State. It was the director of Sports Link, Chris Taylor, who said no to me that led me to pursue my true passion for ministry.

It was all of these people intertwined throughout the years who have showed me how to engulf myself in loyalty, a strong work ethic, integrity, faith and humility. 

Most of my college experience and, of course, this story right here points back to the representation of what a man should be, Joel Klatt. And since doing this story, my favorite person in sports sees that in me, too.

“You clearly have an unbelievable heart,” Klatt said. “I’m proud of you, man. Whenever young people have a heart for Jesus and for others, it makes me excited.”

Don’t get it twisted, this story is not about me. I wouldn’t be typing out these words without Klatt’s unbeknownst provision in my life and the trickle-down effect of his character to myself, to his family, to fellow broadcasters and anyone who has the privilege of seeing and hearing his work.

Now that I’ve done this, when I see and hear Klatt on FOX, I’m not going to go around to all of my friends and say, “Hey, I talked with him once!” and rub that in their faces.

Instead, I will take the time to explain how Klatt has embodied all of these traits, how he isn’t afraid to share his faith or help others, how I’m where I’m at because of him and how he represents himself in such a way that no one could possibly make a comment about his character.

In the world we live in right now, we need more people with the loyalty, work ethic, integrity, faith and humility of Klatt, the single-greatest man in college football.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Matthew Jones is a senior at Ball State University. This story was his final feature in Chris Taylor’s Journalism 322 Sportswriting & Reporting class. It was posted online with his permission.

Author: Sports Link Staff

Sports Link showcases Cardinal student-athletes’ accomplishments on the field, in the classroom and within the surrounding community. Follow @bsusportslink on all social media platforms.