Maria Taylor has some advice for people who want to follow in her footsteps.
“Don’t be afraid to make the coffee,” she told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.” “I mean, the first thing I did in television was I was like trying to make the Keurig work for Stuart Scott when ESPN came to town.”
And to the “young kids especially, it’s just like you really don’t reserve the right to say no to the job. You need to show up every time.”
Good old-fashioned work ethic, talent and personality have catapulted Maria to the top of her field. After a successful tenure at ESPN, she landed at NBC where she is hosting “Football Night in America,” covering college football and the Olympics among her many duties. She is also executive producing an eight-part documentary on black quarterbacks.
But Maria, who played hoops and volleyball at the University of Georgia, had her salad days. She knew she wanted to work in sports, but she changed her major three times. First she was a biology major with the aim of becoming a team doctor. She switched to business and then to broadcasting. After graduation, the school’s athletic department took her on — helping to launch a superstar.
“They made up a job for me, and they made me a production assistant. And I worked with the website and stuff. And I’m doing like Internet volleyball matches and basketball. Then they called Comcast Sports and said, ‘We got a girl that can do volleyball matches.’ And that’s how I got on TV. Literally, I’d never shown anyone my resume. Everything runs back to the fact that I’m from Georgia.”
And she reps Georgia hard (her Waffle House order is evidence of that). She was raised just outside Atlanta in Alpharetta, where I first met her while playing a pick-up game with my stepson LaDarius and a few other teens. She was the only girl, but I could tell she could ball, so I picked her for my team. Maria reminded me of this when we started working together, so I’d like to say, I knew she was a winner way back when.
Then she went to UGA, which was drilled into her by her grandmother, who grew up in Athens, Georgia.
“We were raised to love Georgia … She knew everything about it. And I was the first grandkid or kid in general in the family to actually attend the university. So for the grandma who couldn’t go because she was black to her granddaughter actually being able to go, like we would talk every single day. And she was asking me about like Matthew Stafford … Because she cared about football.”
Now Maria is entrenched in the Georgia community — which isn’t a bad place to be these last two years with back-to-back national football championships. She now comes back to mentor students, including my daughter, Mariah, who is now with the Atlanta Hawks.
And what a role model. Maria — who sometimes wears sneakers and shows off her shoulders on air — is self-assured and weathers the inevitable online criticism by maintaining a strong core of friends and family.
“You can like literally watch people fade away because they’re trying to please others
or they forget who they are … I come home, like I get grounded and then I go back out into the world, take a little bit of a beating. You just come back home, get grounded, you refresh, rekindle, you talk to the people you’re supposed to be hearing from, and that’s how you keep your sense of self.”
Not that she didn’t stumble. Initially, she wanted to host the women’s NCAA tournament and do sideline for the national championship. But as she grew in the industry, so did her dreams.
“So you just got to keep grinding and keep walking through the open doors.”
One of those doors was the chance to do an Arkansas football game, where she made a rookie mistake. “I’ll never forget coming on air for the first time and holding the mike, there’s a mute button on the back and I didn’t know it. I’m like squeezing the mike so tight I’m holding down the mute button. So my first hit on ESPN, you can’t even hear me, like I’m only talking to the producer in the truck. And I was like, ‘They’re never going to hire me.’”
Spoiler alert, she recovered like a pro. And she has earned the respect of her peers, counting Lamar Jackson and Shaq among her favorite interviews. Then there was her infamous 2019 interview with Alabama football coach Nick Saban where he yelled at her.
“Not my favorite interview, but now that I think about it, it’s like it’s one of the better things that happens. And like bad publicity sometimes works in your favor,” she said, adding, “That turned into this crazy amount of respect … I went to Tuscaloosa and spoke to the team and I’m like, I never thought in my wildest dreams that Nick Saban would respect me so much that he would say, ‘I actually want you to deliver a message to my team.’”
What can we say? Nick Saban is just a smart man.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive-produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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