Dave Wannstedt is walking down Michigan Avenue on an overcast November morning after finishing his regular Tuesday morning sports radio appearance. He ducks into a store to get a cup of coffee even though he already appears to be fully caffeinated.
Wannstedt always gets amped talking about college and pro football. Above everything else, his rapid-fire, high-energy broadcast persona makes him completely engaging. Must-listen radio. Mike Mulligan, co-host of WSCR-AM 670’s “Mully & Hanley Show,” says, “It is the best segment on our show.”
The on-air version of Wannstedt is a stark contrast to how Bears fans remember him.
“I always was protective with the media,” Wannstedt said, in explaining why he didn’t reveal that outgoing side during his days as Bears coach from 1993-99 and later as head coach with the Dolphins and in college at Pitt. “I always was cordial, but I never wanted to let them inside Dave Wannstedt’s personality. I don’t know why. I wish I knew why.”
Wannstedt’s week includes commutes to Los Angeles to be a studio analyst for Fox Sports’ college football coverage. On Sundays mornings, he appears on Fox’s early NFL pregame show, “NFL Kickoff.” Then Wannstedt immediately returns to Chicago, usually watching the Bears game on the plane, so he can make a Sunday night appearance on Comcast SportsNet. He also has regular weekly spots on BTN and CSN, including “Pro Football Weekly.”
Wannstedt’s plate could be even fuller.
“Everyone is calling,” said Bryan Harlan, his agent. “We’ve turned down a lot of things.”
Indeed, Wannstedt has become an unlikely media star. Even he never expected his career to go in this direction.
After being let go as an assistant coach with the Buccaneers after the 2013 season, Wannstedt planned to take a year off after 39 straight years of coaching. He and his wife, Jan, have a condo in Chicago, allowing them to be close to his two daughters, who graduated from Lake Forest High School, and five grandchildren.
Harlan suggested that Wannstedt might want to look at some broadcasting options.
“I was interested because I’d still be associated with football,” Wannstedt said.
A strong audition with BTN led to the opportunity with Fox Sports in 2014. Then it grew from there, as Wannstedt started his second career as a football analyst.
Wannstedt realizes a major part of his job is being critical, and occasionally that includes questioning some of his closest friends in the business. He said he can’t pull punches even though he often was the target during his years as a coach.
“There was a game where Cal threw instead of ran at the end of the game, and it cost them,” Wannstedt said. “(Cal coach) Sonny Dykes is a good friend, but I said, ‘I think you have to run the ball there.’ If somebody thought we should have run instead of pass, and there were valid points behind it, usually most coaches don’t have a problem with that. I only had problems when people attacked your personality. I would never do that.”
When Wannstedt decided to go the broadcasting route, Harlan said he had to follow a strict mandate if he wanted to be successful. Harlan told him he couldn’t be worried about whether his comments would affect his ability to land another coaching job.
“Bryan said I couldn’t be guarded because I was thinking about what a general manager or an athletic director might think,” Wannstedt said. “I had to be honest. I had to let my personality come out.”
Mulligan said he saw glimpses of Wannstedt’s personality during his years covering the Bears for the Sun-Times in the ’90s. He thought the coach was a strong communicator.
Still, Mulligan never envisioned Wannstedt going the media route.
“I never thought he would do anything else than coach football,” Mulligan said.
Read the rest of this article in the Chicago Tribune where it was originally published