Q&A: Derrick Gunn, Anchor-Reporter for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
Derrick Gunn of Bear is a longtime anchor-reporter on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. “Gunner’ gave us a few minutes out of his frenetic schedule on Sept. 10—the day after the Eagles’ impressive season-opening victory over the Redskins.
DT: Thanks for your time today.
DG: Oh, no problem. It’s crazy, man. Short turnaround. Just got back from Chip Kelly’s thing. Gotta go back now for locker room. So, it’s all fun.
DT: I’ll try to go as quickly as possible, which kind of fits the theme after the way the Eagles’ offense played last night.
DG: Oh, my goodness. It’s like watching video game football.
DT: You tweeted during the game that “covering football is not just a job, it’s fun.” I can see how covering last night’s game could be really cool.
DG: Yeah, because it was so different. We knew coming in that Chip Kelly’s offense was going to be different, imaginative, innovative. But what we thought we were going to see and what we actually saw, it so exceeded what we were expecting to see. You had odd lineman formations. You had one play where you had three linemen at the line of scrimmage, two lined up out wide. There were several occasions where Brent Celek, your tight end, is playing a tackle position. The Redskins basically didn’t know what hit them.
DT: I noticed you tweeted about the looks on the Redskins fans’ faces.
DG: It was a shock. You’re talking about a Redskins team that came back as the division champion. There was a lot of anticipation and adrenaline about the return of RGIII. And, obviously, you knew there was going to be some rust involved, because he didn’t take one snap in the preseason. He came back a lot sooner than people thought from a surgically repaired knee and any time you’re wearing a knee brace, you’re not going to be as straight-ahead fast as you normally are until you get comfortable with that thing on in a game situation. And when it jumped out to a 33-7 lead, the look on the Redskins fans’ faces was just utter shock and dismay.
DT: Did last night change your outlook on the season?
DG: Going into the season, when everybody asked me about my predictions for the Eagles this year, I said 7-9. Initially, my thought was, anything above four wins (last season’s record) would be an improvement. You have a new coach. You changed a lot of personnel. You changed the way the organization thought compared to the last 14 years. You brought in new players. And because of the new CBA, you have a limited amount of practices. You can only hit so many times. I thought it was going to take a lot longer for this thing to gel. As I look at it now, and I know there’s a lot of excitement after what we saw initially, and understandably so, I’m still looking at this team at 7-9. Because you know, every other defensive coordinator in the NFL saw highlights, or will see highlights, of what this team has done. And good coordinators will make an adjustment. Last year the 49ers, with their read-option offense, especially when Kaepernick took over, blew away the league. And, eventually, teams started to catch up to it, defensively. Now, staying with the read-option thing, the 49ers and the Seahawks are the two primary teams that run the read-option, and yet, in the first game of the season, you didn’t see a lot of them running the read-option because defenses changed the way they schemed it. Now, those teams offensively were still able to do enough to win the game. It’s a chess match. It’s not checkers. It’s chess. It’s going to be strategic moves and now we’re going to see, especially with Chip Kelly down the road, how he counters some of the countermeasures defenses take against him.
DT: The rest of the league always catches up, right?
DG: Absolutely. It was the same way with the West Coast offense, the Wildcat. Everybody thought the Wildcat was the wave of the future. When was the last time the Wildcat was prominently used in anybody’s offense? Fads come and go. The NFL is a copycat league, both offensively and defensively. And somebody somewhere else will come along some day with another offensive concept that will be revolutionary for a short amount of time. But for right now, it is a thing of beauty to watch.
DT: What are your thoughts on the Riley Cooper incident?
DG: In my mind, when you look at the tape when he was at the Chesney concert, you can obviously tell that he had been drinking a little bit too much. And when he uttered the word, you could tell, from my perspective, that he had used it time and time before. Let’s face it; he played college football at Florida. Over 70 percent of the team was African-American. In his short NFL tenure, he’s in a locker room where over 70 percent of his coworkers are African-American. Unfortunately, it is a word that is used in African-American circles in a lot of ways as a term of endearment. I think when rappers started using that word back in the early ’90s to express themselves and their frustrations in lyrics, it’s a word that became acceptable in our society today. If you look at Twitter and Facebook over the last few years, in particular, you see more and more ethnic pockets that are non-black, who use the word. The signal has been mixed, because an incident like that happened for Cooper, and all the sudden people, including guys in his locker room, were up in arms about him using the word. I think there is some confusion involved, because if you don’t want the word used, then you shouldn’t say it as a part of your everyday dialogue. I just hope that Riley Cooper, indeed, learned from this. I hope this was a learning tool on a national scale. I don’t think, by any stretch of the imagination, that Riley Cooper is a racist. I don’t think, by any stretch of the imagination, that he is one of the few non-African-American people out there that uses the word. He just happened to get caught. And if we are truly a society that believes in giving a second chance—he did the crime, he paid his dues. Hopefully you learn from it, and you move on. But I do believe that he, indeed, deserved the second chance to continue to play with the Philadelphia Eagles. And I do applaud the Eagles for not just hanging him out to dry and cutting him, but making him stand up there in front of the media, every time the media requested it, both locally and nationally. The Eagles organization made him stand there and answer questions and now it’s all about football. Now we know along the way this season, there are going to be opponents who are going to try to get inside of his head, and take him off his game, and bring that incident up again. But now we’re going to find out the measure and the character of the man in Riley Cooper, and how he responds to that.
DT: Talking about Chip Kelly, has there ever been a more popular coach in Philadelphia at this stage of his career?
DG: I came here in 1997. It was the tail end of Ray Rhodes and everybody was down on that regime. And then Andy Reid came in here—this offensive, innovative mind. A lot of people were wondering, who is Andy Reid? He hadn’t been a head coach anywhere at the NFL level. And in one season, he completely turned this team around. He had them in the playoffs in his second year. So I think there was a lot of fanfare when the transition was made from Ray Rhodes to Andy Reid, but nothing like Chip Kelly. We all watched what he did at Oregon. I like to call it “Madden football,” at the college level. He does what he does and he tells people, “Stop me if you can.” And most of them couldn’t stop him. And I think he sent the message out there, Monday night against the Redskins, “This is what I’m going to do at this level. Stop me if you can.” The first team he faced could not stop him. We’ll see how it goes from here on.
DT: Do you miss Andy Reid?
DG: I had a good relationship with him over 14 years. And the longer he was here, the better the relationship got. In some regards, yes, I miss him. But it’s a business. It ran its course for 14 years. It had become stale over the last couple of years. The tenure that he had with one organization is unheard of in this league today. It had its highs, and unfortunately at the tail end, it had its lows. It was time for a change. Andy is happy now. I’ve talked to him several times, recently. He’s happy in Kansas City now, with a fresh start. And Chip Kelly, and everybody who is watching Chip Kelly, and everybody who is an Eagles fan, is happy that Chip Kelly is here.
DT: So I wonder what Chip will have to do for people not to love him? Probably not winning football games.
DG: If they don’t make the playoffs, but they continue to play exciting football like this, I think people will embrace this. I’ve said since OTAs started, having had the chance to watch Chip Kelly’s offenses work over four years at Oregon, my initial thought when he came here was, no matter how much he tried to change, in terms of personnel, and he didn’t make a lot of changes on offense. He didn’t have the right offensive personnel overall to run what he wants to run. Obviously, losing a Jeremy Maclin hurts. It is efficient now, but when they go to the draft next year, and as Chip and the scouting staff starts to scour the countryside looking for players, starting now with the college football season… I think as Chip’s concepts continue to evolve here, you’re obviously going to see more of the type of wide receivers, in particular, that he wants to be here for his type of offense.
DT: What’s another big story line for this season?
DG: The re-birth of Michael Vick. Chip Kelly kept telling us they are going to run the football. This was after 14 years of Andy Reid telling us the same thing, but it was a 60-40, 70-30, pass-run ratio. And then for Kelly to come out of the gate and run the ball 49 times and only put up 25 passes—that was unheard of. And LeSean McCoy, who had 20 carries in the first half—normally, that’s a whole game’s worth of carries for him. At halftime, he had 115 yards rushing. He was already the leading rusher of the NFL by halftime of this game. And he ends up with 184. Chip said they would be committed to running the ball, and now we’re going to see that. They’re going to force defenses to stop the run first, before they put up the pass. I think that’s a breath of fresh air, because we’ve seen the same thing for more than a decade. It worked for a while. It had a great amount of success. But now, you’ve got the kind of running back, and running back corps, and with the zone-blocking scheme being the way it is, I think it’s a breath of fresh air to see them actually stay committed to the run. That will take a lot of physical pressure off of Michael Vick. Chip Kelly said in the press conference today, “I don’t think at 33, we’re ever going to see Michael Vick hook slide.” We saw him take a couple good shots. And in the fourth quarter, he got up slow and it looks like he was holding his groin area, like he had pulled a groin. But I think not asking Michael Vick to throw the ball 35-40 times a game will enhance the possibility—I won’t say probability—of him playing a 16-game schedule, something he’s only done once in his career.
DT: So, judging from last night’s game, Eagles fans have a lot to look forward to this season.
DG: Well, Philadelphia fans deserved it. This is a city with a lot of pride, a lot of football knowledge, a lot of disappointing history. There have been teams that haven’t gotten close, but have never grabbed that brass ring. And just like the players, Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman, Don Smolenski, everybody wanted something different. I don’t think a lot of people cared, as long as it was something different from what it had. Initially, Chip Kelly has, by far, exceeded any expectations we ever had or could have dreamed of, in terms of wanting something that was out of the box.
DT: Do you still live in Bear?
DG: Still in Bear, brother.
DT: I don’t know why I don’t see you anywhere. I guess we don’t travel in the same circles.
DG: The only place you’ll ever see me in Bear is either BJ’s, every Walmart in the vicinity, the grocery stores, or Home Depot, Lowe’s, or the mall. It’s amazing how many times I go to those places and people stop, and they say, “Why are you here?” It’s like, “What, I’m not allowed to come to these places?” (laughs) “We didn’t know you lived here.” I’ll say, “You’re not supposed to know I live here.” But people are good about it. The hardest thing about it is, when you’re in a hurry to get from point A to point B, people want to stop you and talk to you. And you try to be as cordial as you can, because I always tell my kids, “You never know who knows somebody in a position that could affect what you do on a daily basis. You never know who could know one of my bosses, or somebody higher up in the corporation.” And you never want to leave a negative impression. You always want that first impression to be positive. So, I try to talk to everybody, but when I have to, I tell people, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really have to go.” People are understanding.
DT: Do you ever go to a UD football game, or any other local sporting events?
DG: I’d say maybe once a year, I’ll go sneak and watch maybe half of a game at UD. And every now and then, my wife and I—we did so much with children’s ministries when our kids were little—and then as a lot of their friends would get older, my wife and I would go watch some of their high school games. But now, they’re all in their 20s, so I don’t get to as many high school games as I used to. I may go to one a year. Caravel, one of the best high school football programs in the state, is a mile down the road from where I live. I might go see one Caravel game a year, depending on who they are playing, like a Middletown or somebody like that. But for the most part, I get to see very few local games.
DT: How excited should we be about the 87ers playing at The Bob?
DG: I’m trying to figure that one out. The first thought is, How did Delaware get a 76ers’ minor league team, and what’s it going to look like? I think it will generate interest. I think the curiosity, initially, will be, “What kind of players are going to be playing for this team?” But beyond that, I don’t know if it will sustain here in Delaware. I hope it does, for the sake of what the Sixers are trying to do with it. I think right now, it’s a novelty. And that will draw the most interest, people trying to find out exactly what this team is.
DT: So, you haven’t bought your season tickets yet?
DG: No. And even if I did, with my schedule, I probably wouldn’t get to any games.
DT: I saw on Twitter that your son, Jordan, is a recording artist.
DG: He was with a company in Houston and we got him out of that. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to. He is independently producing music now. He just put one song out on Facebook over this past weekend. It’s the first time he’s done something as an individual artist. And he’s putting out some more songs in the next few weeks. Very talented kid. I know a lot of people are going to say, “Well, he’s your kid. You’re supposed to say that.” But we spent a lot of money getting him voice lessons. He’s really taken it to heart. He mixes his own music, creates his own sounds. The thing I’m most proud about is, he doesn’t curse in his lyrics. We hear a lot of songs, platinum songs, that have a lot of cursing in them. He writes songs so easily. Sometimes he’ll write 10 or 12 songs in a week. He’s got a got a whole box of songs that he hasn’t even produced yet, or put together yet. Now, they’re like two or three years old. And he goes, “Dad, I don’t know if I want to use these. I’m trying something else.” When you talk about the entertainment field, just like professional sports, one out of 1,000 make it. A lot of times, it’s not the best one who made it. It’s the one who just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and made the right contact, who made it. Hopefully he’s been around enough people. DJ Jazzy Jeff is a neighbor of mine. We went over to his house and he gave my son some pointers. These four songs that my son is doing now, Jazzy Jeff is going to mix them for him. So, hopefully, that will help enhance getting it out there, also. And it’s clean. It’s for everybody. I hope he stays true to that course, to who he has been ever since he was a kid, and continue to be as a young man in his music career.
DT: What’s this about you being a bass fisherman?
DG: That is the truth. If I had my way, I would be a professional bass fisherman. But my wife says we would live in poverty. (laughs) I don’t fish nearly as much as I used to. I think I’ve only been out once this year with my kids. I went out twice all of last year. I gotta whole garage full of gear that just sits there and collects spider webs. I love to crappie fish, bass fish, steelhead trout. I just don’t have the time, man. Hopefully it’s something I’ll do a lot of once they kick me out of this business.
DT: I’d like to have one of those cool bass-fishing boats.
DG: Dude, I would love to fish in the Bassmasters Classic—the Super Bowl of bass fishing—against someone like Kevin VanDam and all of those guys. Are you kidding me? That would be my dream.