From WWE to ESPN
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Todd Grisham has done that and then some in the sports media industry. While growing up in the south, Todd figured out his passion and chased his dream while enjoying the journey.
Todd most known from his run with WWE, is now a staple at ESPN next to his good friend Jonathan Coachman as they made the successful transition form the Entertainment world to the top of the sports media industry..
Randy Zellea of Back Sports Page recently caught up with Todd to discuss his journey to ESPN and the road he took to get there. Todd spoke openly about his time in WWE, getting his opportunity, CM Punk in the UFC and much more.
Q: Did you always want to get into broadcasting?
A: I was always listening to Djs on the radio as a kid. I really didn’t want to do music per say but I loved the idea. I always loved the idea of being like a WolfMan jack or a Casey Kasem, I love listening to those guys. I also loved turning the sound down and doing the play by play. At that point I knew it was something I always wanted to do.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was born in Mississippi and raised in South Alabama. A good portion of my growing up was down in Alabama.
Q: Can you tell us about your first experiences in the industry?
A: The First Time I was on the air was when I was in college at West Georgia University. I walked in and told them what I wanted to do. They let me come in and push buttons from 12 am to 6am and play commercials all night. After a few months they let me talk. I did that 12am-6am shift on Sundays when maybe 400 people were listening, but I was like a pig in mud. At 18 years old I was on the air and excited about it. It was great.
Q: Was it a fun experience? How crazy was it for you?
A: It was such a small town and such a small station at such an obscure time. I had the ability to say what I would and nobody really cared. I screwed up a bunch and licked my wounds and got better.
Q: Where did doing TV come along? Was that always the long term plan?
A: I was doing radio, I said to myself why not try TV, and I’m not that bad of a looking person. Some people told me I have a face for radio (RZ: That's my line... I always say that). I think I can do TV somewhere. My teeth were jacked but I got braces. I did radio for a few years and I heard the guys doing High School Football Games on the radio. I said to myself I am better than those guys. They eventually allowed me to do sports and when I graduated I had to send tapes out to get a job. This was still the time of VHS. I would go to Wal-Mart and but a VCR dub 300 copies of tapes and then return the VCR. We were that broke and it was such a humbling experience. You send out all these tapes and you don’t get any feedback. I was sending tapes from Alaska to Montana and all over the country. I finally got a job in Iowa making about $14,500 a year and I thought it was the greatest thing in the world because I was getting paid to be on TV.
Q: What was the best advice you received up until that point?
A: I remember there was a guy by the name of Mike Rada who I worked with when I did my internship in Birmingham Alabama and he was the main sports guy at the station. I did my interview with him. My suit was too big and my tie was messed up and I was just an intern at the time. He sat me down and said “look you will never make it in this business because there are a thousand guys like you out there. The only reason you are here is because we need help. You will push buttons and dub tapes, if you think you want to be on TV, get over that right now”. That motivated me because this guy didn’t even know who I was. He was all I had at that point but that guy was a real jerk to me. His harsh words kind of inspired me to chase it because he was a jerk and I spent the rest of my time wanting to prove him wrong. Eventually I did.
Q: Once you are committed its tunnel vision right?
A: I think it was one of those things where these kids come in to be interns and they think they are great on TV and don’t want to do great work, getting coffee, running tapes, mailing envelopes etc. I wanted to do whatever it took. Some of them came in and turned around and walked out the door. I was totally committed.
Q: Heard you were Falcons fan... Any truth to it?
A: Right, Yeah I became a season ticket holder while I was down there. While I was with WWE, They told me I could live anywhere I wanted because of the amount of travel I did for my job. My Family is down in that area. We had the opportunity to go to a lot of games as a family and I wouldn’t have traded that for the world.
Q: NFL is such a crazy sport.. You never out of it even when you struggle like the Falcons did last season.
A: It is weird. The Patriots won 11 games and missed the playoffs one season. The great thing about the NFL is that you live and die every Sunday because every NFL game is like eight NBA and NHL games or ten baseball games.
Q: How did the WWE Opportunity come about?
A: I was working in Tuscan Arizona at a place called KLB TV, and I was the weekend sports guy. He wasn’t my agent but a guy I knew sent me an email that some jobs opened up and he said to me “I don’t know if you were interested, but The WWE are looking for a new announcer”, I was like “oh my god!!”. I like everyone else was a huge fan growing up. I was a huge fan of the “Macho Man" Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and all of those guys. I decided at that point I had nothing to lose by sending my audition tape in. I didn’t hear anything for over six months then out of the blue I received a call from WWE’s HR department. At that point I didn’t remember sending an audition tape. They asked me if I could come in to NY for an audition that Monday morning. After the audition I didn’t hear anything for another four or five months and they offered me the position. It’s like the government over there. If they need to push something right away, they could do it. Usually it takes about a year to get through. Eventually they hired me at the age of 27.
Q: What changed over the time you were with the company?
A: When I was there Eddie Guerrero passed away, the whole Benoit mess occurred and Lance Cade passed away. Drugs were a major issue and they really stepped up the drug policy and I know that was a big thing for them. As far as being state of the art they were one of the first broadcasts that went HD. I think they went before the NFL. They loved being on the cutting of technology. That was one of that jumped out at me as well as the drug policy because we were taking a lot of heat for that. At least from the outside they were really cracking down at it.
Q: What was the best advice given to you during your time with WWE?
A: I think Michael Cole said to me your first six months here don’t say anything because there is still that old school mentality around there that you have to earn your keep. They have some snot nose kid from Tuscan who is 27 years old and all the wrestlers are making good money and I wasn’t. Nothing I did in the real world I had done meant anything when I got there. It was liked a warped sense of reality there. You have to learn how to do your job all over again because it’s not the same. You are not describing what you are seeing. You have to describe what they want you to think you are seeing.
Q: What do you mean you are telling them what they are seeing? Not sure that makes sense...
A: Let’s say a guy jumps over the railing and it’s obviously Randy Orton. Let’s say he has a mask on. You know you see his tattoos on his arm and you know it’s him. They don’t want me to say that until he rips off the mask a minute or two later. I had to be like “WHO IS THAT? I HAVE NO IDEA!! OH MY GOD ITS RANDY ORTON!!!!” That sort of stuff, there were so many little nuances and you had to learn them.
Q: What are your thoughts on Vince McMahon?
A: I would describe Vince as an evil genius because 99 of his ideas were brilliant and the 100th would blow up the world if he actually went through with it. He demands perfection and what he sees as perfection. You have to figure out what he wants and deliver. Sometime you think you did a great job and he hated it. Then you think you did a terrible job and he loved it.
Q: Was there anything you did that made you go “Oh My Lord I can’t believe I am doing this”?
A: There were tons of things that I did and said that made me think “Oh God”. The hardest thing was when you knew something physical was going to happen to you and you can’t say anything about it while being nervous. When Mackie James slapped me in the face so hard that my face was going to explode or when you have to stand there and you can’t block it. You have to stick your chin out for it. Then they would tell you that Shawn Michaels was going to super kick you in your face. I would say to myself don’t move and be careful. That was the difficult part of the job.
Q: I saw you on some DVD s and you were acting a little whacky on them. Is that something they ask you to do? How does that work?
A: The worst thing you can do there is be void. Anytime you come up with stuff for the DVDs is good. The wrestlers get royalties every time they are on the DVDs. It really doesn’t matter if it it’s for two minutes or 30 minutes. The more entertaining you could be you, the more airtime you get, the more money you make. That wasn’t the case for me but hey I had a chance to be entertaining so go for it.
Q: How does working in WWE compare to calling like boxing or other sports?
A: In WWE you’re telling a story. It’s not like boxing play by play. In boxing you could say he got with an uppercut. In wrestling you can’t just say he got hit with a clothesline. You have to describe the impact and how it affects the competitor. It was more thinking outside the box and following a storyline then it was a sport which it wasn’t. It’s a whole different mindset. It’s like tell a broadcaster he has to call the orange bowl but he can’t tell you the downs and yards and describe the run and pass plays. What kind of things could he possibly say?
Q: How did the ESPN gig come along?
A: Jonathan Coachman was very instrumental on getting me to ESPN. He left WWE about three years before I did and I had been here for eight years. You get to that point of where do we go as WWE is the only game in town. Where would I go if I got fired? There is not a high demand for wrestling announcers. John helped me get an opportunity for an audition with ESPN and I did very well.
Q: How did the audition go?
A: It was a good audition. I called some highlights and pretended to do some mock shows. I joined the team. Once they hire you they see where you weed out. Right now its Sports Center, MMA and Boxing.
Q: Was the WWE a good experience for you?
A: For sure. I would say WWE was an invaluable. There is nothing they can throw at me now at ESPN that is any worse then what I had in WWE. I don’t have Vince yelling in my ear and I do not have crazy fans yelling at me. I remember doing a PPV pre show in the concourse, it was Maria Kenellis and I. WWE thought it would be real cool to have the fans around us. As we are about to go on the air, the crowd started chanting “F*#k you Grisham”. We go on the air with fans chanting F-bombs about me. We go on air business as usual. You learn to block it out after a while. To me WWE helped a lot.
Q: You also did the WWE web shows also. How was that experience??
A: That was the beginning of web casts at that point. On TV they never wanted to give me a charter. They wanted me to play the straight man in that sense. They wanted to have me be the guy who could break news. A trust worthy guy like Tom Brokov. On Byte this, they said you could go do what you want because there is barley anyone watching. You would have people calling acting like idiots and I didn’t handle it well at some points.
Q: Do any of the guys at ESPN ask you for advice?
A: Some of them do. They don’t hire younger guys. They hire established talents who have experience in the broadcasting field. You get some questions now and then on how to handle things. As far as career advice most of the new hires are in there 30’s anyway. SO what could I tell them?
Q: What were your thoughts on CM Punk? You were there when he started correct?
A: I was. He was very nice to me. Every time we do a live event we had dark matches and I remember when he did his dark match, backstage it was must see TV. We all gathered around the monitor to watch him and he was really good. Always appreciated him and he was a pro. Calling his matches was fun and he was amazing on the microphone. That made him a bonified star.
Q: How do you think he will do in the UFC? I think he is really putting himself out there in a crazy way.
A: He is exposing himself too. It’s not like Brock Lesnar when he went to UF. Brock was an NCAA wrestler and freaking monster. He is a monster who could also take a punch with the worst case scenario could hang with those guys. Punk has no idea what could happen. He could go out there and get destroyed. He could get humiliated and hurt his legacy. Brock went back to WWE and was able to say I’m a former UFC and WWE champion. If Punk goes back to WWE and has a 0-4 UFC record people would question him. That’s what I mean he is really putting himself out there.
Q: Does the UFC look down at the WWE?
A: Any Intelligent person could see the difference. If people compare the two then people will say its better than the other. I don’t get that sense. Why would UFC sign CM punk? They all like Money.
Q: Heard you were a soccer guy in college, did you get a scholarship?
A: I went to Winder University in North Carolina and I played on a Soccer Scholarship at a private school. They took care of about a quarter of the tuition and were about $20k a year. Around that time I realized that if I went to a state school the tuition would be a lot cheaper and I could qualify for a host scholarship.
Q: Any great crazy WWE Stories you could share?
A: I cleaned this up. The first time I went to the WWE gym in Stanford CT, I was lifting weights and Vince McMahon walks in and says “Hey Todd”. I was really excited he knew my name. I said hello and we exchange pleasantries. A few days later I saw Vince at Raw and he said “So I guess I’m Your Boy?” I was like “Wait what?” Vince Said “Yeah remember when you were lifting weights at the gym the other day?” I stated yeah with a confused look on my face. “Well you put the weights on the bar right?” Yes I did. Vince responded “well I had to take them off for which makes me your fucking boy”. I turned around and walked away as I felt like I had urine going down my leg. A whole bunch of people were laughing. Both Edge and Christian were on the floor laughing. Vince was my boy for a couple days.
Q: How about with ESPN?
A: The first Sports center highlight I ever did I was a little nervous. The highlight was Indiana hitting a buzzer beater and it was a three minute highlight. I’m trying to keep up with it; it was a three page script. Well I lead the 2nd page first. The highlights didn’t match up at all. It was all messed up and it was embarrassing.
Q: Thanks for the time today!!
A: Thanks man anytime!!!