New era begins for Tiger radio crew

08/28/2014 8:14 PM

08/29/2014 12:17 AM

SINCE MAY, Don Munson has been deep into his research for Clemson’s opener at Georgia on Saturday. With the help of YouTube, he has watched “as many old Clemson-Georgia games as possible,” notably the 1981, 1986 and 1987 meetings, all Tigers victories. He’s read articles on past games, and reached out to former players, especially 1986-87 tight end (and current assistant head coach) Danny Pearman, to “get a player’s perspective.”

By 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Clemson’s rookie play-by-play radio announcer hopes to be as prepared as possible for his debut. Still, he knows that, despite his best efforts, “some (fans), no matter what, won’t be pleased” with his performance.

“For others, I won’t be able to do anything wrong,” Munson said, pausing before adding with a chuckle, “(that’ll be) my mother and my wife.”

If you follow the Tigers, you know that this spring, athletics director Dan Radakovich abruptly dismissed Pete Yanity, the “Voice of the Tigers,” after a 10-year run. Analyst Will Merritt, a former Clemson lineman, also left the booth in protest, to be replaced by former Tigers quarterback (and Irmo native) Rodney Williams.

Radakovich – and, by association, Munson – quickly came under fire from media and fans. Yanity, known for his tagline “orange in the end zone” whenever the Tigers scored, had been synonymous with Clemson football (and basketball) since stepping in upon the death in 2003 of the beloved Jim Phillips, who manned the microphone for 35 years and remains the “gold standard” for Tigers fans.

Munson, who admits to “a lot of mixed feelings” about Yanity’s departure, said after the announcement he wanted to “fly under the radar. I cut off social media for several months. I had friends tell me, ‘They’re saying this or that about you.’

“It’s a little daunting, but I’m tremendously excited. This is one of the 20 best jobs in college football play-by-play. At 52, how many get an opportunity like this?”

Many observers viewed “Radio-Gate” as Radakovich’s move to control/spin the Clemson message, since Munson is a school employee while Yanity’s “other” job is with WSPA-TV. Munson confirms part of that: “Dan said he wanted to have a guy in that position who works for Clemson in-house,” he said. “That’s the way he did it at Georgia Tech and other places where he’d been.

“He’s the chief, and when you’re an Indian, you say, ‘Yes sir,’” Munson said. “It’s my role to support whatever they ask me to do, do it to the best of my ability, and try to make (them) proud.”

Hence his heavy pregame research – though, to be fair, that’s nothing new.

In 20 years at Clemson, Munson held a number of broadcast jobs: host of the “Fifth Quarter” postgame show, halftime and pregame shows, play-by-play for baseball, men’s and women’s basketball and, since the advent of webcasts, volleyball and soccer. In 1996, when Phillips missed two football games with back issues, Munson called games vs. Florida State (a loss) and Duke (a win).

The past four years, he worked for coach Dabo Swinney monitoring social media. That was part of critics’ complaints about his selection, but Munson says that time will be a huge benefit to his new job.

“Prior to (working for Swinney), you’d think you knew all there was to know” about the Tigers, “but I quickly found out I didn’t know diddly,” Munson said. “When you sit in staff meetings, you get to know players and coaches on a completely different level and a more complete knowledge of what (the team’s) plan of attack is.

“Now I know what’s on (Swinney’s) mind, all the pieces of the puzzle.” He laughed; “Obviously, I can’t give things away” on air, “but knowing should help me do the job.”

Not content to rely on insider knowledge, Munson has started weekly chats to hone chemistry with Williams, who previously did a season as football analyst and reported from the sideline other years. “He’s told me, ‘There’s not a lot of down time, and we’ve got to play quickly off one another,’” Munson said. “I’m sure our tempo (during broadcasts) will be stressed.”

He has yet another source of instruction/inspiration: Phillips. Listening to Clemson broadcasts growing up in Asheville, Munson says, “You knew, just by the inflection of Jim’s voice, whether it was a good or bad day for the Tigers.

“He also knew when to shut up, which for a radio guy is pretty special. When (David) Treadwell kicked the winning field goal (vs. Georgia in 1986), Jim called it good, then for 10 seconds he let the ambient noise of the crowd tell the story.”

Munson believes he’s ready to follow in Phillips’ footsteps. He ticks off checkpoints: “Brevity, don’t get too wordy. It is what it is, so don’t ‘flower’ it up. People ask if I’m going to have a tagline; I say no, just ‘touchdown Clemson’ or ‘touchdown Tigers.’” He laughed wryly. “I hope I’ll be saying it a bunch.”

He knows winning over fans will take time. “With any new guy, it takes some getting used to,” he said. He likens it to the Tigers’ transition from last season to this one.

“Our defense is pretty salty, I think,” Munson said. “If our offense can score 24-28 points, I think they can win in Athens. Then they have to take care of business vs. S.C. State, and then the big one in Tallahassee (vs. ACC favorite Florida State), then North Carolina at home.

“Before the end of September, I think we’ll know a lot about Clemson and,” he said, “about me, too.”

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