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Miami Hurricanes Football: Meet the man behind the Bethune-Cookman call, Wes Durham

A conversation with Fox Sports’ voice of ACC Football.

Wes Durham (left) calls a game with broadcasting partner James Bates (right).
Fox Sports South

As we head into another beautiful season of football in it’s purest form, I sat at my desk and Christian Pondered: “Watching the games from the stands is awesome, but what would it look like to actually be in the broadcast booth calling the big game? What goes through those guy’s heads?”

Enter radio and T.V. veteran Wes Durham.

He’s called an Orange Bowl, a Final Four, and, most recently, Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, as the play-by-play guy for the Falcons.

On Saturdays, though, Durham works telecasts of ACC football on Fox Sports regional networks due to his vast experience broadcasting within the conference; you may have even heard Durham call some Miami-Georgia Tech games over the years, as he served as the Yellow Jacket’s play-by play announcer from 1995 through 2010.

Durham, along with his broadcasting partners James Bates and Rebecca Kaple, will be covering the Miami Hurricanes’ season opener against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on September 2nd for Fox Sports Southeast at 12:30 ET. Durham is one of the most knowledgeable and engaging people in the business, and I had the pleasure to sit down with him to talk about his career, the life of a broadcaster, some college football history, and, of course, the Miami Hurricanes.

Stefan Adams: “Obviously, broadcasting is in the family with your dad (Woody Durham, voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels for 40 years), and I’m assuming growing up around the business impacted your decision to pursue it as a career. How have those early experiences maybe led you or have influenced you to take a certain approach to calling games?”

Wes Durham: “It was a wonderful way to grow up; I was very fortunate in my career when I got started to have an unbelievable sounding board in my dad, in terms of what I was going through [as an inexperienced broadcaster]. It was fun when I came to Georgia Tech in the mid-90’s to do some games with him when Georgia Tech and Carolina would play.”

SA: “Now, I’m interested to get your perception of doing a telecast vs. the radio. Pros and cons to each? Do you have a preference for one over the other?”

WD: “Radio is a smaller operation in terms of personnel, so your needs are just much less for radio. From a production standpoint, it’s maybe a 3, 4 day operation. When you’re doing television, it’s a pretty big deal. James Bates does the games with me, we have a sideline reporter this year, Rebecca Kaple, and we have a great production team... It’s a team game, really. I always tell people, you may be the guy on the screen, with the ball so to speak, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes: we have great camera guys, tape people, tremendous graphics people. All of that really counts.”

SA: “Great stuff. In the booth, you work with your broadcasting partner James Bates. What’s your relationship like and how do you guys play off each other during broadcasts?”

WD: “It’s fun for us. James was obviously a very talented player in college, won a national championship with Florida.”

SA: “Hmmm, UF? Eh, I don’t know about this guy...”

WD: “(Laughs) Yeah, he’ll be forgiven a bit for being a Gator. Only a little though. We have a great relationship, this will be the 4th year we’ve been together. He’s got a very solid and steady football mind. His dad was a long time college and professional coach, defensive coordinator for many years, spent some time with the Miami Dolphins, and his brother is also a professional coach with the New York Jets. He just has great personality, so fun to be around, and brings a unique perspective with a twist. Its been an ideal situation to work with somebody as talented as he is. We have a really good time, call good games, and try and keep them as entertaining and informative as possible. And I think we do a pretty good job, at least I hope we do.”

The Fox Sports Southeast ACC Broadcast Team. (From left: Wes Durham, Rebecca Kaple, James Bates, and Takeo Spikes)
Fox Sports South

SA: “Shifting gears a bit, let’s talk about the game. Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman, September 2nd. Football is back. The fans are ready, it’s been a long off-season. Any sport, any opener, there’s always going to be plenty of excitement. Now, like you said before about trying to bring out a certain storyline, I always hear broadcasters talking about trying to find the story inside every game. So, Wes, what’s the story for this game?”

WD: “When it comes to Miami, and I was just talking to a group about this recently, we’ve been waiting for them to come around and you can kind of feel the frustrations and some of the disappointments of the past few years. Now, having coach Richt for one year, the foundation has kind of been built. The one thing that kind of benefits Miami this year, as opposed to a year ago, is that the players have already seen a lot and here they are with 9 starters back on defense.”

SA: “Absolutely, they have a lot back on the defensive side of the ball.”

WD: “Not just guys that have started games, but young players that really played well. Now, you look to the offensive line. They’ve got 4 back there. They have an unbelievable sophomore receiver in [Ahmmon] Richards, the tight end [Chris] Herndon, great player. Then you look at [Mark] Walton, who is arguably the best back in the ACC and one of the top 5-6 backs maybe in the country. It really comes down to, how does the quarterback situation shake out? There’s so much fanfare about [N’Kosi] Perry coming there, but at the end of the day, I can’t say I’m totally surprised at [Malik] Rosier getting the job because he’s a guy that operated with a bit of experience.”

SA: “Oh yeah, I’m right there with you. I wasn’t surprised at all. A lot of people expected a freshman to come in and automatically pick it all up, and take the job away from Rosier. I mean, Rosier’s been the backup for 2 years now, been behind Kaaya. He had the Duke game that he started and played very well. I just think Rosier had a lot going for him as well and no one was really looking at that. Everyone’s interested in the next big recruit but, at the end of the day, I think going with the experience of Rosier was the right move.”

WD: “I agree totally. I’ve always been a fan of coach Richt, and [Georgia Tech-Georgia] rivalry aside, he takes care of business within a program. Georgia is not an easy job and I thought he handled it beautifully. He always seemed to have great teams, and they had some really good years. Not just at Georgia, but at a lot of places, you can lose your sense of expectations, and you have to be careful how those expectations are built. To me, I always thought that their teams were competitive. Did they win every game? No, but were they very good and competitive in the SEC? The answer almost always seemed to be yes. It’s hard to win. And I can say that from both a college and NFL perspective. It’s really hard to win. And when you do win, the expectations level can increase to a point where you’ve got to be careful. It’s hard to keep that in check.”

SA: “We’re on the same page there. 9-10 wins a year became not good enough at Georgia.”

WD: “And for Miami, I saw them in July, and there was a sense they could take the next step. I think Richt was excited about what this football team was going to look like in the fall this year.”

SA: “Yeah, I’ve been covering some fall practice and stuff like that, and me personally, I think they’re in for a very good year. I’ve seen it myself, talked with people close to the program. I’m definitely excited... Now, no disrespect to Bethune-Cookman, but somebody told me this game might be a blowout. How do you handle games that could get out of hand to keep viewers engaged and interested?”

WD: “It’s one of the things we look at before a game, at the top of the chart: yes, Miami’s definitely the heavy favorite and this may end up being a lopsided game. I also know those guys [on Bethune-Cookman] were awarded scholarships, they’ll play hard. Bethune-Cookman has guys that have played high school ball with some of the guys at Miami, so you know there will be a competitive edge for some of the guys on the Wildcats.”

“That being said, if the game were to go heavy to one way, what kind of storylines do you investigate? Well there’s plenty to talk about with Miami. The indoor practice facility, things like that. We’ll look at what lies ahead. Next week, they’ll be favored against Arkansas State, but then the third game is Florida State. Could be a preview of the ACC Championship game. Let’s say Florida State beats Alabama and both those schools come into the game 2-0. All of a sudden we’re talking about a major stage for the ACC, and that’s part of where we’ll go. This is an ACC-centric broadcast, so we want to take things in that direction.”

“In games like that, I also enjoy watching the younger guys that maybe haven’t played much, but are an injury away from playing a huge role. For fans, I think most people are interested in seeing, when you’re talking a top 20 team, are interested to see those young guys. Will N’Kosi Perry get a shot? Who’s that next guy behind Mark Walton? Who’s that next guy behind Herndon? Who’s the next guy in the secondary? That’s the fun part for us too, because you don’t know how good those guys are until you see them for the first time. That’s all part of the intrigue of openers and first games.”

SA: “Like we talked about, you were a broadcaster for Georgia Tech football for 15 years, so you’ve seen a lot of Miami teams over the years. Do any specific Miami teams in the past stick in your mind that you really liked? Or any specific Miami-GT games?”

WD: “Well, the first time I saw Miami live in football was in the Gator Bowl in 2000, when they beat Georgia Tech. That was the team that had Ken Dorsey and Kenny Kelly, I think Clinton Portis was on that team. Nate Webster, Dan Morgan at linebacker. They beat a very good Georgia Tech team, with Joe Hamilton who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Ron Dayne that year. Joe’s last game was that Gator Bowl game against Miami, coached by Butch Davis. Of course, Miami won the game and Webster and Morgan were tremendous. They did a phenomenal job that day. I’m sure I’m leaving out some really good players too (laughs).”

“The other game I remember that probably won’t be as fond for Miami fans was back when I was still calling the Georgia Tech games in 2005.”

SA: “Was that the game where Calvin Johnson had all those crazy catches?”

WD: “(Laughs) Oh yeah, that’s the one. Georgia Tech blitzed all night long and they won the game and basically took Miami out of the BCS that night. Calvin had an unbelievable night. A kid that didn’t have an amazing career or anything at Georgia Tech, a kid named Dennis Davis, had a great game too. And I remember Devin Hester did not play in that game. But yeah, Georgia Tech won the game.”

SA: “I definitely remember the 2005 game, but not the Gator Bowl, I think I was too young.”

WD: “Look up the Gator Bowl in 2000, the 1999 season! What a Miami team. A sophomore Dorsey, behind Portis I think they had James Jackson, I may be wrong (editor’s note: he was right). At receiver, I want to say Reggie Wayne was on that team... Santana Moss was definitely on that team!”

“For the ‘05 game, that was just Calvin being Calvin. Just some unbelievable catches. And that’s the night, he was a sophomore then, but that was the night he became Calvin Johnson. He’s a friend and I’m not just saying this, but he’s a great guy. He had a lot of god-given ability, but boy did he bust his rear-end. But yeah, the Gator Bowl game and the ‘05 games stick out. An unbelievable Miami team in the Gator Bowl and was kind of the precursor to them winning the national championship in 2001. Larry Coker’s first year I think.”

SA: “Wow, well I think that’s all I have for you Wes. Really great stuff, informative and in-depth. I feel smarter as a college football fan now. Thanks for taking the time to talk.”

WD: “(Laughs) It was a pleasure, Stefan.”

Look out for Wes and his ‘Fox Sports Southeast’ team tomorrow calling the Miami vs. Bethune-Cookman game at 12:30 ET. Here is a link to Saturday’s game on FOX Sports GO:

(From left): Wes Durham, Rebecca Kaple, and James Bates.
Fox Sports South