LSU grad takes career to CBS sports

By Annie Ourso

Sitting at a small table in a Baton Rouge CC’s Coffee House, CBS sports director Mark Grant motioned his arms through the air as if he were conducting a symphony.

“If you watch the guy who conducts a symphony,” he said, “a bunch of different instruments make it all come together. The drums, the woodwinds, the brass – someone has to make it all come together.”

That’s what Grant does, except as a network television sports director.

“I take the camera guys, the camera shots, the replays, the graphics and listen to announcers – somebody has to wrap all that up into a nice little package and make it have some continuity for TV,” he said. “I tell people I’m like the conductor of the orchestra.”

Grant, a Baton Rouge resident and 1981 LSU graduate, has been directing NFL and college football games at CBS for 17 years.

Only 16 people in the country do what he does, Grant said.

Every weekend for seven months, he travels to games across the country. During the games, Grant can be found inside the TV production truck, calling the shots – literally.

“When you watch a game and see a replay, it’s the director who makes that come on the air,” Grant said. “If you see a graphic, it’s the director who says, ‘Put the graphic up.’ Anytime something changes on screen, it’s the director who does that.”

It’s about more than just airing a game, though. For Grant, it’s about telling a story through pictures.

Throughout his career, Grant has told countless stories – some that have stuck with him to this day. The UCLA-Gonzaga game in the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament, Grant said, was one of those stories.

Gonzaga, led by player of the year Adam Morrison, maintained the lead for the first half of the game until UCLA slowly started making a comeback to beat Gonzaga in the final seconds.

“The story wasn’t so much about UCLA winning, but Adam Morrison, player of the year – my camera guy gets a shot of him on the floor, crying,” Grant said. “Here you have this kid, who’s going to be one of the first players taken in the draft, and he’s on the floor crying because his team is out of the tournament. It’s his last college game.

“That shot became an image of what the NCAA basketball tournament is all about – the joy, the pain, the happiness, the sorrow.”

Capturing those moments and emotions are a part of Grant’s job.

Becoming a director, however, doesn’t happen overnight. Grant spent many early years of his career working his way up through the broadcasting ranks.

He said his first job was at a local cable company, covering high school sports.

“Everyone has to start somewhere else,” Grant said. “If you can’t be great there, you can’t be great at the next step.”

While working at the cable company, Grant took side jobs with ESPN when the crew came to town. He said he used the knowledge he gained working for a big network like ESPN to improve his work at the local station.

His efforts did not go unnoticed. Grant moved up to director and producer at the cable company and began to win awards for his work.

“In local cable, you had the CableACE Awards,” he said. “Our company won, and I was producer. I got a lot of recognition. ESPN recognized that I was more than just a camera person.”

In 1986, Grant was hired on at ESPN as an assistant director. When asked to cover college football, he decided to quit his job at the local cable company.

“Since then, I’ve never really looked back,” Grant said.

His next big break came just a few years later.

In 1989, Grant was working a football game in Georgia when the director’s wife went into labor and he had to leave. ESPN needed someone to direct the show.

“To this day, I don’t know how many people they asked till they got to me,” Grant said. “But they finally got to me and asked not only if I wanted to do it, but could I do it. It was my experience doing local cable as a director that got me that opportunity.

Grant proved himself to ESPN, and by 1990, he was promoted to director.

So, how did he get to CBS? Simple. He was offered a better deal.

In 1998, just before signing another contract with ESPN, Grant received a call from his agent. He told Grant to hold off on signing with ESPN because CBS got the rights back to broadcast the NFL and was looking for directors.

After a phone call and an interview, Grant said, CBS wanted him as a director and haggled with ESPN over who could make the better offer. CBS won out.

“You can’t get comfortable working for one company in a competitive business,” Grant said. “For a lot of reasons, it was a better move for me. Seventeen years later, here I am, doing what I do, and I love it.”

What’s funny, Grant said, is that what he loves most about his job is also what he hates about his job.

“I’m fortunate in that I’ve been all over the world covering sports,” he said. “I’ve met people who are friends for life because I cover sports. I’ve seen cities I never would have. That part of traveling is great, but the day-to-day grind of getting up, packing a suitcase, unpacking and flying – that part of the travel is what I hate most about my job.”

Grant admitted he did not always want to work in television. He started out as a pre-med student at LSU but soon decided that wasn’t for him.

He laughed as he told the story of how he got into mass communications: It was a girl who sparked his interest, not the actual field itself. Grant wanted to be in her major, broadcast journalism, to spend more time with her.

“Once I got into the major, I was fascinated by what goes on in television, especially behind the scenes,” Grant said. “I never really wanted to be on camera, but I just loved editing and writing and putting it all together.”

One of Grant’s classmates at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication was Steve Schneider, the local WAFB sports director. After graduation, Grant and Schneider worked together at the local cable company.

“Mark used to joke that he’d get assigned to cover city council meetings, and they were so boring that they just drove him to excellence, to succeed at something more,” Schneider said. “He excelled. He was determined to learn every part of the business.”

For that, Grant has become well respected in the community, Schneider said, and someone he personally admires.

“I think he’s one of those good people – always stood for the right things, always going out of his way to help people,” Schneider said.

Grant stays involved with the Manship School, teaching classes in broadcasting when he can, and also helps out at the local Cox Sports Television cable channel.

“I like to teach people locally,” Grant said. “I like to help them get to a higher level. It’s rewarding.”

His continued involvement at LSU and in the local community earned Grant a spot in the Manship School’s Hall of Fame.

David Kurpius, LSU’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management and former Manship School professor, nominated Grant to be inducted in 2003.

Kurpius said Hall of Fame members should be professionals in the field who are still engaged with LSU and the Manship School.

“Mark’s fabulous,” Kurpius said. “He’s had a really great career as director for ESPN and CBS. He also gives back to the school. He’s actively involved in teaching students, getting students to the next level and helping them get jobs and internships.”

It’s easy to relate to the students, Grant said, because he’s been in their shoes and he knows what it takes to get to the next level: hard work.

You have to pay your dues, he said, and really believe and make others believe that you are the best at what you do.

“There are hundreds of people who would like the do what I do,” Grant said. “I do the NFL every Sunday. Only 16 people in the country do what I do, but there are a lot of people, thousands, who could do it and want to do it.”

Grant’s job, then, is to continue performing at such a high level that CBS thinks he’s one of the only who can do it.

“As long as I do that, I have a job,” Grant said. “But the minute I lose my edge and my passion and start taking the easy way and don’t prepare for games – that’s when you start to fall. And when you do, there’s someone more hungry than you.”

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