By Hunter Ford
If you are a regular listener of the Paul Finebaum show you will know what I’m talking about whether you want to admit it or not.
Finebaum is without peer as the most aggravating personality in the Alabama media. He pulls a double whammy on his audience by boxing their ears, thumping their noses and, strangely, luring them back time and again for more.
I went to see a speech Paul made in Huntsville recently. I was fortunate enough to sit next to John Pruett, the former sports editor of The Huntsville Times. Pruett recently retired after four decades of service to the Times. Pruett started in the mid 1960s and has seen the Alabama sports scene evolve from the glory days of Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan to the current whacky environment we now find ourselves in.
I asked him if he thought Finebaum had made a difference in the way sports are covered.
“There’s no question about it,” Pruett said. “Not only his showâ€¦when I first got to know him he was a reporter. He brought a style of journalism to this stateâ€¦hard hitting investigative stories and very opinionated columns. I would say he changed the face of sports writing in Alabama more than any other person I know of. He’s so different.”
Finebaum writes and says things that get people genuinely upset.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Pruett agreed. “You get somebody with his controversial styleâ€¦he says what’s on his mind and doesn’t hold back. Just myself, I’ve been a friend of his for many years, but I don’t agree with everything he says or writes. That’s not the point. The point is that he holds the interest of his readers or his listeners.”
What would Bear Bryant do if confronted by Finebaum?
“That’s a good question,” Pruett said, laughing. “(Bryant) had a way of dealing with things. Back in the old days we would occasionally ask tough questionsâ€¦ ‘Why did you do so and so?’ Bryant always had the same answer. “I was trying to win the game.” How do you follow up on that? It was so different then. There were very few other coaches of that era that would have had to deal with much criticism. There was no Internet or talk radio.”
Pruett said the Internet has had an effect on newspapers and newspaper columnists. He pointed to the recent departure of Huntsville Times columnist Phillip Marshall who will now work for a website.
“We lost a really good writer in Phillip,” Pruett said. “He came from good stock, his father was Benny Marshall (longtime Birmingham News sports editor). The Internet has had an effect on newspapers and a lot of good writers are moving towards the Internet.”
Paul actually answered my question about how Bryant would have dealt with him, and I didn’t even have to ask. During his question and answer period with the audience, a fairly irate fan asked Finebaum “If talk radio didn’t exist would Mike Shula not have been fired?”
Finebaum responded in perfect form.
“No disrespect to those of you that might own convenience stores, but Mike Shula couldn’t manage a 7-11. He might could handle the Slurpee counter. You know, Bear Bryant had some problems in the late 1960s. Some people thought he’d lost it. But he came back and had a pretty decent decade in the 70s if I recall. Can you imagine Bear Bryant dealing with Paul Finebaum in 1969? I can. I would be at the bottom of the Warrior River.”