Sports Broadcasting Industry Remembers Don Ohlmeyer

Colleagues and friends celebrate the late executive

Legendary sports-television executive Don Ohlmeyer died over the weekend at the age of 72. With a career that spanned decades and multiple broadcast networks, Ohlmeyer leaves behind countless colleagues and friends, several of whom shared their favorite stories and fond memories with SVG.

Ken Aagaard, CBS Sports, EVP, Innovation and New Technology

Anything that I have accomplished in my career all started with Don O. In the late ’70s, early ’80s at NBC, he pushed us all to think out of the box. He was an intimidating figure. He expected all of us to think and perform “his” way. To survive, I had to be prepared every day to react to any of his ideas and execute. In those days, switching an update of a play from one NFL game to another was never heard of. Moving an NBC affiliate in Madison, WI, 30 minutes before air so that a friend in another market could see his son play quarterback was downright impossible. His challenge of switching to three buzzer beaters in the 1982 NCAA Tournament was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  It was ALL new. Never done, always on the fly.

Legendary sports and TV executive Don Ohlmeyer has died at 72.

His ideas were endless. People complained about our announcers, so he said, Let’s do an announcer-less game. And you better have “great” graphics and “stupendous” audio. Through this process, he fired me twice and threw a phone my way once.  The first time he fired me, I reminded him that I didn’t work for him; I worked for the Engineering Department.  The second time, I was in the middle of The Tournament, and I stressed that he needed me the next day to get on the air. Every time, I would say something was “difficult” to get done, he would say, “If it was easy, I would do it myself.”

I decided he wasn’t going to ask anything that I couldn’t figure out. I prepared endlessly and forced myself to execute every one of his then-crazy ideas. To this day, every time I am challenged, I think about Don. He made me, and so many others around us, BETTER. He made us think differently. You could never say, “That’s not how we do things.” And as tough as he was, once you proved yourself to him, he would defend you to the bitter end. He was extremely loyal to those of us that he put through the ringer. I will be forever grateful that I got the opportunity to work even near him. All of us that were around him continue to think differently and look for unique solutions for each and every show we work on. He was one of a kind.

Steve Bornstein, NFL Network, CEO
[Don] was a unique man. Authentic. Original. A mentor. A rare individual that was always learning.

Fred Gaudelli, NFL on NBC, Executive Producer
In my view, Don was part of the holy trinity of television executives/producers, along with Roone Arledge and Dick Ebersol. Rare men who were equally adept producing content and running a successful business. Nothing escaped Don’s eye, and he had a keen sense for giving the viewer what they wanted and generating a lot of publicity for his network doing so. Succeeding Don at Monday Night Football was one of the fortuitous moments of my career. He willingly left the blueprint for advancing football production in the new century and was always available to share his views with me. My sincere condolences go out to his family.

Robert Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment, Chair
Don Ohlmeyer was a towering figure in sports and entertainment who had an indelible impact on both NBC and our industry. His legacy will live on not only because he is directly responsible for some of the biggest hits in television — Friends, ER, and Will & Grace, to name a few — but also because he brought NBC to a new level of classy, sophisticated programming of the highest quality, which we all still aspire to achieve today.

Al Michaels
[Don’s] was a life fully lived. He was an amazing guy in so many ways. He accomplished so much, and it’s amazing to think that he did a lot of it in his 20s, 30s, and 40s. I’ve had the great pleasure of working for maybe the three best ever in sports [television]: Roone Arledge, Don Ohlmeyer, Dick Ebersol. That’s the holy trinity.

To watch Don Ohlmeyer’s Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame speech, CLICK HERE.

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