Bob Costas, who planted his professional roots in St. Louis and ascended to become what renown sportscaster Al Michaels says is the best broadcaster ever, is stepping down from his marquee role.
It was announced Thursday that Costas, who has served as the prime-time television host of a record 11 Olympics as well as anchoring another in the late-night slot, is relinquishing that role and will be replaced on NBC by Mike Tirico starting with the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
At a news conference in New York, Costas said and that he made his decision more than a year ago.
“People at NBC knew about it, but we didn’t want it even in the tiniest way to obscure our coverage of Rio (last summer) or get in the way or distract us in any way,” he said. “So we waited until now, exactly a year out from the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, to make the announcement.
“I’ve done a dozen of them, and that seems like a good, round number,” added Costas, 64. “It’s always better when they leave the decision to you. It’s better to leave before they start to drop hints, like, ‘Do you think it might be a good idea’ or, ‘Are you getting tired yet’ or, ‘Can we help you up the steps’ or, ‘Do you need another cup of Ovaltine, sir?’
“I didn’t want it to get to that point. So this was entirely on my terms, and I like it that way.”
But he’s not fading away, far from that.
“I decided a transition, not a retirement, was in order for me,” Costas said. “I feel like I have a whole lot of years left in broadcasting and I want to use them as wisely as I can to do some of the things that I feel most connected to. And the Olympics, certainly, would be very high on that list as I look back over my career.”
He plans to continue to appear on NBC sports and news programs as well as still be involved with MLB Network, including doing play-by-play.
At NBC, he’ll have a role similar to that of Tom Brokaw.
“I would be to sports roughly what Tom Brokaw is to news,” he said. “I’m flattered by the comparison, where Tom no longer anchors the ‘Nightly News’ and hasn’t for many years. But where you still see Tom frequently on NBC when there is an event, be it historical or current, where his insider perspective would seem appropriate. And I’ll have that role at NBC for the foreseeable future as well as appearing on events like the Kentucky Derby or occasionally on our NFL football coverage, though I’ll no longer be the regular host. But I will host the Super Bowl (next year) because the game is only four or five days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Korea, and Mike will have to be there getting himself ready for his Olympic assignment.”
Costas was hired by legendary KMOX (1120 AM) boss Robert Hyland in 1974 to serve as the voice of the American Basketball Association’s Spirits of St. Louis. He was just 22, but quickly made a mark doing play-by-play as well as hosting in the studio, eventually landing some assignments with CBS before being hired by NBC.
He was paired at NBC with analyst Tony Kubek on baseball’s backup “Game of the Week beginning in 1982 and his career took off. He had his first Olympics hosting assignment in 1988, serving as the late-night anchor in Seoul, then got the prime-time role for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. He has had that position ever since and surpassed legendary ABC broadcaster Jim McKay in longevity for such assignments.
Michaels now is at NBC after spending three decades at ABC, where he worked with McKay.
“He was the standard bearer, he was iconic, he was the model,” Michaels said Wednesday. “And I thought, ‘Well, who in the world could ever replace Jim McKay?’ Well, we have the answer, it was Bob Costas. And knowing McKay, Jim would be extremely proud of what Bob has done as the ascendant.”
Now Costas passes the torch to Tirico, who has manned many anchoring roles over the years.
“Mike has all of the tools in the toolkit necessary to do a good job,” Costas said.
Tirico, 50, might lean on Costas for persective.
“Bob has been so gracious about all of this,” he said. “How lucky am I to get this opportunity of a lifetime and have someone who I think the world of available as a resource? And Bob has said he would be there for any questions I may have or any guidance I might need.”
Tirico could have a marathon run in the role, too, because NBC has Olympics rights through 2032. And Costas leaves an unprecedented legacy to follow. He is the only person to have Emmy Awards in sports, news and entertainment.
“When I think of Bob, Costas, I think of somebody who is as fast on his feet as anybody in the history of the television business,” Michaels said. “Bob has done about 95 percent of his career without a teleprompter and I don’t have to tell you how hard that is. When I think of Bob, he’s like a guy at the plate — you throw him a curveball in the dirt and he will still hit it out of the park.
“Howard (Cosell) thought of himself as the best broadcast journalist ever. But to me, that mantle belongs to one Robert Costas. He always gets to the heart of the story. He is as good, as great, an interviewer as anybody I’ve ever seen in news, sports, you name it. He always gets the job done.”