Bruin Sports senior staff writer Sam Allen spoke with Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers about how he got into journalism, the state of UCLA athletics, and why blogs are better left unwept, unhonored and unsung.
Daily Bruin: How did you decide to become a sports reporter?
Simers: I enjoyed playing the games and I liked communicating with people and making people laugh. Put the three of those things together and it was a pretty easy choice.
DB: Did you play sports at Northern Illinois?
Simers: I tried to play baseball. I was the kind of guy who could play six positions and wasn’t any good at any one of them. I was more of a thinking man’s player ““ I had no natural ability.
DB: How difficult was the process of working your way up to a major newspaper?
Simers: I found it to be an easy process, as long as you didn’t mind traveling to different parts of the country. I had no idea where Idaho was until someone told me I had to go there. To me it was tremendous fun ““ you got to go to these small papers and take all kinds of risks. I only got 10,000 people mad at me as opposed to a million. It was a perfect laboratory. I was learning on the job.
DB: Were you on the Northern Illinois newspaper?
Simers: I was. I covered the Gullickson twins, who became famous in tennis years later. I was sports editor for a couple months and took a chance and left the school to go to a local town newspaper.
DB: So you didn’t graduate?
Simers: No I never graduated. The professors told me that I would never amount to anything. That kind of pissed me off, so I just decided to go on, and now they keep trying to bring me back and give me a degree.
DB: How did you become a column writer?
Simers: Well I always believed that you should write with a voice. I could never understand how people spend all day writing and then when it was done it was so boring. It just makes no sense. … For me, I was always trying to be a column writer from the very first job I got, because I was trying to write stuff that would get people’s attention.
DB: Was it a big deal for you to get the Page 2 column at the Los Angeles Times?
Simers: Yeah it was. I don’t think they knew what they were getting, which was the reason I got the job. Let’s face it, if they knew what they were getting I wouldn’t have gotten the job. It’s a little different from what the Times normally produces. Fortunately I found an old guy who was sports editor and didn’t have much to live for so he was able to hang in with me at the beginning when everybody thought I was nuts. They still think I’m nuts, but not as many of them.
DB: Has there been one column at Page 2 that has really stood out?
Simers: I don’t remember anything I’ve written. I don’t keep any clips, I’ve never kept an old story. My daughter gave me a column I wrote about her getting married and put it in a frame. But I’m so worried about my next column that I really don’t reflect on anything I’ve ever done.
DB: What about a favorite subject to interview?
Simers: There’s a lot of people that I’ve enjoyed interviewing. I enjoy the interviewing process more than the writing. I hate the writing. I don’t mind interviewing people and talking to them and getting the best out of them and making them laugh.
But I’ll mention one name, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was one of the most compelling speakers you could ever hear. He was mesmerizing. I went and crashed a church gathering to listen to him speak. And I got him for about 10 minutes all by myself, and he was one of the most unbelievable characters that I’ve ever run into. … I guess I could have said Salma Hayek, but we’re just friends. I take Salma for granted by now.
DB: Are there subjects that intimidate you?
Simers: I think you’re nervous when you run into different people. I go after people straightforward and direct, and I’m nervous when I ask those questions. I don’t know any other way to do it. But no one intimidates, I will never say that. Everybody is just a freaking human being. I don’t care who you are, you’re just some joker who has got a job to do and you try to do the best you can.
DB: Moving on to UCLA sports, do you think this is a make-or-break year for Karl Dorrell?
Simers: I don’t think so. I think he’s done a great job, because he has grown on the job. I’ve always blamed UCLA for hiring him. They hired a guy who was in over his head and said go learn on the job against Pete Carroll. That’s not Karl Dorrell’s fault, that’s UCLA’s fault.
To Dorrell’s credit, he has really tried to learn. I think he’s a terrific listener. I think he rolls with things. I think he is a very good people person. I enjoy the man.
We have had many differences. I found him to be a very dull man in the beginning, but he has really opened up. I would be very upset and shocked if people put pressure to get rid of him.
DB: Do you think UCLA fans have gone overboard with the anti-Karl Dorrell sentiment?
Simers: Well first of all, UCLA has an inferiority complex when it comes to USC. They see what Pete Carroll is doing. He’s pulling off miracles. Last year I predicted that UCLA would beat USC ahead of time. That speaks to what Dorrell has done, to how far his program has come, and how close it is between the two programs even though it looks like there is a wider gap.
DB: Are the expectations too high for the basketball team?
Simers: People at UCLA have always been off their rocker about basketball. They think that they’re supposed to win the championship every year. They’re a lot like Laker fans right now. You can’t win every year. The fact that Howland has gotten them back there is tremendous.
DB: Do you think the Ben Howland style of basketball is boring?
Simers: Not only do I think it’s boring, I think it’s really boring. He and I have had this running argument. He says he’ll play interesting basketball when he gets the athletes. But I think he’s a control freak. I like that about him and I also hate that about him.
DB: Were you at the Elite Eight press conference when Howland was angry with reporters?
Simers: No, I heard about it. I actually blame the media for that as much as I do Howland. Howland is a control freak, that’s just the way he is. The media should have snapped right back at him. But then it was an off day, so they had to write a story and they went overboard in writing the stories.
I’ve seen fits. From what I understand that was no fit. He’s intense, it’s very important to him. It’s the job of the reporter to loosen him up. But everybody wants to be loved. I don’t care, I go home and I have a wife and two daughters and two dogs and three out of five of them love me most of the time. I don’t care if Ben Howland likes me. It’s my job.
DB: How important did you think the 100th title was for UCLA?
Simers: I could care less. I don’t care about history. I don’t care about who won in 1946. To me sports is all about the entertainment package and what’s going to happen tonight. History books don’t entertain me.
DB: What do you think the line is between sports reporter and sports fan?
Simers: First of all many sports fans are idiots. They live their entire lives following their team like a religion. In the large picture it doesn’t mean a darn thing. I do a sports talk radio show and I don’t take callers; I don’t want to deal with morons. I’m all about putting sports in the proper perspective. The line is very simple, you’re a professional, this is your craft.
DB: Do you follow sports blogs?
Simers: Are you kidding me? Why would I follow a sports blog? That’s some guy in his basement who has never interviewed an athlete. … That person can’t offer me anything. You have got to go out in the field. … Bloggers are never held accountable. I don’t trust them. Accountability is a big deal. When I call someone a name in the paper, I’m there the next day, and they can let me have it. I have to stand by what I wrote.