The biggest issue we see our country angry at times is because maybe we’re not having conversations, especially uncomfortable ones. Pac-12 Network’s college football analyst and New York Times bestselling author Yogi Roth finds it really interesting what you find out when you talk to people from different backgrounds, races, religions, political leans, especially in this era right now. In his podcast, Light Without Limits, he explores the many ways how people’s minds are artistic to understand the timing and spacing where we fit in certain spots and why we fit there. At the end, people are people, and going out, with them, and studying the human potential is a growth experience.
I’m doing great. I’m so pumped for you. I can remember when we talked about your podcast as an idea and to watch it grow. I love checking in with it and you interviewed some mutual friends like Jon Gordon and his new book and some really fun convos. Congratulations on the success.
I would never have guessed all the blessings that have come my way from starting that podcast and now you have a podcast called Life Without Limits. You’ve had that thing going for two or three years. You’ve got a lot of guests on there and you’ve done some amazing things. You had asked me to be on your podcast. As I was talking, the words coming out of my mouth responding to the questions that you’re asking, in my head the little voice was saying, “I think I can do this, I know a lot of people.” That was number one and number two is in the metaphorical sense, I’m climbing all these crazy mountains all over the world. I came up with Finding Your Summit. It’s about people overcoming adversity and finding their way. We didn’t think that much about the name at the time. It is amazing the feedback I’ve gotten from so many people about resonating with them on their own journey of finding their own summit. I credit you 100%. I always do in terms of you being the inspiration behind cranking this thing out. I appreciate it.
The thing I often remember about you is summit and what that word means. It starts with figuring out why, which you call the seed. I like to remind people, and even receivers like ourselves, we have artistic minds because we have to understand the timing and spacing where we fit in certain spots and why we fit there. If we don’t fit, subtly find the other hole in the defense or the other opportunity in our life as our career ends as a player. It was fun to watch you do that. That’s where our kinship comes from, from all of those extra reps catching a ball and finding our space and our spot and then the podcast will make your voice and to see your 50, 60 plus episodes now.
It’s cool because it takes time and it’s taken time for me. I knew you were going to crush it. I interviewed you once and I was like, “This guy’s going to murder it. It’s going to be a blast.” It’s the people and I know you’ve got this wide array of folks. You have all kinds of receptive plans. You’re a Pac-12 announcer on the football side and you’ve done a fantastic job. You do interact with a lot of people. You’ve got these USC connections and I would never have imagined the people, the breath. You mentioned Jon Gordon who was out on my podcast. What an inspirational guy, he’s a guy that turns lemons into lemonade.
He was going through a challenging time years ago and fifteen books later or whatever, in public speaking all over the country and world. The guy is this ball of energy to talk to, speaking from guys like that who have been in prison or type listen guys. This is also a prisoner who was talking more about Vietnam but also some guys at San Quentin. The stories go on and on. No arms or legs, can’t hear and it puts the adversity that I was going through that led me into the mountains into perspective. Maybe my life isn’t so bad based on all these other guys story. I certainly rather have gone through the stuff I went through than being in a prison cell for six years.
Doing a podcast is really important for people. I talked to college student athletes every week as reference in my career and what I learned as a broadcaster is that everybody’s story and you learn that in the locker room when you’re around people from different backgrounds, different races, religions, political leans, especially in this era right now, is it’s interesting to talk to people. That’s the biggest issue why you see our country angry at times is because maybe we’re not having conversations, especially uncomfortable ones. Podcasts, you know because you’re the interviewer now, it’s a skill set versus being the interviewee, which has been majority of your life as an athlete. You’ve got to be willing to lead with grace while asking difficult questions if you want to have a unique conversation and that is a skill.
You have that and I love listening to yours. I listened to one with our mutual buddy, Brett Hughes. I want it to lead into that. During the football season you’re announcing, you’re up and down. You’re a very busy guy and then you’ve got this love of travel. Two questions. Number one, what is it about travel that you caught that bug? Then the second part of that is of all these spots you’ve been, is there one place that sticks out or is it just a constant search?
It took me a long time to figure this out but my mission is to seek and uncover the humanity in sports around the globe. For half the year around, the globe part doesn’t necessarily exist because I’m calling major college football games in the Pac-12. The other half year I add in the back half of that sentence and I want to go and I’ve been doing it now for fifteen years, over 30 countries. They’re all pretty much the same in terms of I go with one bag and one ball and drop in without a plan and witnessed the power of play and what it can do through community, through sport, through conversation. I’d been in beautiful cities like Paris with our friend, Brett. I’ve been in cities that people wouldn’t go even if somebody’s paying their ticket to go there. That’s fun to play that dichotomy between those types of environments and once you learn the same thing you witnessed in the locker room is that a ball. I always like to say we all speak ball and there is a power with that language.
Sport and travel intertwined for me and the minute I got to taste the scene and the globe, I couldn’t stop. If anybody’s traveling, they get what the travel bug can do because you recognize, especially the job that your athlete and your world is just that. It’s your sport, it’s your craft. Then you see there’s a big world out there. Nobody cared about third and seven at the University of Pittsburgh anymore or USC or wherever you’re playing. They care about their certain step or whatever that may be. I love diving into that. It’s a selfish dive at first because you want to go see something but what you learn through everybody else’s story is that you want to live a selfless life and gain as much knowledge as you can and then give it all away.
I believe that is a mission of mine. I tell young people all the time that a goal in life is to give everything you have away but to give something away. You’ve got to go get it. You’ve got to go seek it. You’ve got to go hunt it down. You’ve got to go chase it. You’ve got to be relentless about it. That’s what travel is for me because I often go to different places to see certain things and I often always see myself in a different light coming back. It’s a constant gift that is always feeding my soul.
It’s such a great bug to have. I traveled a lot prior to getting into the mountains but people asked me several times, “Which one’s your favorite?” Even though I’ve now been to the summit of five of these dozen world’s highest peaks, I’ve done Kilimanjaro twice, I’ve done Denali twice. My answer is everyone is unique in its own way just because of the journey and not necessarily the end destination. You’ve heard that statement many times. It’s great to be on top of the highest mountain in North America, Denali, which I was but it’s all the things that led up to it.
It’s all the training and we’re only talking about the US right now but also Alaska is such a unique bird. The big booming metropolis of Anchorage is 350,000 people, yet the state itself is like a country. It’s just massive. The total amount of population in all of Alaska is 750,000 people. I didn’t know what LA is but it’s massive, it’s millions. Just going down to the Serengeti, being in Russia, being in South America, all these different places is such a learning and a growth experience. At the end of the day, something that you just said, people are really people. Sometimes it’s the government that screwed it up. Going in and interacting with those people, it’s such a growth experience.
There’s a power to it. As an educational shift and changes that remains the truest followed. That’s the positive thing of social media. Instagram has changed the game in terms of people and their ego and personas on a negative front and that’s often talked about. I look at the other way and say it’s allowed people to see places like Iceland or New Zealand or Anchorage, Alaska or Denali. It allows us to wet our appetite to say, “That exists? I’m going to go there.” I love that part of it because at our core, I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, we’re all seekers. It’s a trait that can be developed. I think the best quarterbacks are that. Great leaders are that. Overall, we’re all trying to get better whether that’s a better life, a partner that makes it a better person, a better job, but we’re always seeking answers. Traveling provides the solitude to be within yourself, to explore those and then to see and get around other cultures that can offer you that.
We talked about the mountains, metaphorically speaking. Literally one of the things that’s been probably the best gift in my life, even though I wouldn’t have known it at the time, this goes back six, seven years, is that when I first started climbing these mountains. You can take the phone but there’s no cell coverage. You’re up there and to have that quiet space, not to have your phone blasting away with text messages and emails and all this other stuff that distracts you. It made me go inward to understand the things that I needed to get clear on at the time to see a path forward. That has been one of the great blessings of my life.
It’s been awesome to get caught up. I really appreciate your time.
It’s crazy that time flies.
Have a great day.
Listen to the podcast here:
Life Without Limits with College Football Analyst, Filmmaker & Scholar Yogi Roth
I’m so honored to be speaking with a guy who’s become a friend of mine, Yogi Roth. One of the reasons why I’m so excited to talk to Yogi is because for his age, he is super accomplished. He is a Pac-12 announcer, he started producing movies, he’s an author. He’s got his own podcast going. I’m just very happy to have a nice chat with him and understand the question about Finding Your Summit which is the name of my podcast. Yogi, welcome.
I feel like I have a million questions for you so it’s going to be hard for me.
You gave me some of the inspiration. Before I went to Denali, you came down, you interviewed me and I had such a great time with it. Like Yogi, I know a lot of people out there too and a lot of people have achievement and accomplishment like you, why not go after it and it seems appropriate for what I’m doing climbing mountains around the world and going after things to call it Finding Your Summit. Everybody has a different summit and I’m interested in learning about yours.
I love the name.
You’re a very accomplished guy and I’m somewhat envious because I wish I was that accomplished. That’s not about the accomplishment but about the vision, about where you’re trying to go. Like a lot of things, you don’t just fall out of a tree and become Yogi. You’re here because of things that happened to you growing up. The first thing I want to do is just establish a base and tell me about where you’re from. Tell me about your high school and I want to focus in from your parents because I know there’s an influence from Israel and your grandparents. Also I want to get into how football intertwined into your life and how that came to be.
I grew up in Dalton, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny town. In comparison, think Varsity Blues. Nothing existed other than high school football and this is 2,500 people. No stoplights, high school still doesn’t have a soccer team. It’s pretty much football through and through in the country north of Scranton, Pennsylvania. For us, we grew up in a unique house. Mom was a refugee from the Middle East. Our dad had studied philosophy. They both worked in the therapy community. My mom was an art therapist. My dad was a family therapist; very mental as a household growing up. You add in our names to it, and my name is clearly Yogi and everyone in our house had a different name. It was important for our parents to do that when we ask them now. One was a Hebrew name and one was an Indian name. When we were born it was like, “What’s going to be his first name? What’s going to be his middle name?” For me, Yogi is my first name and Zohar is my middle name and both of them have deep meaning that as I’ve progressed in my life, I resonate with and I lean into.
Growing up as a kid, we were forced to play everything from literally in plays as actors, play music, play sports, just be active and be involved. My entire childhood is a memory of being outside and competing. To me, I grew up with three other guys and literally we played everything from 7 AM until the streetlights came on. That’s where my competitive temperament was built. It was the one place where no dream was shattered. You’d play basketball and I’d be like, “I’m Barkley. I’m Jordan. I’m Pippin. I’m Bird. I’m Magic. We’re going to play tennis. I’m McEnroe, Sampras, Courier, Chang,” and you were. “What are you going to do when you get older?” “I’m going to play for the Sixers.” “I’ll play for the Lakers.” No one ever took a shot at that dream in our tiny little town, and the four of us bonded so tightly and truly felt like it could happen. That’s why I still am not comfortable with saying I’ve done anything because I’m just getting warmed up. The vision was cast so big and broad at such a young age that it doesn’t seem like anything’s been accomplished. I enjoy it along the way but to me I’m trying to recapture playing basketball as much as possible on the Dalton court because that’s where my competitive temperament was created.
It’s interesting you say that because in Seattle, Washington where I grew up, I was doing the exact same thing. We would have been great mates. Growing up I would play out different football stars from USC and other places. College was the big thing for me back then. Growing up, Seattle did not have a team, Seahawks came around in 1976. It’s great to play that imagination and dream and dream big and there’s no limits when you’re a kid because nobody’s told you can’t accomplish what you think you want to go accomplish yet.
For me it was really fun. It was maybe a year or two I called home, “Mom, you’ve got to read about Thich Nhat Hanh. This guy is awesome.” She goes, “Yogi, I have been teaching about him since you were five.” It reminded me that I was being trained in mindfulness since I was a young kid, so much so that visioning was a big exercise for me. I can remember in high school, I’d lay in my bed the night before a game on a Thursday and I would envision the game and play it out. I would never even step on the field in the third quarter because in my eyes, I already had four touchdowns and the game was over. I didn’t play after halftime. That was such a deeply rooted memory in my life because the mental skills were such a big part of our upbringing. Our parents knew what they were doing because of their background in psychology and psychotherapy and all of those elements. They created, Bill Walsh called it, a competitive cauldron. They created cauldrons in our home.
For instance, I love to travel now. It’s probably my favorite thing to do in the world. We didn’t have the means to travel a lot as kids internationally, so our parents would bring foreign exchange students to take our room and live in our home. That’s how I got exposed to East Asia. It’s how I got exposed to Russia. It’s how I got exposed to Denmark. It’s how I got exposed to Israel. It’s how I got exposed to South America because people literally come to us. I look back then and I’m like, “I hope I am that forward thinking when I have kids,” because what a cool example of no excuses. “Maybe we can’t go to Paris for the summer, we can bring Paris to us.” In our little town, it was very unique because here we were this left wing, wide open house, the sign in our door said, “Make peace not war,” in a community that was pretty much steelwork and hands on, a blanched, pale-type community. To have that blend for me is what shaped my spirit and gave me the thought that I can go do anything including play college football at the highest levels.
I’m definitely going to come back to this because there’s a tie in that I want to explore. Let’s talk about your high school football and then transition that to college. Somehow or another you got to USC. I’m not quite sure what that path was.
It’s a fun one. We didn’t play growing up, me and those three other guys, we were probably the best athletes in the community, very similar to your group, but none of us played tackle football. I don’t know if it was a combination from our parents don’t want to do this, the teams are average and we would always smoke in the backyard anyway so we were like “We don’t need to go put the pads on. I will just play whatever we want.” Eighth grade came and that’s when we played. Looking back on it now and I talk to parents, the advice I give especially now with the concussion element is there’s no rush to get your kid into that type of tackle environment. We played then. I came out as a freshman and started varsity day one. Our team was always the average team but when our group got going, we weren’t going to accept losing and we didn’t. The standard changed and the standard was raised and we ended up being one of the top teams in the state by the time I left high school. When that happened, I understood the recruiting game a little bit. I started to get calls as a freshman from Ivy League schools because my grades were good and I said, “What is college? I could play sports in college.” The only lens I saw college through was through a ball. I didn’t have a clue about college from an academic standpoint as embarrassing as that is to say. I don’t know what I would have done if a ball wasn’t a part of my life.
I get to my junior year and I’m playing really well, I’m an All-State player and I could play at the highest of levels. My dad and I do this road trip that most high school juniors do. You go camp to camp to camp and you do the campus tour in the spring. All I want to do is go to Notre Dame. Literally, that was my life. Growing up where I grew up, it was Penn State or Notre Dame. We didn’t even talk about Pittsburgh. We didn’t even know what the Rose Bowl was other than the cheerleaders you saw and Keith Jackson. That was about it. We went out to Notre Dame’s camp, and Bob Davie was the coach and Urban Meyer as a receiver coach. I told Urban the story when I saw him at Ohio State and we got a nice chuckle about it. They had one scholarship for one wide receiver and there were two of us up for it. It was me and a guy named Ronnie Rodemer. Ronnie was 6’5”, 230 out of West Virginia. He was the next Randy Moss, looked the part, it was a no-brainer who you offer. They offer him and that day I decided I’m going to go to whatever school plays Notre Dame and lost. I didn’t even know anything about Pitt other than I know their depth chart, the receiver. The receiver coach is a former walk-on. I thought I could do it, and I knew the scholarship guys coming in and I thought I was just as good as he was. I decided to walk-on at Pitt, got really lucky, I came in early. I did all the little things and played my second game as a freshman.
I tell you that story because when I was a senior in high school, I came home one day and said, “Mom, I’m pretty pumped,” and I gave her this award and it was Defensive Player of the Year in Pennsylvania. She goes, “Yogi, congratulations but there are 49 other states.” That was a great reminder to me that you’re in this small town and it matters, but there is a big world. The only rule we had in our home is when you turn eighteen you have to leave. You had to get out. You weren’t allowed to stick around in our town. You had to see the globe. You had to see the world. I went to Pitt, walked on, and started fighting. As an athlete in college and regardless of what level, the fight is the same because your passion and love is tested. You either love it and you thrive or you don’t and you fault and you don’t care. I really think it’s that easy in college athletics especially the highest of levels. I got lucky, played, got a scholly, had that fourth, fifth wide-receiver type career. At the time Pete Carroll’s son, Brennan, was one of my best friends and mentors in college. He was our tight end. When he left early to graduate, he was older than me. I came in SC in the summers and started to see like, “California, this is awesome.”
This is after my third year. I go out on spring break and I remember calling my mom from Manhattan Beach and I was like “Mom, no offense, but why didn’t we grow up here?” She had never been west of Ohio, let alone the Mississippi. It was over for me. I was going to find a way out here. I have one more year. I play at Pitt. I finished my senior year and then I go to Australia and play there and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I was lost in my life like all of us are when the game says it’s done with us. I didn’t know what to do, how to adjust and Australia thankfully gave me that cushion of a nice fall and me just having that identity crisis of who I am and what am I about. I’ve known Pete in USC, I knew Sark and Kiff and the whole staff, and we were all boys and it was great, but in my mind I was never going to coach. I saw what they did. My receiver coach in college saw his wife on Sundays from 4PM to 5 PM and that was it in the season. He was grinding and never saw his kids. I didn’t have a family or anything, but I didn’t vision cast that for my life. I went to Australia and played. It was great because our quarterback was 50 and our center was 18, and nobody was good. You have to remember, my roommates in college were Antonio Bryant who was a Biletnikoff winner, All-American, and Larry Fitzgerald, the Biletnikoff, won All-American. I was never that guy. I went to Australia and I became that guy. No one was very good so it was a great way to dominate that space and have fun and get back to the play of the game, which sometimes we can get lost in.
The one thing that’s great about Australia and I’ve been there a number of times, the people are so warm and friendly. I made this jokingly to one of my climbing partners who lives in Melbourne. They remind me, and I mean this in all the positive sense, of a chocolate lab because their demeanor is happy, always wagging the tail, everything is great and no worries.
I always describe it as everyone makes $50,000, has a crappy car and loves life. It to me was a great lens to see the world. This is pathetic but I thought when we landed I was going to see kangaroos and koala bears jumping down street and they have freeways and highways and towns. Just to finally travel and see it. I traveled everywhere. I played and I had this job at an internet cafe at the local mall. I took the bus to and from work. I live with seven people; two females and five guys. Everybody didn’t have a room or a bed, we just figure it out and it was awesome. I say that that’s when I became obsessed with traveling. I went to Bali. I’d surf. I travel all over Australia. That’s when the bug got me of, “Sports power play can do what?. We all do speak ball.” I can go to a different community and all of a sudden, I can connect with people whether it’s rugby, soccer, football, bat, whatever. “Can sport be a way that I can see the world?” That’s when it started to get supplanted deep, deep in my subconscious of, “I think so. Maybe someday, I could.”
Now you’re in Australia and your mind has been expanded. Did you end up then going to SC as a graduate assistant or where did that come in or didn’t come in?
When I was in Australia, I got a job outside of the internet cafe and I was going to stick around. I had a job, I was dating somebody, life was good in Australia. The one job I wanted, I got offered was to do radio for the Pittsburgh Panthers Radio Sideline Network which was like Fox, Clear Channel and I took it. I went back to Pittsburgh. Prior to going back to Pittsburgh, I went home and broke the cardinal rule. I went home for two weeks and hated it that I ended up calling one of those three guys that I played basket with growing up and I said, “How much money do you have?” He said, “I have $1,500.” He said, “How much do you have?” I said, “$1,500.” We have our $3,000 and drove across the country for a month and slept in the car pretty much every night. Because I just had to keep seeking it, keep exploring, keep growing simultaneously. I got offered the receiver job at Akron. I had a couple of things that popped in college football, so I was always getting pulled to teams, but I was like, “No, I need to go down this road of media.” I moved to Pittsburgh, do TV for a year for a football season, do half of basketball season, and SC wins the national championship for the second time. They smoked somebody, I think it was probably Oklahoma, and Pete called me at midnight my time and he goes, “What are you doing?” I was like, “Nothing. What’s up?” He goes, “I’ve got something for you. Why don’t you come in tomorrow?” I said, “Okay.”
I can’t sleep. I’m thinking to myself like, “When do I call him?” He’s like, “Not too early but just call me.” I was like, “When do I call? How do I call?” I remember it like yesterday. I drive to this hill in Pittsburgh because service was a little spotty on my phone. I was like, “I’m going to go to the highest peak to make sure this call doesn’t drop. I’m about to call the guy.” This is Pete freaking Carroll I’m calling. I called him. It’s too early. I called him at like 9 and he’s still sleeping. He goes, “What’s up? Let’s talk about it.” It was like a five-minute talk of, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “I want to impact the world in a cool way.” That’s what I told him when I first met him two years prior and that’s what has been my thesis statement in life. He goes, “Why don’t you come out here and have some fun?” I said, “I don’t want to coach, but I want to go to grad school but I’ll do anything you want.” He said, “We’ll get you to grad school and you’re going to work on player personnel,” basically like director of football operations was going to get split down the middle. I was going to do logistic. I would meet with the NFL guys, be that role. I move out two weeks later, I drop in Hermosa Beach, I go to SC, I take the job, and the guy whose job that they gave me is now the athletic director of Villanova, his name is Mark Jackson. He was leaving for a job at Syracuse. I slide in, two weeks into it, he sits me down over a burrito on his little couch in his office and he goes, “Do you want to coach?” I didn’t flinch and I said, “Sure, let’s roll.” That’s how I got into coaching. I was kind of the grunt for Lane and Sark for two years. I slept in the office every night for the most part. I went to grad school, got my master’s and that’s when Pete and I connected the most because he would sleep in the office a couple of nights as well.
Number one, you have no experience broadcasting but you get offered a job to broadcast with the Pittsburgh Panthers. The second part of that is now you’ve never coached but they’re asking you to be assistant coach. How does that work?
I think there are two reasons and I tell this to college students all the time. When I was in college, every Friday the TV trucks come in and meet with the coaches like with Walt Harris and Larry Fitzgerald and the coordinators. I started to see that and I was like, “Can I sit in on those meetings?” I started to sit on the production meetings and then they would look at me and be like, “He’s a smart guy probably. Let me ask him about the game plan.” We started to develop these relationships I did with broadcasters and producers. They knew what they needed from me. I didn’t care, but I knew what I needed from them was an email or a relationship and it started to happen. I started saying, “That’s a job. Our careers are similar as players.” He wasn’t a hall of famer, I’m not a hall of famer. “What a cool job.” I kept those relationships going throughout.
In coaching, I had always been the coach on the field. I sat in quarterback meetings because I need to think like that. They sent me my roommates and Antonio and Larry, because they wanted me to coach them. I was always that role. When I met Pete a couple of years prior when I went out on spring break, we had this kindred spirit relationship of seeking the world. We were both undersized chip on the shoulder type of guys. You always need somebody, I always say, “Somebody has to give everybody a break,” and they gave me that chance. They knew I’d come in and bust my ass and do that, and his philosophy was, “I’ll teach you how to coach.” He doesn’t necessarily want guys that come in, especially young guys that have been trained by five different people. He wants you to have the clay and the ability to receive all the knowledge and just go to work, and I was going to be that. For us, it was a start of how my parents developed me. He took that clay and molded it and to this day I’ll say that my twenties being around him was the greatest gift of my life.
Now, you got two parallel paths going. You’ve got this coaching thing that Pete Carroll has offered you at the time who is the coach in college football. He was a machine for ten years. Then you’ve also got this interest in broadcasting. At some point in time, you took a big leap and you went all in, and you are now one of the lead announcers for a Pac-12 and you’re not coaching. At some point in time, you either you go left or you go right.
It was hard. I’ve always struggled with that in everything. I always have stated that I’m a guy who wants life experiences. I don’t necessarily want to do something for 30 years and at the time that’s how I felt about coaching. If we piece it together, when I was coaching, Pete had me do everything. Not only was I coaching, my first two years I was the grunt. I went out with Lane for a day to the Raiders, came back. He let me coach the quarterbacks. Now, I have a real job and I’m doing meetings and doing real football. Throughout it, we would meet at night and he would say, “What do you want to do? Let’s create some stuff.” “What are we going to create?” We had this circle on this big white board, in the middle it had ‘Win Forever’ which was his brand. “What shall we do?” “Let’s see if we can create a peace rally in Los Angeles. Yogi, what do you think?” “I’ll figure it out.” We created a peace rally in Los Angeles. At the time, there’s a lot of gang violence going on and Pete was in the middle of it trying to have some impact positively to slow down or stop it. “Let’s see if we can do a movie. Let’s see if we can do documentary. Yogi, figure it out.” We were literally so close to an IMAX movie in college football. It was awesome. You got right down to the final wire. He was, “Let’s write a book.” We wrote a book.
I was around this creative guy and I was the person that would figure it out. I got exposed to a lot. Even when I went to coach, in my mind I was always like, “I’m going to get my PhD in football.” ESPN has not hired me because of my Pitt playing career. It would have been a nice hard trajectory like it is for anybody, but where can I jump and leapfrog the competition? Nobody is going to able to see the game like I can see it. I’m going to learn from the best as your reference. Offensive football, I feel like I’ve got my master’s degree from Lane and Sark at the time, then overall philosophically organizing a culture. I wrote his book. I got to really get into the nuts and bolts of it. I was ready either way.
Every year when you were at SC at that time, you’re approached with other jobs. I was never going to leave. I had a chance to go to a cool school and I said, “No, because I’m not ready. I’m not done with learning from this guy.” I knew how special Pete was and I wanted to soak up all of that. Four years into it, that’s when I was like, “It’s time for me to go.” That was the end of the run. I looked at him and I looked at Pat Ruel, he was the O-line coach and these guys had coached together since they were at Arkansas under Lou Holtz. I said, “You have been doing this for 35 years at the time, and that’s awesome, but I cannot stomach the idea of doing the same thing for 35 years. I got to see the world, I wanted to travel and I needed to get out.” Not just for ten days on a spring break, I needed to get out. I had a chance to go to Washington, be the full-time QB coach of Sark. It was the hardest thing to do because he’s family to me and I turned it down. I was like, “I got to listen to my truth.” I got on a plane in a one-way ticket and flew to Easter Island and started traveling and was lost in a disaster and it was like, “I got to seek who I am versus go down this path as a coach,” where literally when you can go to the bathroom, let alone what practice is like. Your schedule is so mapped out that at 26 I wasn’t comfortable with doing that.
It takes a lot of courage and balls to step out in so often. So many people are going down the path of sure things and probability and security. You are under the umbrella of a lot of what would become a number of potential head coaches in college and in the NFL, not to mention leave out Pete Carroll who has done obviously extremely well with the Seattle Hawks at the same time. It gets back to what I call my podcast, which is Finding Your Summit, and I don’t think there’s any one summit. I look back on my life and it depends on the period of your life that you’re going through that you see different summits. There’s a period in time when maybe coaching was you thought that was your place and you wanted to ascend to the top of the profession. That might have been your summit and then your summit changed. You grew, things happen and you wanted to go out, you want to travel and then you bounce into broadcasting. You’ve been paired with one of the top guys, Ted Robinson. I listened to your podcast with him and it’s really fascinating with his experience but what a wonderful, humble guy to turn around and take you under his wing and share the stage with you in the sense of broadcasting this new network.
It’s been awesome. I always say that I’ve been gifted some really amazing people in life in each step of the way. I don’t get into TV unless one of those guys who I sat in a production meeting with takes a run at me on College Football Live nine years ago. I’ll never forget he goes, “Tell me about Matt Barkley.” His name is Michael Fountain. I said, “I’ll tell you all about him, put me on TV.” He goes, “You’ve never done it before.” I was like, “I did a little radio years ago.”He’s like, “This is ESPN. I’ll give you one chance.” I was like, “I had nothing.” He gave me a chance and just kept going. Same thing happened at Fox College Sports. I got a meeting and all of a sudden I convinced them that, “In five years, I’m the only guy that’s played or coached in the history of analysts. You got to hire me.” They hired me. Pac-12 was the same thing. I just banged on the door.
On the other side of that has always been somebody who’s met me with grace. Kevin Calabro was my first partner. He was the voice in Sonics, for him to teach me the profession. Steve Physioc was the first guy I had broadcast with who’s a Royals guy now. They met me with grace and now for Ted, to partner with him at a stage in my career where I know what I’m doing and have my stuff together of how I want to celebrate the game and coach the viewer, you couldn’t ask for anything better. To me, I’m getting paired. I’m like Tim Duncan, he’s David Robinson. At this stage in our careers, it couldn’t be something that lights up my world more than being around him. It’s absolutely fascinating because I’ll sit there in a broadcast and I’ll just look at them after he said something and then I’ll just say, “That was really good.” To be able to step out of a broadcast and say that to me is when somebody really can impact you. It’s happened with Kevin before but with Ted, my last year has been the most influential one in my life as an on-air personality, and I’m pumped to be with him for the next couple of years. I couldn’t be more excited.
When you interviewed me, I’ve created this summit’s module which is the acronym for achievement. The last S is around success, the summits, and it’s really about paying it forward. In a situation like you, you have mentors that are reaching back to you and they’re paying it forward in their own way in terms of being very generous with their time, sharing the screen and obviously, you have a chemistry so it works which is awesome.
I’ve been on this kick in meditating of the idea of giving. You have to give. It goes back to my mom’s parents who were both Holocaust survivors. They moved to the US, start a local market and go bankrupt because they gave away so much to people that were homeless and they didn’t care. These are people that could and maybe should have been angry. Families are murdered and massacred. They went through hell and high water and they were all about loving, giving. For me, I try to do it too. When I meet young aspiring on-air broadcasters or producers, that’s my responsibility as a traveler. I feel like my job is to give away the stories and the concepts that I meet from people, which is why I like the documentaries. To your exact point, Ted, Kevin, they keep giving. The biggest thing that we can do, at least I believe, is I’ve got to keep receiving and being open to what’s coming. I don’t want my head to be buried. All too often in an industry which is sometimes all about you, you can bury your head. I’ve tried to be extremely cognizant to make sure that it is not about me.
My job is to receive and be open to everything and celebrate the greatest game in the world and coach the viewer. Those are literally the two things that I tell myself and I tell our entire crew before every game. I get on the talk back and I say, “We’re calling the night,” because when I do call the National Championship game, it’s not going to be a big deal because I have done it hundreds of times. I say, “Our job is to celebrate the game and coach the viewers. Let’s let it rip,” and we go. That is our mantra and I believe it and it’s true. If you want any pocket of information, there are not two better people that are going to give it to you than Ted or I because of the way we approach the game.
You’re with the Pac-12 Network. In terms of this particular summit for you, how do you see this plan and what would you like to do? I know you broadcast the men’s or the women’s beach volleyball championship. Do you see yourself being the anchor of NBC? Bob Costas is doing the Olympics. Are your sights as wide open to whatever will be, will be or where do you see that?
It’s really cool now with the media landscape. Fans in college football leagues, they want experts within their team. They don’t want me to come and talk about the first guy on the UCLA defensive line. They want me to talk about the third guy on the defensive line and I could go there and do that. That is a responsibility that we have to fans. Overall my career, I want to play on the biggest stages. I love that. The fun part is we get to define what those stages are. Does that mean sold-out Rose Bowl National Championship? That’s a given. That also can mean telling the most intimate stories because Josh Roshen can trust me because I’ve known him and I work for the Pac-12 Network. That’s the beauty of our network because we do take you to two, three, four, five layers deep. I’ve been able to transition in my mind that that is playing on a huge stage. As the media circles continue to chop down the trees of, “There are only these two or three places you can work.” It’s not the case anymore. It is a wide open landscape and great storytellers are heard, great stories are seen and shared and celebrated, and that’s what I see.
I was lucky to work at ESPN and Fox early in my career and those were incredible experiences. Now, I look at the Pac-12 Network and it’s a frontier in media. Anybody can get anything they want whenever they want. If you’re coming correct and bringing it, that’s going to bring you other opportunities in your life. That’s where I’m at in sports, but overall, I’d love to have my own show and my own platform, which is why I do my own podcast, which is why I like the documentary style of things that I do. Just to be able to get in and hone in with a live audience, to be able to hone it with someone in a different environment whether that’s on the road traveling or in their backyard. I’d love those elements and if I could be the bridge between your story and somebody who’s receiving it, that’s a skill set that I’ve always can do to try to work on.
You’re 35 now and it’s just amazing to me that you’ve been able to accomplish so much. After I got done playing professional football, I was in that tailspin of like, “What in the hell do I do now? I went through a couple of years of hard times. I know I’m born to do something great, and just trying to figure that out and trying to met my way there. After playing at the top of your profession and doing that thing that you talked about growing up as a kid with your 3 other friends, me doing the same thing in Seattle and accomplishing that and then you’re going “Is it all downhill from here?” Because you hit your summit, you hit your peak and it’s hard for a lot of guys. Congratulations on that end.
What I want to do is transition over a little bit. I want to talk about Life in a Walk. It’s a movie. You’re playing football, you get a call from Pete, you come out. You’re, “Shall I do the broadcasting thing or am I going to go into coaching? Ultimately, it turns out to be broadcasting and you’ve got this great gig going on. Where was the inspiration for you to take on this movie and explain a little bit about that? I know it involves you and your dad, but pretty fascinating that you put this thing together and it’s cool.
It all started back in fourth grade, because in fourth grade it was the first time I had a coach basically shit on a dream. It was the first time anybody ever did it for me. I remember it viscerally what I was wearing, what the gym was like, what he said, how he said it. Basically, I wanted to play in the NBA and he laughed and he goes “Yogi’s going to get his MBA.” It was probably a complement at the time, but for me I didn’t know what an MBA was, and it crushed me and it turned me into writing and I’ve been writing ever since. If there’s one thing that I’d hang my hat on, it would be that. That’s the one thing that comes out of my fingers. I don’t plan it, I don’t outline it, it just can go and I love it. It’s just therapeutic for me. I did it when I was coaching. I was lucky to write Pete’s book but I wrote my own while I was doing it. I say that because when my coaching career ended and I started broadcasting, I got approached by ESPN if I wanted to do documentaries. 2009 was called the Year of the QB on ESPN. Jake Locker decided to return for his senior year, and I turned down this job. Sark could have been better about it. He was like, “What do you think about doing a doc on this?” This is a team coming off on zero-win season. I said, “Yes, that’s cool.” I called my friends at ESPN, Joan Lynch, who runs the content development and I said, “We have this doc on Jake Locker. He was projected to be the one or two pick, decides to come back, returns all of his money, Ferndale, the whole story.” She’s like, “Let’s do it.”
I go up there and I start to learn and I start to begin the journey as I transition from writing in pen and paper and computers to writing on the screen. I didn’t know anything. I don’t know how to turn a camera on. I don’t know how to light an interview. I didn’t know how to do an interview. I just knew the access and that was the first step for me getting into documentary filmmaking. I was just a field producer; I show up and I make the room right. I knew the coaching community, so I can make sure the camera guys who knew nothing about the coaching community didn’t piss everybody off and didn’t bust into a team meeting. They just knew the landscape and the environment. I was like, “This is a skill. Producing and knowing the intimate elements of college football is a skill. This could get me into doing stories.” I probably do ten, twelve, fourteen docs like that, and then I get to a place where I’m enjoying producing but I’m not running it. I’m not writing it. I said, “I got to do my own story.” At the time, I was doing a pilot travel show in New York City, and the crew that I was working with said, “Yogi, we love your iPhone. Do you mind if we come follow you on your next trip? We’d love to capture everything with a nice camera.” I was like “Sure, I’m going to go do this walk with my dad,” and they were in, in two seconds. I said, “Let’s go do it.”
The back story of the walk was that I was sitting in my couch one night in this apartment where we’re at. I was watching a movie on TV and it was about this place in Spain, Portugal, France called the Camino de Santiago which is the famous walk. It hit me between the eyes that I had never dealt with the fact that our dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. 2009 was also the year I left coaching. It was a year that I was made sure that it was about me and I wanted to figure my life out. I didn’t even flinch when he was sick. I was like, “He’s fine. He’s my dad. He’s good.” It all rushed back to me like a massive, huge wave like a tsunami almost, and I’m bawling and I’m crying and I’m sitting there like, “I never dealt with this. I got a lot of shit I want to ask him.” My friends were losing parents at the time and they learned more about them at the celebration of life than they did in real life. I flew to New York two days later and I said, “Dad, let’s go for a walk.” He said, “Sure. Where do you want to go?” I gave him a plane ticket and I said, “If you want to go, meet me in Madrid in two weeks. We’re going to walk the Camino de Santiago.” It was fourteen days. He didn’t know about the camera crew. He didn’t know shit. He was just like, “I’m in.” He and I had traveled to India before for a month, so we we’ve got a great vibe, we have an awesome relationship. He’s thinking it’s just another trip. We show up, and there are two guys and us and we document the whole thing.
Come home, not sure what’s going to be and start to go to work. For me, the beautiful element of the walk was that every single day, I’d ask him about a different decade in his life. That’s how I organized the film in my mind. What I learned about him is that any time he’d gone through anything and you learn this in the film, whether it was he and my mom lost twins, whether it’s losing his own father, whether it was losing a job, he always walked. For me, anytime somebody shit on my dream or any time that I was told I wasn’t good enough to play or any time that I struggled in a relationship, I always walked, which is why I leaned in your story about walking around Santa Monica so much. My point is that man has made a move. Our dad says that very eloquently in the film and you move through things and we move through that together, and it changed my life to this day. It’s the most impactful thing I’ve ever gone through. When I came home and made it into a film, all I wanted was him to enjoy it. What happened was that the world enjoyed it and it exploded and I didn’t know it would happen at the time. I was pumped about it, but I didn’t even care because it wasn’t about that. It was so much about this intimate relationship, “Can I capture this guy?” What I’ve learned and been so appreciative of since then is that it has nudged people across the globe, on airplanes, wherever to go ask people that matter them important questions.
Where can you find this film?
It’s pretty much everywhere but Netflix. Amazon, Google, it’s on YouTube. You have to pay for it. It’s on iTunes. It’s on Hulu. It’s on on-demand on your cable provider. It’s pretty much everywhere.
It was a life changer. It was an absolute life changer because we go so fast sometimes specifically out here and we don’t sometimes ask the questions that matter. I still trip out about it. The tagline of the movie is, “I never want to say the sentence, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my dad.” I dropped him off at the airport after we screened it all across the country and I broke down because I realized that the tagline was BS, because I’m always going to say I wish I spent more time with my dad. At least it got me thinking down that road and it changed me. I hear from people probably every day who see it all across the globe. It’s fun because you go back to, what are you supposed to do in this world? You’re supposed to give and leave with nothing. If I can nudge one person to ask their dad, their mom or their loved one a question, then we did our job, and it’s doing it.
Your dad is still with us?
I lost my dad five years ago. I ask that question all the time. I think about him all the time. I wish he was back. He was a great guy. You’re right, a lot of times you don’t get to say what you really feel until they pass, and all of a sudden, everybody shows up to talk about what a great guy he was that everybody should have been saying those things while he was around.
I always look at parents and their job fundamentally is to raise a child, to educate, to protect, to teach, very rarely is to share your own story. I think there’s a gracefulness that’s required there, because I’m in the high school quarterback space a lot. I see parents sometimes over-sharing their story and living vicariously through their kid. There’s a healthy balance there of letting your kid know who their parent is because we want to learn about the people closest to us. To me, that’s been a fun study to observe as this thing’s going on.
When you interviewed me, I went through a rough time, I got divorced. It was awful. It’s something that I never planned on, I couldn’t imagine 24 years. A lot of my life was buried in the garage and one of the things I’ve done at my place in Hermosa Beach is completely decorate it with lifetime memories; lifetime memories of not just of me and my accomplishments but of my kids and things that I’ve been. Every single time I get a few people over, Jim Mora and other people like that, and the house tells a story and it opens up conversation. My daughter, Claudette, brought some of her friends over and they were all going around looking at every single picture and seeing her in Mexico and Hawaii. It’s really living that story. They’re asking questions about me and based on other things that they saw. It wasn’t an abstract photo of a bird or something which is cool. We tend to run so fast that you don’t take a time out to think about where you’ve been and what you want to accomplish.
We started this game in our house whenever we sat down for dinner as a family, which happen maybe twice a year. Everyone has to ask a question they don’t know the answer to, and it turns into a two-hour discussion. I am a totally believer now of being in the story world for almost a decade of life is all about story. Everything in it. It doesn’t mean like Hollywood, cheesy, story shyster. Everyone has one. Everyone lives one. It’s important to ask them. I do this exercise when I get on planes sometimes or I force myself to ask the person I’m sitting next to their story. It’s really fun. I did a job where I was flown first class and nobody talked. I was blown away. I was like, “Here were are in the sweetest spot and we’re not talking. When I’m in coach and I’m next to you, we are boys. We are homies. By the end of it, we’re exchanging e-mails.”
I thought it was a unique study of, “What if we gave ourselves that subtle challenge of connecting with one person a day?” You have to and it has to be somebody you’ve never met before. It could be in line at the grocery store or walking on the beach. You don’t have to ask them for their number or their last name or their first name but just connect. That’s what we seek. I did this study on connection. When you look at the eight billion people on the planet, the amount of people that are on Facebook, the amount of people that are sharing a post, we all seek that. In an era where we can connect in an instant, we’re as disconnected as we’ve ever been. To me, that’s a life mission of having that conversation to make sure we do it.
I also think there’s a mental shift for me. I’ve got my journal and in the back, it’s got dos and don’ts and goals and everything else. Through here, one of the things that I try to do is be thankful for everyone, be grateful and appreciative. When you go into that mindset, it opens you up to those types of things, otherwise you flip back to the other part of it which is, “This is all about me.”
That’s why I stay connected to the coaching community so much. You mentioned Coach Mora. We did a doc on him all year and the fun part about docs is people are mic’d up and they forget they’re mic’d up so you hear them. You hear their truth. You know exactly who they are and what they’re about. When you’re on the mountain, when it gets really hard, you’re your purest form. What I loved about him is that he’s about giving back to young men that need him in their lives. It’s about that connection truly in every sense of it. On one hand, I left coaching, but I truly say it before every broadcast, “My job is to coach the viewers,” so to do that, I got to know how he thinks. I got to know how his quarterbacks coach thinks. I got to know how the freshman thinks. I got to know how mom and dad think. There’s this whole idea that still baked in that idea of being the coach at Pitt when I was coaching Larry Fitz on how to run a post drought, or coaching at SC and work with Mark Sanchez or just coaching a viewer. I don’t think that ever leaves. It’s just the muse has changed, but the core of a coach or as a jock like you and I share, it never goes away. You want to compete at the highest level. You have huge standards for everyone that you’re hiking with or climbing with or broadcasting with, and you want to get coached hard. That’s things that carry with you no matter if you’re making breakfast or if you’re calling a game or if you’re hiking in Denali.
All those things get revealed when I got back from Denali too. Follow up question to your movie, do you have another one coming out?
I got into the short film world. Short film is anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes. I don’t know if it’s a response to our short attention spans, but I have had a lot of fun with it. I did it on Inauguration Day, and I asked people around LA what it means to be human. I did pretty well. I went to Israel and asked people what does it mean to love. While I was there, I got embedded in their football league. It was awesome, so I created a doc series called We All Speak Ball. Those two things are out and they’re growing every day, which is fun to watch, it evolved. It’s all free. I put them all on YouTube or YogiRoth.com. You can get them all there. I’m almost done with a new film called The Cape, which you’ll love. It’s about sailing around South America and Cape Horn. When I was a kid, I got a journal I was given at eight years old. It was about this guy whose life was falling apart. He got a job on a boat and he sailed around Cape Horn, which is known as sailor’s graveyard. The tip of South America is the deadliest sea in the world. He’d write about it and write about and it was 1857 and 1858. Here I am at eight years old, reading this thing and it happens to be our great, great, great, grandfather. I’ve been obsessed with this part of the world since I was a kid. Finally, three years ago, I went and sailed it, filmed it, came back. We’re almost done with the film now and I hope we start to screen in festivals.
You’ve got a podcast called Life Without Limits. It intertwines a little bit with Finding Your Summit. We’ve talked about a lot of things from coaching to growing up to being grounded to your parents, the way they raised you, to filmmaking. In terms of your summit, where do you see yourself at this stage of your career?
I think I’m just getting warmed up. I have this analogy I have been using. Guys like you and I, we enjoyed getting our hands dirty. You have been climbing, clearly, they get dirty. The idea to me is when you achieve a certain level in a career or in a life, you can get comfortable. I always loved walking in Santa Monica because I listen to the street performers. When I’m walking in Venice, I see people fighting and clawing and scratching and they’re dirty. I remember when I was making $15,000 just fighting my ass off, to just get a hit on TV, and I’m begging somebody. “I’ll do it for free,” and just live it however you got to live. To me, I still feel that guy and I know that I’m not. I know that I’ve achieved some cool things, but in terms of the summit, I enjoy digging in. That’s important whether I’m digging into a high school football recruits for the Elite 11 or if that is broadcasting. I don’t know if you lose that.
You have to adjust at big challenges, to adjust my life, so I’m not always competing in that regard. I’m competing in my relationships. I’m competing to create some free time for my life. I’m competing in other areas but with the same rigor, the same focus, the same hopeful grace, the same mindfulness that I did when I was fighting for a roster spot. I never really think about, “Have I arrived?” I know I’ve done cool stuff and I get all that, but I’m just getting going. I enjoy that mindset because it keeps me sharp and it keeps me working. I don’t lay back, but I know how to relax. I know how to not work 20 hour days anymore. I know how to strategically do it better, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve done anything. I’m just getting going.
You talk about always, it’s all part of the journey. It’s not necessarily the summit, it’s part of the journey. Not too much different than when you’re talking about you won defensive player of the year in this county or in your state and your mom pointed out that there are 49 other states out there too. In the big scheme of things, there’s a long way to go and there’s always more to accomplish.
That’s why I love to travel. I went to Iceland after the season for the sole element of I wanted to feel tiny, and in Iceland, it’s like Mars. You got to go. You feel like you’re just in the middle of nowhere. It was really cool. The idea of the journey, I always go back to the first time I met Coach Mora and interviewed him, he talked about the Rose Bowl. He was talking to his team. He’s like, “At times, I don’t really remember the Rose Bowl. You remember the game that got you there.” I thought that was really cool. I think back on my coaching career and I coached in four Rose Bowls and I can remember the game that got us there. The pageantry of the game is great, but I do think that you remember the journey. When our film ended, Life in a Walk, the final night when we picture locked and it was done, I cried the whole way home because I was like, “Now it’s going to be about the promotion of this film, and I’m not going to be in the heart and the fire of the making and the creation of it. Now it’s time to celebrate it.” That was a hard transition for me to make, which probably goes back to being a kid with a chip on his shoulder in Pennsylvania if I was psychoanalyzed, but I’m okay with that if that’s my truth.
It’s been one of the reasons why I want to start with you is because you’re a guy with deep emotion, a deep thinker. You are beyond your years for most guys at your age because they’re out pursuing things that don’t matter. I go back and I think about what your mom named you. There is importance in your name. It made you, from the time you’re a little kid, to think about importance and their history and those things mean something. It’s just not another name when you walk down the street. It’s who you are and what your background is and what your parents and your heritage is all about. Taking time out, walking with your dad, walking on your own, meditating, these are all things that matter. For people who don’t and just rush through life, they’re missing out. It’s amazing the amount of serenity that I find when I get into the mountains. There’s no media, there’s no cell phones, there’s nothing. In Denali, I was stuck in a tent for five days. You’re going, “What do you do for five days?” It was just a great opportunity to sit and write and get very clear on thoughts and things that matter to you in life and how you can make an impact.
I wish there was your film for five days like I can see it. I could see the movie. It seems so cinematic and beautiful. You’re spot on. It’s fun to talk to the coaches or high-level executives that are really successful. They talk the space between the notes. Before I hit the next one, there’s this cool space and the ones that can maximize that break, that space, that five minutes or five hours or five days, that’s when the growth occurs before I hit the next note. I learned that from Pete and as I watch coaches in the Pac-12 specifically and guys I know around the country. The ones that can do that are the ones that look at the world a little differently. Jim’s great at it, one of the most intense people I’ve ever been around, but nothing’s ever too big because he’s been through the fires before. To me, that resonates with his team. You were hiking in Denali in five days, I highly doubt something is going to be too big for you or too intense for you when your life is a strong gust of wind away from taking a turn. Traveling and seeing the globe does that, which is why I always push young kids and your daughter to see the globe, see the world, learn, get uncomfortable, get in places you don’t you have a clue about. That’s why I do it as a meditative exercise every year. I’m going to Europe, I’m going to get lost and I’ll feel like I’m ten again playing basketball.
You find out that people are people and cultures aren’t that different, it’s governments, and it puts a whole new perspective on learning from others who do things slightly different. It’s awesome. Where can they find you?
I totally appreciate it. It’s been a blessing for me to kick this thing off with you. We’ll just keep the machine rolling.
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