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Stephen A. Smith said goodbye to Max Kellerman on Wednesday after getting him kicked off First Take. Today, ESPN announced First Take‘s new rotation of personalities that will replace Kellerman opposite of Smith.
As OutKick first reported, Michael Irvin will join Smith on Mondays, and a rotation of in-house analysts will fill out the rest of the week.
Among the names are Paul Finebaum, Keyshawn Johnson, Mina Kimes, Kimberley Martin, Monica McNutt, Jessica Mendoza, Chiney Ogwumike, Dan Orlovsky, Kendrick Perkins, Marcus Spears, Brian Windhorst, and Damien Woody.
On Fridays, Tim Tebow will debate Smith on the upcoming weekend of college football. ESPN plans to have Tebow appear for the full first hour on Fridays, OutKick has learned.
ESPN will debut First Take’s new format on Sept. 6. Molly Qerim Rose will continue to moderate the show.
At first glance, this is a solid rotation of analysts. Irvin and Tebow are the big names, but look for Orlovsky to elevate his status with a more significant role on First Take. Orlovsky is ESPN’s best NFL analyst — it’s not close.
Windhorst is a surprising addition. While billed as an insider, Windhorst is far better on TV than the rest of the industry’s news-breakers. Windhorst is right there with Adam Schefter as a TV talent. If Smith allows Windhorst the time, he will end up being one of Smith’s better debate opponents.
That said, the key to this rotation’s success is chemistry. Smith and Kellerman didn’t work, in part because Smith didn’t let it work. Stephen A. Smith does not mesh well with most personalities on-air for an extended time. He views them as beneath him. While Smith has a relationship with Finebaum, Woody, Spears, Irvin, and Tebow, it’s questionable how he will perform alongside Mina Kimes. That pairing strikes me as an odd fit. The issues Smith had with Kellerman will resurface in his segments with Kimes.
Keyshawn Johnson and Chiney Ogwumike also looked out of place on past First Take appearances. Both Johnson and Ogwumike are better at discussing topics than debating them.
I would look for this lineup to change throughout the next 10 months. Along with SVP Dave Roberts, Smith will go hot and cold on several of these personalities. Some talents experience both of those feelings by November.
And while ESPN correctly assembled a football-heavy rotation, Smith tends to grow bored with the NFL once the NBA returns. By December, look for First Take to add in more NBA talents. That means more LeBron vs. Jordan debates.
Finally, ESPN missed an opportunity by not striking a deal with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who has appeared sporadically on ESPN. Debate shows work when the co-hosts are equally animated and invested in the content. Hence, the success of PTI. Russo, would provide Smith the elements of the show he lost when Skip Bayless departed for FS1. Russo was among the names Smith wanted in consideration to replace Bayless in 2016. ESPN ultimately chose Max Kellerman. You know the rest of the story…