Stephen A. Smith Told ESPN Bosses He’d Leave ‘First Take’ If They Kept Max Kellerman On

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Stephen A. Smith did not like working with Max Kellerman. He hated it.

On Wednesday, Smith joined SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Unleashed with Chris Russo to discuss the behind-the-scenes workings of First Take, Smith’s daily television show. Smith and Russo conversed about Kellerman’s exit from the show last year as well as First Take‘s new rotation, in which Russo will appear.

As OutKick first reported, Smith had tried to get Kellerman kicked off the show since 2018. Smith later admitted that he had pushed the network to remove Kellerman for three straight years. He finally got his way, thanks to Dave Roberts, a tyrannical exec who’s in Smith’s back pocket.

Smith says he told ESPN executives that if they wanted to keep Kellerman on First Take, he would willingly leave the show. That’s how over Kellerman he was. Take a look:

“I’ve been honest about this. The show needed a change,” Smith told Russo. “But I also said to the bosses, ‘Listen, I think [Max and my] time together has passed. If you want to keep him on the show and not me, so be it.'”

Simply put, I don’t believe Smith would have left First Take. He was desperate to get rid of Kellerman, so he threatened ESPN that it was either him or Kellerman — that the network could not have both. It worked.

Smith had several issues with Kellerman, say sources. Smith felt Kellerman did not take a definitive stance in their debates. When Smith co-hosted First Take with Skip Bayless, Smith would take one side and Bayless would take the other. Kellerman didn’t do that, and Smith thought it diminished the show’s signature cartoonish outrage.

Smith also didn’t respect Kellerman, who is younger than him, as an equal. On most days, Smith was dismissive of Kellerman, creating a toxic environment on the show.

Smith justified pushing Kellerman out by telling Russo that he made sure Kellerman didn’t get “screwed over.” However, that’s not true. Smith cares about no one but himself. He did not know where Kellerman would land.

And of course, he did — to use his words — “screw over” Kellerman. Kellerman now hosts a morning radio show from 6-10 am ET — Keyshawn, JayWill and Max — before a 60-minute television show  — This Just In — during the 2 pm dead hour. With show prep, that’s a grueling near 12-hour schedule with hardly any relevance.

Kellerman’s new role will derail his value during his next contract negotiations. Kellerman will take a pay cut if he stays with ESPN. Book it.

To be fair, ESPN didn’t exactly place Kellerman in a good landing spot. The network gave him a morning slot with Keyshawn Johnson, an egomaniac who demands full control of the morning show.

(Noteworthy: Dave Roberts, who does not like Kellerman because of Smith, controls ESPN Radio. Roberts is still making life miserable for Kellerman and fully supports Johnson.)

Smith went on to tell Russo that First Take is better without Kellerman. “I’ve been proven correct,” Smith said.

Wrong again, Steven A. The quality of the show is not better overall. It is on select days, such as yesterday with Russo in the guest chair. But in general, First Take‘s rotation is weak, with names like Mina Kimes, Kimberley Martin and Marcus Spears.

Still, Smith is no longer visibly miserable on air. Good for him. Even $12 million a year couldn’t satisfy Smith if he had to sit next to Kellerman for another day. He hated working with him that much.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics..

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.


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  1. I don’t watch any ESPN programming other than SportsCenter and live sports occasionally, but Stephen A is arguably the star of First Take and if he felt it was getting stale with Max then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with changing it up. Max certainly doesn’t deserve any sympathy – he’s as insufferable as the rest of the lot.

  2. I watch all the shows and by far Smith is the best. Its a shame Fox sports sucks on tv except for Shannon and Skip. Im also a big fan of Colin. Thank God fox sports doesnt go the way of Fox News. That crap doesn’t work in sports because eventually you have to step in between the white lines. And i think we all know who is waiting…. IJS Personally i would love to see more Maga athletes in sports. See Usman vs Colby Covington….

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