Media column version 03.29.15: The end for UCLA’s Chris Roberts? ‘I’m not going to close the door on anything’

IMG_3164There was less than two minutes left in what was already an unexpectedly extended season for UCLA’s basketball season Friday night in Houston when the CBS cameras fixed on Chris Roberts.

“He’s something else,” remarked Jim Nantz, as Roberts stayed focused on listening to partner Tracy Murray as they described to the KLAC radio audience what remained of the Bruins’ 12-point loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

“A legend out there in Los Angeles,” Nantz added.

“Great guy,” chimed in Bill Raftery. “I’ve got to know him over the years and he said it’s either Yellowstone or Rome on his first trip. I said, ‘Try Rome’.”

Actually, the first trip for Roberts on the first day of the rest of his life was flying back from Texas on Saturday morning and then settling into his Glendora home, where he continued to sort through texts, tweets and Facebook posts that had been forwarded to him.

Not that he could read the original versions. He’s not a big social media hound.

“I was flabbergasted, you know?” he said of the face time and accolades he received from the CBS crew. “I just get zoned in when I’m doing games and maybe it was better that I didn’t know the camera was there. I was still into the game, even at that point.”

But at this point, as Roberts’ 23-year-run as the Bruins’ radio voice of football and basketball coming to an official end with a mutually agreed-upon retirement, is it really the end?

Chris Roberts, right, works with Tracy Murray at UCLA's Sweet 16 game in Houston against Gonzaga on Friday. (Photo by Aimee Lewis/Daily Bruin)

Chris Roberts, right, works with Tracy Murray at UCLA’s Sweet 16 game in Houston against Gonzaga on Friday. (Photo by Katie Meyers/Daily Bruin)

“I know he’s ‘retiring’,” said longtime Bruins football analyst Matt Stevens and Roberts’ partner for the last 18 seasons, “but don’t be surprised if, maybe after taking a year off, he finds something else. He’s got broadcasting in his blood. I can’t see him ever stopping.”

The 66-year-old Roberts wouldn’t deny that.

“I still want to be behind the mike doing something,” he admitted Saturday. “I still would love to do more. It’s been my life.”

Not that he’s actually getting stir-crazy already. He agreed that finishing things up at UCLA now “was the right time.” The new Pac-12 travel schedule was “more demanding.” When Roberts looked around, he realized that many of the people who helped usher him into this role in 1992 were either retired or had passed on themselves.

“It feels right,” Roberts said. “Everything has to evolve.”

That really wasn’t the perfect scenario when Roberts came over from Long Beach State and took over at a time when UCLA had gone through four play-by-play men in a four-year period. After Fred Hessler retired following his fabled 23 years, Joel Meyers had the gig for six years. When he left, Bob Starr filled in for a season while still doing the NFL’s Rams. Paul Olden took another season and then departed. John Rebenstorf appeared to be a nice long-term choice until he died a year after accepting the job while undergoing open-heart surgery.

With Roberts came stability. What’s next is that same desire by UCLA officials.

With athletic director Dan Guerrero and associate AD for communications Josh Rupprecht at the forefront of the decision on the UCLA end, there has been time to sift through plenty of qualified sound files and resumes that have been filtered through the university’s syndicated broadcast rights holders at North Carolina-based IMG College, headed by senior vice president Chris Ferris.

Sources indicate that the two parties have narrowed things down to at least two prime candidates.

Ron Pitts, the former UCLA corner who spent five years in the NFL, may have the inside track. The 52-year-old called NFL games on Fox for 18 years and has also been working for the NFL Network and CBS Sports Net. He has honed his college basketball work for Prime Ticket and Fox Sports West during the Big West Tournament.

Josh Lewin, the 46-year-old who has spent the last 10 years on the radio call of San Diego Chargers games (lately for XTRA 1360) and begins his fifth year doing games on WOR Radio for the New York Mets, is also said to be in the picture.

In the meantime, Matt “Money” Smith, who shares the “Petros and Money Show” billing for the popular weekday sports-talk program on the Bruins’ flagship station, has also been in the discussion, proving his talents in calling college basketball, college football and NFL games for Compass Media Networks, as well as working at the NFL Network.

Sources say that UCLA would like to have a hiring wrapped up by its April 25 spring football game.

Until Murray or Stevens has a new partner to work with – assuming they’ll be asked back – they would prefer for now to appreciate the time they’ve had with Roberts.

Murray confessed in a phone conversation Thursday afternoon that he knew he would get emotional by the time the last game with Roberts came to be reality. Murray, who has been with Roberts for eight seasons, thanked him in Friday’s postgame show for “molding me into a broadcaster. I showed up, not knowing what I was doing, you walked me through everything, you were patient with me.” The former Glendora High star who had an All-Pac-10 career at UCLA said he and Roberts “had a natural chemistry and I really hate to see this come to an end. I’m going to miss you terribly.”

Stevens said this final season for Roberts “has been tough on me, to tell you the truth. It will be very weird not having him next to me.”

Don MacLean, the former UCLA star out of Simi Valley High, spent 11 seasons working with Roberts before full-time work on TV led him in a different broadcasting direction. He really had no plans to enter the business until he was encouraged by some UCLA athletic department officials once Bob Myers left the radio broadcast team and there was an opening.

“The one great thing about Chris is he allowed me to express myself in the way I wanted without trying to steer me in any direction,” said MacLean. “I learned on the fly what to tone down and what to sharpen up, but he gave me that freedom to figure out who I wanted to be. After that, I loved it and wanted more.”

More is what we may be getting from Roberts, too, if things break right in the near future. Baseball, after all, is the sport he’s most passionate about, one he played in college in Pomona, and what he used to call at UCLA back in the 1990s..

“If nothing happens, that’s OK,” said Roberts, the 26th inductee into the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2012. “I thank God I made enough financially through some real estate background, that broadcasting was almost a complete accident for me in the beginning when I got into it (at KCIN in Victorville in 1969). It’s been 46 years getting a paycheck in this business.

“But I’m not going to close the door on anything.”

== Also:
= UCLA honors Roberts during his final broadcast at Pauley Pavilion on March 5 when the Bruins faced USC.
= Daily Bruin reporter Jordan Lee writes about Roberts’ career.

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