As Nelson exits UW radio booth, insights also go

Upon learning that Chuck Nelson had been replaced Friday as the radio color analyst for Washington Husky football games, an obvious question came to mind.

What did he do wrong?

Broadcasters, especially those as well-regarded as Nelson, aren’t supposed to lose their jobs six weeks before the season opener.

Broadcasters lose their jobs because they say something contemptible, as University of Miami analyst Lamar Thomas did during a 2006 sideline-clearing brawl between the Hurricanes and Florida International.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Thomas bellowed. “You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You can’t come over to our place talking noise like that. You’ll get your butt beat. I was about to go down the elevator and get in that thing.”

Thank you, Lamar, for contributing such an uplifting observation to what otherwise was a fiasco.

Ken Stabler was replaced after 10 years as the color analyst at Alabama, but not because of anything he said on the air. Stabler got fired after his third drunken driving arrest since 1995.

Chuck Nelson had no such baggage. For 17 seasons, his measured insights and appealing voice served as a perfect complement to the impassioned calls of nonpareil play-by-play man Bob Rondeau.

Even though his work was steeped in games played by college kids, Nelson talked to the audience as an adult conversing with adults. The lone knock against him – that he was “just” a placekicker with the Huskies and, later, in the NFL – turned out to be an advantage, because it gave him a nicely detached perspective free of the technical jargon few listeners would understand.

The broadcasts, in any case, were a consistent delight. Whether the Huskies were clicking in every phase, or clod-hopping toward another embarrassing blowout, Rondeau and Nelson shared a rapport that often made their radio account more enjoyable – and even more informative – than a telecast of the same game.

Back to the question: What did Nelson do so wrong that he lost his job six weeks before the season opener?

Andre Riley, a former UW wide receiver who oversees the Huskies Radio Network as assistant vice president of Washington/ISP sports – put simply, he’s in charge of all the broadcasts of Washington athletic events – apparently has no specific complaints about a 50-year-old ex-placekicker serving as football color analyst.

No specific complaints except, well, this: Chuck Nelson is a 50-year-old ex-placekicker. Riley determined the broadcasts would benefit from “more energy” and “in-depth conversation” with Damon Huard providing the color.

There’s no reason to believe Huard won’t settle into the analyst’s chair with typical poise. He has experienced football from every conceivable angle.

Aggressively recruited Puyallup High quarterback, a UW fixture during an era associated with some success and much turmoil, and a longtime NFL backup who eventually enjoyed acclaim in a starting role, Huard brings a history to the broadcast booth that qualifies as unique.

I suspect he’ll do well, and as he represents one of the most accomplished, respected sports families in the Pacific Northwest, Huard has my best wishes.

But for 17 years the job has belonged to Nelson, who was so good at it a case could be made the job ought to be his for another 17 years.

Riley says he wants more energy during the broadcasts. Fair enough, that’s his prerogative. He runs a business, and few businesses are more vulnerable to the whims of subjectivity than the broadcasting business.

But what about the opinion of the general public? I covered my first UW football game for this newspaper in 1991. Over the past two decades, I’ve heard complaints from Huskies fans about, let’s see:

Game-day coaching, recruiting, stadium concessions, spring-practice coaching, holders, snappers, punters, assistant-coaching, too-tough academic standards, too-lenient character standards, athletic directors uncommitted to football, dropped passes, missed tackles, miscommunication on the sideline, the Husky logo, the too-much-blue-in-the-purple-of-the-purple uniforms, difficult schedules, indifference to weight-room conditioning, late-kickoff starts, early-kickoff starts, rest-room lines and bowl-game coaching.

That’s the short list of complaints – I can think of a few hundred more of them. But I can’t recall hearing a single complaint about the Huskies’ radio broadcast team.

Until Friday, that is, when Chuck Nelson, for the first time in his life, found himself unprepared for a boot.