NFL star Tiki Barber: "When I started thinking about doing news…'Today' is where I wanted to be"

February 16th, 2007

NBC Gives Barber the Ball, and He Runs With It
By JOHN BRANCH

February 14, 2007

Tiki Barber looked the way he usually does for news conferences in front of the cameras, wearing a tailored suit, a shaved head and a high-watt grin.

And, just like old times, he offered some criticisms of the Giants' coach.

With high polish and perfect lighting, Barber was introduced yesterday as NBC's newest big-name hiring and high-profile face at the network's offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

Barber signed a three-year contract worth roughly $6 million to work as a news correspondent for “Today” and as a studio analyst for the network's Sunday night N.F.L. broadcasts, taking over for Sterling Sharpe, who will not return.

But on the day that Barber was welcomed to NBC, he could not tear himself fully from the Giants. Slow to adapt to the past tense of his football career, he was quick to couch his criticism of Tom Coughlin, the hard-edged Giants coach, by noting the three Pro Bowl selections he earned under him.

Winning a championship, however, will require a softer approach, Barber said. The Giants finished 8-8 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think he has to start listening to the players a little bit, and come our way – their way – a little bit,” Barber said. “I don't know if you realize this, but we were in full pads for 17 weeks, and with the amount of injuries that we had, it just takes a toll on you. You physically don't want to be out there, when your body feels the way you do, in full pads.

“It probably doesn't have a really detrimental effect on how you practice or how you play. It does on your mind. And if you lose your mind in this game – their game – you lose a lot. That's something he has to realize. And I think he does.”

Coughlin, through a Giants spokesman, declined to comment.

Speculation that Coughlin would be fired at the end of last season began long after Barber revealed his intentions to retire and pursue a broadcasting career. Barber was asked yesterday if a coaching change would have led him to reconsider.

“I don't think so,” he said. “This decision was in my head a year ago. I came back because I looked at our talent and thought we could win a Super Bowl. Circumstances proved otherwise. Injuries – when our stars aren't playing, it's hard to win.”

Barber said he did not know if he would have retired by now if he had played the past three seasons for a different coach. He will turn 32 in April, old in running back years.

“Coach Coughlin was nothing but great for me as a player,” Barber said. “But the grind took its toll on me, and really forced me to start thinking about what I wanted to do next. That's not a bad thing, it's a good thing. At least for me it is. Maybe not for the Giants because they lose one of their great players, but for me it is.”

One Giants player who is not yet great, quarterback Eli Manning, will be a stronger leader next season simply because he will have to be, Barber said.

“He gets put in a very difficult position in this city because they expect him to be his brother,” Barber said, referring to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. “And he has to live up to all these expectations. And no matter how much he says he doesn't think about them, it obviously creeps into his head.”

Barber's stint with “Today” will begin April 16. But he could not help beginning his football analyst role immediately, answering questions about his Giants career.

“These last couple of years in particular have been a dichotomy in some ways,” Barber said. “I became an all-star player, I became one of the elite players in this league, but at the same time the grind started to take its toll on me. And the principles of our head coach started to take its toll on me, so I started looking for the next thing.”

It is precisely the uncensored version of Barber that is attractive to Dick Ebersol, the NBC Sports chairman.

Barber officially retired as a Giants running back on Monday, and among the memories he created were a pair of stabs at Coughlin. Barber criticized Coughlin after a loss in the playoffs in January 2006 and again last fall. Their relationship was both professional and uneasy.

“It's very rare that you find an athlete at the top of his game who has been as open as Tiki has been,” said Ebersol, who later compared Barber's potential to that of the golf analyst Johnny Miller, unafraid to anger players with honesty.

“And if you're that open before you come, that sort of answers that age-old question: Well, are you going to be prepared to speak to your new constituency, which is the viewers and the fans? Or are you going to still be worried about who is behind you in the locker room? I think he's answered the question repeatedly, while he was in the game.”

Equally eager to have Barber in the fold were the NBC Universal president and chief executive, Jeff Zucker, and the NBC News president, Steve Capus, who shared the stage with Barber and Ebersol. The “Today” co-host Matt Lauer, a good friend of Barber's, watched from the front row.

Barber will contribute reports to “Today” on a broad range of nonsports topics. He will not, as has been rumored, become an anchor for the fourth hour of “Today,” when it expands from its three-hour format in September.

“You'll see him all through the program at any given time on any given morning,” Capus said. “And I think he'll just light up the screen.”

Barber Lands First Post-NFL Job With NBC's “Today”
By Aaron Kuriloff

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — Tiki Barber will join NBC's “Today” morning show, shifting careers after retiring from the National Football League as the New York Giants' all-time leading rusher.

Barber, 31, will begin working in April as a news correspondent for the General Electric Co. network's morning show and its Sunday night football telecasts. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

“This is a huge transition for me,” Barber said at a news conference in New York. “When I started thinking about doing news 2 1/2 years ago, 'Today' is where I wanted to be.”

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal, said Barber's role will cross two divisions of the company. He said in an interview that Matt Lauer, co-host of “Today,” will help Barber fit into his new job.

“He's been working at this craft for the past couple of years,” Zucker said. “We're not expecting him to be Matt Lauer on Day One.”

Barber worked for News Corp.'s Fox network's morning show during his playing career.

Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who runs Pilson Communications, said the hiring was good for both Barber and the network and compared Barber to Stone Phillips, a co-anchor of NBC's “Dateline” who won the 1976 Ivy League championship as quarterback for Yale University.

'Go To School'

“The NBC deal will give him the opportunity to grow and develop as a significant TV personality,” Pilson said in a telephone interview. “He's going to have to go to school, but he certainly has all the credentials and qualifications to do well.”

The three-time Pro Bowl selection ended his decade-long career after the 2006 season, in which he helped the Giants reach the playoffs with an 8-8 record when he recorded a career-high 234 rushing yards in the team's final regular season game against the Washington Redskins.

Barber's 10,449 career rushing yards were the most in franchise history. He is one of three NFL players to gain 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving.

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