Ron Higgins edited transcript
[00:00:01.990] - Todd Jones
Ron, welcome to Press Box Access.
[00:00:04.910] - Ron Higgins
I am glad to be here.
[00:01:11.960] - Todd Jones
thank you so much for joining us. I once read a quote of yours, Ron, that said my approach to writing is like I'm sitting in a bar and telling you the story. Now, I must say, as a child, the nuns taught me how to diagram sentences. I have the bruises on my knuckles from the roller still. And the key word if I diagram that sentence is bar.
[00:01:46.110] - Ron Higgins
[00:01:46.750] - Todd Jones
Fort Riders and Bars, right?
[00:01:48.730] - Ron Higgins
Yes, Fort Riders and Bars. You have to realize that I did grew up in Baton Rouge, and my dad did work at LSU. I did have access to Tiger Stadium on Sundays after home games. So I did learn about liquor bottles, empty liquor bottles. So naturally, that's kind of got the idea. When you tell a guy in a bar, it's kind of just as matter of fact where the person can understand it and they laugh at it and they get it. It's more storytelling.
[00:02:20.670] - Todd Jones
[00:02:21.200] - Ron Higgins
And I try to do that to where I tell a story where all demographics can read my story, understand it mainly. Sometimes women don't like to read sports, but they don't like to read sports jargon. So I try to make it not so much about sports jargon, but the person in the story. And that seems to always work for me.
[00:02:41.470] - Todd Jones
Yes. And you've done it so well. I mean, you've done it for over 40 years. And I know you've covered some major events, Olympics, NBA Finals. But really, you spent 40 years in the south. So what you're really best known for is covering the Southeastern Conference, football and basketball primarily, but also LSU baseball and some other things. But football and basketball, but especially football in the south. You worked 29 years in Memphis. You did seven other jobs in four States. Is that right?
[00:03:14.570] - Ron Higgins
Throughout the south, it was like I was on the run, actually.
[00:03:17.780] - Todd Jones
What are you, Butching, Sundance? Like the Pinkerton detectives.
[00:03:22.890] - Ron Higgins
All the guy in the white hat? I just kept running, right? Yeah. Lord Baltimore was chasing me from Butch and Sundance. And you get a different dynamic everywhere. I mean, I've worked in Mississippi where it's Missy State versus Ole Miss State. People want to know why Old Miss and Mississippi State always on probation most of the time. Well, here's the reason why. Because if one school does well, the other schools are going to dig and find and find something on or to put them on probation. It's been going on back and forth forever. Forever. But that doesn't happen in Alabama, Auburn, because they've been on probation, but they never turn each other. And there's a respect level of, let's say, a respect level of cheating. I guess it's the best way to put it. But if you got a player we didn't and you did something legal that we didn't do enough of, well, by God, you just beat us with a recruit.
[00:04:18.810] - Todd Jones
We have to up our game.
[00:04:20.280] - Ron Higgins
Yeah. Now you have to do that. Now you just kind of put the bid on table and say, Is this good enough or what does it mean? How can I make my bid better than other school? Yeah.
[00:04:28.220] - Todd Jones
Well, you did all these sports. Like I said, you've written pro sports to Saints in New Orleans, the Grizzlies in Memphis. You've done major events. But when you think about the College sports that you've covered so well for decades in the south, what is it about the passion of the sports fan in the south? What's it like to write for them?
[00:04:57.270] - Ron Higgins
It's insane. You can write a bunch of objective stuff. I've seen some good things, but the first bet then you're right. You're the enemy of the state. Maybe. But I always tell people I write exactly what I believe and what I think, and I don't write something I don't believe. That's my opinion. And I write something just to get clicks. People say, no, I don't like to get clicks. I write what I think right. Very passionate. But there's always a storyline. There's always something going on in the south. I learned that early. I mean, I learned that early, and I learned about characters early. I learned stuff like I probably told this story before when I was working LHU Sports Information, they had a thing called the SEC Skyriders and what the Skyriders was. It was an original group of riders from the south, and this was before they had SEC media days. So what they would do is the SEC would charter a DC three plane, Leonard Skinner schedule. And all these riders would go on it, and they would fly from city to city and write stories and visit with coaches and players and drink a whole lot and party a whole lot.
[00:06:17.290] - Ron Higgins
It was one big rolling, riding drunk festival for all these schools. I never went on it. I always wanted to, but two things I knew about it. One, I knew they drank liquor because when I was LSU, I worked as a sports. Michigan Internet, my job before the Skyriders came in with my boss, Paul and Sid. I need you to go to this place to pick up the liquor for tonight's media party, take the company car. So I go over there and pack this thing up and open the trunk and look at this little corner with this real liquor. Like a little corner of liquor. I said, okay, is that it right there? I go, no, it's that whole wall right there. I always wanted to go to Skyriders tour because they had great stories and one of the best I ever heard. I wish I would have been there. One night they're partying somewhere in a hotel suite, and this guy they've never seen comes there before, and he is absolutely drunk out of his mind. And he basically just kind of lays down on this buffet table and passes out. They keep his breathing.
[00:07:30.740] - Ron Higgins
They can't see his breathing. So they start dumping ice on him just like all these spirituals start dumping his beard ship. We've got to wake him up. And finally they just can't get them up so they don't know who. They just leave. So the next morning they're standing around waiting to get on the plane, right? And they're waiting for the new pilot. Guess who the new pilot is? It's the guy on the table drunk. Oh, my God, they made them crash. So I learned early ages, a lot of characters, some of the most famous ones probably was famous was Bare Bryant.
[00:08:11.870] - Ron Higgins
My first run in with Bear Bryant. I don't say run in, but it was quite an event when I was working very few sports information. Abc hired me to be a field producer for several of their games. And my job was to get teams on off the field and report injuries to the producer because that time didn't have sideline report per se. You got a report at this game in Legion Field in Alabama comes on the field, April warm ups. And ABC's whole thing is we do not want to come on the air when we're playing the national anthem, so everything has to run on time, so they're running late. And so this person says, you need to go get Alabama off the field. I said, okay, do you want me to do that? Just come tell Brian to get his team off the field.
[00:09:01.670] - Todd Jones
Oh, sure. Yeah, no problem.
[00:09:03.270] - Ron Higgins
I went Bare Bryant. Yeah. Bear Bryant. So I kind of walked down, but I can't do this. I'm talking to the elephant. All the elephant. Hey, you think he can get you all.
[00:09:16.010] - Todd Jones
You're talking to the mascot?
[00:09:17.760] - Ron Higgins
Yeah. Somehow get him off the field. Have you talked to Brianna said elephant. Okay. So I walk up there. It's like walking to death row, trudging up there. Like I'm just dreading this. And I walk up there and just nervous. Coach Bryan, I'm Ron Higgins with ABC Sports and the guys in the truck, they would like you to get the field too as possible. So we get the game meet and start on time. And I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Of course. You stand there as always. Let me get the goal pose for door crack down. Can't see his eyes, arms cross, kind of leaning, feet cross like you always did. Yeah.
[00:09:59.460] - Todd Jones
The iconic pose of a coach.
[00:10:16.570] - Ron Higgins
I just told somebody.
[00:10:20.450] - Todd Jones
That'S right. Take the credit.
[00:12:02.710] - Ron Higgins
And so the last thing I had was the assignment they had was the Gator Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson.
[00:12:10.790] - Todd Jones
Woody Hazard's last game.
[00:12:14.710] - Ron Higgins
[00:12:17.330] - Todd Jones
All right. What do you got, sir?
[00:12:20.210] - Ron Higgins
First of all, the night before we had to tape lineups underneath the stairs, it was raining. So this is where I got my first taste of Woody. What a nice person. Especially to, like anybody in the media. We're taping lineups. And that means we're standing we're having a guy right here, and he moves into another one. So what? He's standing right here? He's snarling, Guys, get the gun out your mouth. What do I dissipate? And so finally we get everybody. And I say as pleasantly and as respectfully as possible, coaches, the guys in trouble. You're the last person we really appreciate. We like to shoot you. Now what he has. Yeah, a lot of people like a goddamn shoot my ass, wouldn't they? Okay, I appreciate it. So next night, game night, Ron, you got the High safe sideline.
[00:13:08.970] - Todd Jones
Why exactly what did I do to deserve this? Yeah. He's not happy with you already.
[00:13:22.050] - Ron Higgins
I'm 65 and I have blonde hair. How do I keep on a flight? We'll just talk about a flight. So I did. But towards the second half, I mean, basically, I just stuck on the bench. I just got to step on the bench. They couldn't see. I stepped on the bench right in front of me in the field. And so here it happens. High State quarterback interception, Clemson linebacker. Charlie Bombing intercepts. He gets tackled right at what he's feet. Bombing is looking up where you're trying to find hold the ball up. What do you think? He's taunting him, grabbed him by his shirt and hit them with the Aqua cut. And I go.
[00:13:59.350] - Todd Jones
In Ohio, they say Charlie Bowman's face got in the way of Woody's fist.
[00:14:05.950] - Ron Higgins
It could have happened, but I don't think so, because I was watching it 10ft away. And I can tell you, Charlie Bombing did not. Let's go to the replay. Let's go to the review. Let's go to the headset. There was no upper brochure by Charlie Bone except when Hoodie grabbed by his Jersey and hit with the upper cut.
[00:14:23.850] - Todd Jones
Yeah, right in the neck. Actually.
[00:14:28.190] - Ron Higgins
Bombers are stunning. People are swarming when he's kind of hitting his assistance with a clipboard and a getaway. I'm like, this is insane. And so on TV, you can't really see this if you're looking at the monitor, because it happened so much in front of the house. They bench. There were people standing up in front. So you couldn't see. I couldn't see. And so the producer asked, what's going on? What's going on? This guy, we just picked him up and punched him. He didn't want are you sure he punched him yet? He punched him. Are you sure we can report my son punch him. And of course, ABC want to go with that. I'm just a 20 year old College student. They don't think they can trust or I didn't see what I was supposed to see.
[00:15:18.390] - Todd Jones
Yeah. I mean, let's face it, you're only 10ft away.
[00:15:23.030] - Ron Higgins
They were like, we can't do that. Abc never really reported on it right away or even maybe went back to it because they tried to go to replay right away. The problem was that he Jackson, who's ever doing the game may have been Aaron Parsigan, may have been Frank Brawls, that track Heath. I didn't see anything. What I think was Frank brought. But anyway, they didn't see because they were looking at the field and not the monitor. If they looked at the monitor, they might have seen it. When they finally got a replay from the Jacksonville TV station was paid away, you could see it, but they didn't address it right away. And so all of America thought there was a plot. Why didn't they address it right away? Because when the producer asked to replay, the replay machine now function, it did not work. And so they had to wait for a while to get a replay.
[00:16:13.590] - Todd Jones
You're right there. When history happened, did you go to the locker room with the meeting?
[00:16:20.690] - Ron Higgins
Me being a budding sportswiter, I followed up the Ohio State big guy locker room stand outside and you saw the holiday present enter it. And he was not happy and he was done right. I was kind of in there on that.
[00:16:39.490] - Todd Jones
Yes. Fired the next day, Woody Hayes, his last game down there in Jacksonville, Florida. And you were there for it. And you were at a lot of historic events. And really, let's face it, you grew up with Southern sports. I mean, like you said, you were a budding sportswriter at the time. You became a sports writer in 1979. But your days around Southern sports go back to when your father, Ace Higgins, was a sports information director at LSU from 1954 to 68. So you literally grew up with the SEC. What was it like having a father in that position and being a child who basically grew up at LSU Stadium?
[00:17:18.190] - Ron Higgins
It was became a sportswriter. I just love the whole feeling of being in a game and being in a Press box and writing and seeing the camaraderie between the riders, just the whole atmosphere. I've loved it. And I learned her right, really from watching my father write. But I learned her right, because my father would moonlight at that rich paper in the summer. He would help them put together their preseason College and high school football section. And it was massive and kind of still there for this newspaper in that route because it's probably on paper and they don't care about the money they spend. But he would help put the stuff together. I would go for the summer with him up to the newspaper every night. Every night.
[00:18:13.440] - Todd Jones
Like, how old like how old were you?
[00:18:16.050] - Ron Higgins
I was seven, eight years old when I started, and it was like the greatest atmosphere. I just loved it. I loved just watching guys write their stories and the whole atmosphere and going downstairs and watching them the hard press pipe set, the old typeset stuff back in the day when it wasn't rooted. I love everything about it, but I learned how to write. I would stand over guy's shoulders and see how they wrote their stories. And so I taught myself to type with two fingers and a thumb.
[00:18:45.280] - Todd Jones
Wait a minute. You still Hunt and Peck?
[00:18:47.630] - Ron Higgins
Yeah. It's running gun, actually.
[00:18:51.390] - Todd Jones
[00:18:52.830] - Ron Higgins
I tried to take it to high school, but I really couldn't grasp. But the only thing I did good typing class in high school was that I could play the Hawaii Five theme on the typewriter, basically.
[00:19:03.830] - Todd Jones
All right, earworm. Now look out.
[00:19:05.890] - Ron Higgins
Yeah. You hit the ship with a bass drum. It works really well.
[00:19:10.490] - Todd Jones
So, Ron, how old were you when you actually wrote a story for the newspaper?
[00:19:14.990] - Ron Higgins
Eight years old.
[00:19:16.410] - Todd Jones
Wait a minute. You were eight years old and you would write for the paper?
[00:19:20.470] - Ron Higgins
Yeah. The sports center. Bloodline little guys spoke to Pipe, came up to me and said, we're going to have a American Legion is bringing in their score sheets of the games, and they have who won at the starting pitcher. They have, like, the major hitters and they have home runs. Can you write us six or seven paragraphs? Sure. So I did that, and I was like, Australia. There was an excellent paper. I knew it was mine, wasn't mine. So I did that for several years and finally was about, I guess, 13 or 14. My dad died when I was twelve. He had a heart attack and he died, but the business was in me by then. I was done. I was all in.
[00:20:08.540] - Todd Jones
You had the bug. Yeah.
[00:20:09.800] - Ron Higgins
And so the prepaid of the applicant, Beck, is still living. He goes, we like you to go cover a game and we'll give you a buy line. It will play. Ron Higgins, correspondent.
[00:20:25.990] - Todd Jones
How old are you? Now? At this point, I'm like 13.
[00:20:29.100] - Ron Higgins
[00:20:29.410] - Todd Jones
And you're going to get a bar line.
[00:20:33.730] - Ron Higgins
Can she drive you to the game? I know driver lines. Can you drive to the game and drive you back to the paper? If you like the story.
[00:20:39.910] - Todd Jones
Your mom's taking you to the game.
[00:20:44.450] - Ron Higgins
I get back to the paper like this. It still wasn't done by computer. You still couldn't file anything over the phone unless you dictated it. Whichever, once in a while, we all have done because nothing worked. And some of the days you don't understand that when you say that. Yeah, I had to dictate. They go, we mean, not dictate. Well, you compose your story in your head and you dictate. And people were there. Yes, they were. So anyway, 13 years, I walk into my game, curve my first game, walk in the dress room after the game, see the coach walk toward you. I said, Listen, Hey, Ron, we need some more cows.
[00:21:24.610] - Todd Jones
You need some more cows, though.
[00:21:27.830] - Ron Higgins
We need more cows. I'm not your manager. What are you doing in here? I'm hanging for the boring assumption I'm uncovering the game. You're a sportswriter coach. I am. You're a sportswriter. Okay, ask me a question. Okay, coach, the first half, you don't think you really run the ball well? I mean, if dominated run the ball just had good offensive rhythm. The second half, it seemed like you broke your rhythm by trying to throw the ball. Was it something that defense did, or did you feel like you just wanted to pass and walk on your passing because you felt like you had a lead? You can do that. You are a sportswriter.
[00:22:06.270] - Todd Jones
He's getting grilled by Opie Taylor sportswriter.
[00:22:13.390] - Ron Higgins
That was the first introduction to that.
[00:22:17.890] - Todd Jones
Well, you had to bug early and it never left you're still riding. And think about it. You mentioned Bear. Bryan. Bear was still Alabama's coach when you started in 79. And you have come across so many characters, especially in College football. What is it about College football that drives the south crazy?
[00:22:38.890] - Ron Higgins
I think it's because the north has been dominant. Pro football started in the north, and most of the teams start in the north early. The Southern football south didn't really start to go to basically the 60s. There wasn't nothing the Dolphins weren't around. The Saints weren't around the Hawks. You probably had the Oilers start in the early 60s. But anyway, so the College teams were your pro teams. And that's why there was an allegiance. And of course, a lot of these teams, when you went to these colleges, a lot of these towns were not huge cities because everything revolved around the College. And that's why it just kind of remained that way, even though there have been proteins, even though the Saints came in and God knows the people of the Saints, people still have that affiliation. Lsu. They remember Billy Cannon when the higher eyes in 59 and making the Halloween run. They remember Show Willy name it of Alabama and the white shoes we played. They all remember their football heroes because this was their pro team. And even now they are pro teams. There's still, I guess, a line of demarcation for a lot of people that they love their colleges.
[00:23:58.960] - Ron Higgins
And it's something that really in some places like Alabama, where I worked for about a year and a half in Mobile, and I got a little indoctrination. Alabama, Auburn. It's a 365 day deal.
[00:24:24.670] - Ron Higgins
I know which fan this guy was with school, but when I first went to work in Mobile, I lived across the Bay in Fairhope, which is a wonderful little town. It's like living in Maybury, honestly. Maybury on the Bay. You leave your door open. The homecoming break comes by. The sun is going down over the Docker. Like, is this real? I go running down the Bay one day and I stop and sit on the bench, the guy sitting on the bench in front of me, and he kind of glances over at me. You're that new sport writing fellow? Yes, I am. He goes, okay, let me ask you something, okay? Are you Alabama or are you Auburn? I said, I'm neither. Like, I blew his mind. Like what?
[00:25:12.550] - Todd Jones
That doesn't compute, right?
[00:25:14.320] - Ron Higgins
That comes the way it is when people recognize you in crazy places. I'm just sick with this one because you go to a bathroom at public restroom, and you're at this trial doing your business, and you'll have some places they'll have, like, parallels of sports pages over the toilet, someplace that way we can read. So here I am, I'm doing my business, and I see the guy right here, and he's looking up. There's one I called, and I can see him going.
[00:25:56.170] - Todd Jones
He'S reading you at the urinal.
[00:26:01.810] - Ron Higgins
Is that him? And before he says, I go, yes, that is me. And nice to meet you. You like to shake my hand? I'm proud to be a Sportswire, but there are times that you would like to be not known. There was the time that I go to get a vasectomy.
[00:26:28.860] - Todd Jones
I'm getting my victim. Wait a minute. Hold on a second.
[00:26:34.010] - Ron Higgins
I am on the table. I am out there for the world of sea. I have a laser pointed between my legs. There is smoke coming up. Things are happening. And my doctor, who knows I'm a Sportswire, and I covered University of Memphis basketball wear pitch was coaching. So while he's doing this, it's like I'm on a sports talk show and I'm going to ask answer questions. Hey, I got you. I got a question for you. I understand there's so few in game adjustments. Can he cut it, Mr. Coach? Can he cut it? And I'm looking at this guy and smoke. I'm like, right now, I just want you to cut it.
[00:27:24.250] - Todd Jones
I just want to warn everybody. I've officially lost all control of this episode.
[00:27:28.170] - Ron Higgins
[00:27:28.780] - Todd Jones
And it's great. So I'm just a second ago. Go ahead.
[00:27:39.120] - Ron Higgins
I'm currently in these finals in Orlando. I'm getting on the plane and flying to Houston. Okay.
[00:27:43.350] - Todd Jones
[00:27:44.340] - Ron Higgins
A few times in my life, I get a first pass up. So I'm sitting there next to the guy in first class, and he's one of these guys who chatted up. And so I'm not saying much. I'm trying not to reveal what I do. He's talking a runner. Are you coming in many finals? I said, yeah, I'm coming in many finals. These first two games, I understand what's going on. The magic gets swept. They don't get the ball in Shaquille, Nick Anderson. They can't make free trolls all this stuff. And right about then we just take it off about ten minutes into it, and you hear the plane go boom. You show the plane dip a little bit. I'm like, what? Yeah, like a pop. And the plane kind of dips and levels out. I'm going, this ain't good. It's just something about that time get this. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain. Listen, we've had a little engine problem, but one of our engines is not working. I'm a little prompt, but it's perfectly fine. We can fly one engine. I'm thinking, sure enough to fly them, we're going to turn around and we're going to turn around and land in Orlando and change equipment, but just remain calm and you deposit and then when the insurances give you directions for Munching landing, put your hands on your legs.
[00:29:08.640] - Ron Higgins
So we're turning around. I'm looking around, I see two priests. They're praying. People are praying. And this guy is still talking. Okay, so what do you think they can do to women? What do they do? So we're coming for a landing. We're going 9000 miles an hour because this guy can't let up on the throttle or we dip. Okay, right. Our heads are between our legs and our guys my gun. I think it's about stopping Lodge one. I don't think that one is a problem. But you're still debating the game, still talking about the landing. One with one engine. That's something I will do. And I'm looking up and hit the runway, and, I mean, we're going 90 miles an hour. I see ambulances chasing us, fire truck chases, and this guy's like, I just hate him. I think they can win one. I really do.
[00:29:58.530] - Todd Jones
They show up in games.
[00:29:59.930] - Ron Higgins
And so I'm one of the first guys off the plane, okay? I'm the first guy with my new friend next to me, 86,000 people behind me, and I get up there and the guy rebooked me. He goes, you need to get to Houston right away. I can rebook. And the guy goes, the guy next to me go, oh, he needs to get there. He's a sportswriter. And the guy behind the counter goes, what's wrong with the magic of God? I immediately turned around and wasted my plane and sat and wrote a column on it because it was too good to be true.
[00:30:45.290] - Todd Jones
Well, I got to tell you, that's one of my all time favorite stories already.
[00:32:14.260] - Todd Jones
I'm good. Well, I must attest that. I have a fondness for the Southern sports fan. I grew up in Kentucky. I graduated from the University of Kentucky back in the 1980s. And I used to travel to the games and cover them as a young reporter. And even most of my career was pretty much in Ohio. One time I got sent down to Alabama, and I guess it was 2003 this spring when Mike Price's story exploded. He was the Alabama coach for like, I don't know, ten minutes or something. And it was a story where he got caught at a strip club and it's rolling, baby. So I actually went down there. I don't know why, but I'm down there with all these Alabama writers. And the news is breaking that Mike has been fired. And we're in Larry White, the sports information director. We're in the foyer of his office and he's handing out the press release to us, to the writers. And he says while he's handed out, Lord have mercy, what a damn zoo.
[00:34:13.550] - Todd Jones
Well, I remember going through Tuscaloosa and I was just going to iconic places like where Bear Bryant used to eat breakfast and went to the Museum that has his office recreated and actually went out to Mike Price's house with another writer. And we got around the gate to his driveway and walked up to the front door, knocked on the door, and I think it was his son answered the door. He was not happy at all. And he had these big dogs jumping around. He's holding them back, trying to keep them there. And we're trying to explain why we would like to talk to Mike and he's not having any of it. And all of a sudden one of those dogs broke loose and took off running down the road. And I'm thinking Mike Price has lost his job. He's probably going to lose his wife. And now he's lost his damn dog because some sports writer from Ohio, of all places shows up in Tuscaloosa. So I cost Mike Price's dog.
[00:35:13.420] - Ron Higgins
That's like it for the cycle there.
[00:35:15.640] - Todd Jones
Yeah, it was not good. But what I'm getting at is the passion down there. The craziness is just legendary. And you covered so many of these characters. I mean, I was thinking about football and we talked in Alabama there. But I'm also thinking about Steve Spurrier at Florida. I think of Spurrier as a guy who like he became the guy in the Eighties and nineties that really sort of started changing the SEC.
[00:35:41.260] - Ron Higgins
Right. He really did. He really pushed the SEC forward. It hasn't turned out on both sides of the ball because he created offense and he called, I guess, the fun and gun. And it seemed like somebody was always open and they were always throwing that time. The FTC really put most of the athletes and offensive side of the ball. He kind of knew that there was nobody that got covered guys in space. It just wasn't happening. And he forced the SEC really to improve defensively until Sam came along in 2002 job. That's when they started. You realize you have to recruit defensive backs or just as athletic who can cover these people in space, linebackers, who can cover these people in space. Square forces change. But the best thing about Steve was and what I still missed to this day is that he was unfiltered. There was never a worry about both and board material being read because he was just going to say what he said.
[00:36:44.050] - Todd Jones
Yeah, he just didn't care.
[00:36:46.100] - Ron Higgins
He was just going to say he was honest. He jabbed his own team. It wasn't just him loving jabbing Tennessee. You can't spell Citrus without UT, right? Or even when Tennessee, I guess played the National Championship, played the better bowl in Florida, went to the Citrus Bowl. Spurry would chase people like, I won't think that the Tennessee balls relentless user winter home. There was always a debt. But the best part, he was honest about his own team. One year they got beat at Mississippi State. They paid awful. St. Matthews live in Florida's. Quarterback, they were terrible. They got beat by at least two touchdowns or more. And the state fans run the field, turn the goal posts down and gave this person, you know, I don't know what they're doing that for me. They need to wait for they beat a good team the next year in Florida. Florida. It was like 56th and something like that in Florida, late in the game, throwing deep breath.
[00:37:53.390] - Todd Jones
Yeah, he was open. I mean, what are you going to do?
[00:37:57.230] - Ron Higgins
What was that for me, really? He says, I tell you what was that? We had a street manager last year. That game they won Brendon field, and he was gardening our Jersey. He got coldcocked. That touchdown was for our seat manager.
[00:38:10.670] - Todd Jones
He didn't forget. Right.
[00:38:12.190] - Ron Higgins
But to the very end, he quit in mid season after an LSU game where they got beaten that rough. And he always told me he goes the day that I don't think that I'm doing my football team any good, but I'm not helping them. They're not listening to me that I'm not doing good. He almost quit right then, and he did. He was true to his word, right? He was true to his word. And I'm missing. He was laughed at the door.
[00:38:36.890] - Todd Jones
He's such a character. Were there other characters in the south coaches that come to mind Besides guys who are like Spurrier?
[00:38:45.570] - Ron Higgins
Like most of them are basketball basketball coaches. Ftc media day for basketball is like one big floor show. Everybody was an entertainer.
[00:38:58.420] - Todd Jones
Yeah. You had whim Sanderson, you had Sonny Smith.
[00:39:01.910] - Ron Higgins
You had Hugh Durham. Right.
[00:39:04.150] - Todd Jones
[00:39:05.550] - Ron Higgins
Before Hugh went in and spoke to the press, he used to, like, corner me. And another letter from National Joe Biddle, he said, what's everybody talking about? What's the topic? One year is like athletic doors being ruled out. So he goes in there, he opens up with this ten minute rant on athletic dorms. And it was the funniest. Damn.
[00:39:27.660] - Todd Jones
It was like ten minutes of gold that didn't go over well in Kentucky.
[00:39:31.230] - Ron Higgins
I know that at the end of ten minutes, he goes questions. And there's this one guy who covered Tennessee and he asked every coach the same damn question. Can you tell us what your starter might be? And you can see a year ago.
[00:39:52.890] - Todd Jones
Read the room, dude.
[00:39:55.110] - Ron Higgins
You had characters all throughout the League and it made it fun.
[00:39:59.670] - Todd Jones
Why do you think it was looser then? What was it about it that coaches weren't so afraid to say what was on there?
[00:40:06.190] - Ron Higgins
I guess you had a lack of corporate sponsors and there wasn't a ton of money there. Guys aren't being paid like they are for basketball. At least it wasn't a big money business even then. The term NCAA term was kind of just getting cranked up. It's getting bigger, getting more important. So maybe there was more players in basketball, but I guess you just have these guys who are just absolutely hilarious.
[00:40:39.490] - Todd Jones
Well, I remember being a student newspaper reporter for the Kentucky Colonel at the University of Kentucky, and I started writing some basketball stories, and one of my assignments was to call Dale Brown. And I'm like, call Dale Brown. I'm like I didn't think that was possible. I was like, what are you talking about? I'm just some kid at a student paper. And so we get his office number, and I call it, and he answers the phone, not the Secretary. Dale answers the call, and I'm like, I'm Todd Jones from Nicotucky Colonel. And he's like, oh, it's great to meet you, Todd. What you need? And we ended up talking, and I'm thinking, Is this the way it is? Coaches just answer when you call them all the time. But no, it's not the way it was. It was people like Dale Brown who made it really special.
[00:41:26.820] - Ron Higgins
Like Dale Brown, meaning a lot of times I'll sit there and be like, I don't have a calm Dr like that. Okay, I'll call. Dale asked Dale one question 30 minutes later, hang up. Thank you. Bye. Thank you. David, right. He didn't like me. Another question. It was just like, just the way he was. I saw him just the other night. Here, tell us your own basketball. You look great. This is funny as ever.
[00:41:47.650] - Todd Jones
Yeah. Let's set this up. He coached at LSU for 25 years.
[00:41:54.370] - Ron Higgins
And he came from.
[00:41:55.140] - Todd Jones
Like, what, North Dakota, I believe. So he comes in with this different perspective, and he immediately took on Kentucky. He like, said, Kentucky, we're going after him.
[00:42:06.870] - Ron Higgins
Yes. He was fighting for the underdog because he was an underdog his entire life. We're going to fight. And finally he got enough players where he could play with Kentucky and actually beat them. Not a lot, but they're over in Kentucky a lot.
[00:42:27.340] - Todd Jones
You probably covered the SEC tournament or basketball tournament where he didn't go to bed or something, right? Some kind of crazy.
[00:42:34.560] - Ron Higgins
The first time LSU had to go to basketball and win four games in four days. Most time they play on Friday, but they would never play. All four had to win three games just to get to the finals. So he decides he's going to prove to his team. You know what? Fatigue is a state of mind. It's a state of mind.
[00:42:52.430] - Todd Jones
Of course it is.
[00:42:53.380] - Ron Higgins
I'm going to stay up all night every night on this tournament.
[00:42:57.270] - Todd Jones
[00:42:58.260] - Ron Higgins
All right, so we play Thursday, and we assume we hadn't slept. And he looked like hell on the bench Friday. So Friday they went again. So some on Saturday morning, like about 04:00 in the morning. I get this callback in my room. Marriott Marquis, Downtown Media Hotel. Hello? Is this Mr. Higgins? I said yes. Mr. Higgins, this is Mr. Smith with the hotel maintenance. I need you to check the barometric pressure right now. We're checking barometric pressure.
[00:43:32.410] - Todd Jones
It was Dale Brown.
[00:43:36.130] - Ron Higgins
Dale, what are you doing? I can't sleep. I'm just downstairs a bunch of me to go. Come on down towards. Just tell stories. Like, tell stories to, like, sunrise.
[00:43:43.590] - Todd Jones
[00:43:44.450] - Ron Higgins
But his whole sleep pattern was different. Dale would stay up until, like, two or three in the morning. And read. That's what I like to do. And then he get a six $7 and come off a little bit late. But he does stuff like, I cover LSU one year when I spent one year of the Advocate, when I came back as a full timer, I spent one year of the Advocate for I moved on. And that's a whole another story. But they will call me like at 01:00. And I'm like, Hello, Ron. Bill Brown. Hey, Dale, how are you? I just want to tell you that you're doing a great job.
[00:44:22.210] - Todd Jones
He's giving you his approval.
[00:44:23.920] - Ron Higgins
Thank you, dad. I appreciate it. All right.
[00:44:26.890] - Todd Jones
Until you ripped him in the next column. And he wasn't so happy.
[00:44:30.550] - Ron Higgins
I worked at LSU. I came back. I went to Shreveport for a few years. My first time out of College was Tiger Rag magazine, which is where the whole Beau Ryan thing happened. It was 1979. I graduated 79, my first year of College. And I went to work for Tight Rag Magazine, which was a weekly music.
[00:44:53.220] - Todd Jones
Let's set this up for our non Southern fans. This is obviously not Beau Ryan, who was the Wisconsin basketball coach, the football coach.
[00:45:01.570] - Ron Higgins
Football coach, the fighter. And he was named football coach. Lsu replaced a legendary Charles McLintock. It was named in December of 1979. He was out recruiting. And like the first and second week of January 1019 80, he goes to Shreveport on a recruiting trip. He drives up there with a coach and the coach, Greg Williams. And they recruit all day in Shreveport. And late bet my Bo has to fly back on a private plane because he's got another day in Mississippi somewhere the next morning and the other coach is going to drive back. The other coach was the guy I had an interview with that morning bow before they get to the plane, flies back next morning, I get to the football office to talk to this coach who's with Bo and walking office. And I hadn't seen TV. I hadn't heard the radio. They didn't have Internet at this point.
[00:46:04.730] - Ron Higgins
And everybody's crying. I said, I'm sorry. Boat Ryan bought plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. It's presumed then what and what happened. He went on a recruiting trip to Shreveport and Greg put him on the plane. Greg Williams, the coach of Honda, they think it was carbon dioxide poisoning, the leakage, and they fell asleep and they just flew up for us. And Ironically, right over Raleigh, North Carolina, when his wife and two kids were still there.
[00:46:38.760] - Todd Jones
Yeah, that's what happened with Payne Stewart's plane.
[00:46:41.240] - Ron Higgins
Okay. I just want to go back and say, I'm sorry, coach. I just let him talk about how stunning will be, what this played it out. Played by three for me. Right. And I said, I had a paper card once and you all was taping, like I was sneaking. And I went back and went the story and went up the first place. It was the sportswriters contest. First place I ever won in a contest, any contest, but also like 22, 20 years old. And I had no idea what to ask him. And the crazy thing about this, 35, 40 years later, one day, ESPN had a special on the onboard line called the Bou. Don't know on the SEC story. They came to me, I talked about it. I kind of got choked up, actually, on camera. But I actually tracked down Greg Williams all these years later to find out how he's been. We kind of replayed that night. I learned some other things I didn't know. Yes. But I went to work in the Advocate for a year. And after a year, when I first got there, there's this writer of the staff named Joe Plannes, who's been there for a long time.
[00:48:12.130] - Ron Higgins
He was the thorn in LSU side. He was the guy who would criticize LSU. The Advocate at that time was very much in bed with LSU. They wouldn't say boo. You couldn't be very critical ever. It was everything else, your journeys and principles that you didn't like. And so I became the columnist when the guys left. John Adams is my favorite people in the whole world. He left to go work in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is that covered his feelings. So I think I was calling. So I start kind of pushing the boundaries of being critical when I got there. Ms. Rogers, Joe Pass, you won't last a year here. I bet you $20 you won't last a year.
[00:48:56.350] - Todd Jones
And so is this because you were being critical? Is that what he's saying?
[00:49:00.140] - Ron Higgins
Yeah, because he knew the atmosphere there. They couldn't take it back. I started being critical. And he goes, you can't write that one. I'm sorry, you can't do that. I said, what if I just write that one? Because what if I refuse to write that way because we'll just reassign you. We'll put you on high school. Really? Yeah. Okay. Well, you know what? Okay. I'll find a job in two weeks.
[00:49:29.310] - Todd Jones
[00:49:29.740] - Ron Higgins
And actually, it was three weeks. And that's what I went to Memphis with the commercial public. They had contacted me before I took the other job. I was at the Journal for a brief period.
[00:49:41.350] - Todd Jones
Right. Because you're there to be a journalist, not a cheerleader. Right. That's the thing.
[00:49:45.620] - Ron Higgins
But I say the extra week just to collect the best because of the day I said, Joe, it's my last day. I said, Joe, it's one year for the day. And I looked at he went to $20 bill.
[00:50:02.470] - Todd Jones
[00:50:05.590] - Ron Higgins
Back in the day I went to Memphis was the best move in my career, the best move I could ever make. Got to cover everything in the world. I got to not just the SEC, but I covered the entire SEC. Got to know wholly. I covered Memphis. I covered Olympics. I covered Final Fours. I covered everything. But the Olympics were fascinating just to cover and be around the world. Different, lighters and different events and a whole different.
[00:50:34.930] - Todd Jones
What was it like for you as a writer to cover the Olympics? Because not everybody enjoys that. Some people really enjoy covering Olympics. Did you like it? What was it like to cover the Journal?
[00:50:45.190] - Ron Higgins
It was like twelve hour days every day. Get up and go all day and do it again. It's like this big treadmill, but you just kind of absorb stuff. Before I went and did it, my first one was in Seoul. I was kind of apprehensive. I've never covered something sports before. I didn't know what team handball was. It was kind of a combination of, I don't know, basketball, soccer with goalies. I mean, baseball, throwing the ball. It was this crazy sport. But I kind of learned as I went along and I really got to love it. But it was more of the experience of seeing different athletes that you never know around the world. I still contend one of the greatest basketball series I've ever seen, a guy from Brazil named Oscar Smith.
[00:51:31.310] - Todd Jones
Oh, yes, right. Bob Ryan spoke about him on our show.
[00:51:37.390] - Ron Higgins
What's a good shock to you. What's a good shot. He goes for me, he goes, a good shot. Could be taken from anywhere, anytime.
[00:51:44.900] - Todd Jones
Hell, yeah, pretty much he was that way. You also got to see Luke Longley, too, right? You once told me that you had a pretty interesting interaction with Luke Longley at the Olympics. Leave is Australian Center.
[00:52:02.000] - Ron Higgins
Australia played with Bull, right? Well known, a big affable guy, pleasant human being. And so I go to talk about the game and there's this delay. I'm like how much delay and probably won't be Olympic about. He's in drug testing right now. Take a little bit longer. It could be at least another 30 minutes. There's already 30 or 40 minutes. I'll wait until he comes out. He sits down to me and goes, hey, mate.
[00:52:32.810] - Todd Jones
Okay. Need a favor? For what?
[00:52:37.650] - Ron Higgins
I had a drug test and I was dehydrated, so I had to get hydration. So I drink a couple of thick packs of beer. I'm kind of drunk right now. So if I say something simple, would you kind of clean up for me? I said, sure.
[00:52:56.350] - Todd Jones
I'll clean you up, Luke. You just got to give me a beer, too.
[00:52:59.390] - Ron Higgins
It's kind of charming.
[00:53:02.950] - Todd Jones
Well, you played basketball in College, Ron. So you played at Angelina Junior College in Lufton, Texas. And then did you walk on at LSU after you left on LSU.
[00:53:13.150] - Ron Higgins
But I've heard from me, my second girl, Angelina, okay. And I kind of rebuild everything.
[00:53:17.700] - Todd Jones
So what type of player were you, Ron?
[00:53:20.960] - Ron Higgins
I was a scorer. That's what I do. I score. I was six five. Sometimes they sent me the post I choose phase. I had good range. If I had three point line back then, I would have killed it.
[00:53:35.830] - Todd Jones
You're like the Oscars Schmidt of the south.
[00:53:37.940] - Ron Higgins
Yeah, except the south and south. I'm shooting out sucking from anywhere.
[00:53:45.770] - Todd Jones
You grew up when your father was a sports information director at LSU, when Ace was the Sid. Pete Marovich was the basketball player at LSU. Pisco, Pete. So you grew up watching a shooter.
[00:54:00.110] - Ron Higgins
It was absolutely magical. I tell people, yeah, destroyed was ridiculous because he shot a ton. But when you think of a guy that averaged, he really set a record that I truly know that it will be here 200 years from now. Nobody's going to ever average 44.2 points again, ever. It's just not happening.
[00:54:21.450] - Todd Jones
For a career before the three point shots, think about 44.2.
[00:54:27.020] - Ron Higgins
And this was three bars and years, they probably would have gone up over 45 or 46 at the end of the freshman year. But yet it wasn't freshman basketball. But we first got the LSU. My father said, hey, we got new basketball coach Prince Marvich. He says, yeah, he's got a son named Pete. He says he's going to be the best basketball player anybody ever seen. He has not looked at the guy. He's so skinny. I'm like that guy. That guy is going to be the best ever. And then the first game of the fresh ones, that guy went out and got like 66 and then throw, throwing these crazy passes that were straight out like Lopez Collars playbook or beyond that he created. And that was the magic. You went there. Maybe some fans were there to see the scoring because the LSU fans got so spoiled, they come out of the game like, man, Pete was off. He only had like 38. He didn't play well, but she worked there for the passing. And it's just like every fast break was an adventure. What the hell is going to happen now? Even when he wasn't trying to create a pass, he just created one.
[00:55:35.680] - Ron Higgins
One time he threw behind the back bounce pass behind his back to his left and accidentally hit his left heel and bounced back up to the guy on the right and caught it later in how that's amazing. He threw passes that he called violations for and he tell the rest. How can you call that? You've never seen it before.
[00:56:19.120] - Ron Higgins
It got to the point. Every pregame more months they will come out and they have a drill. They put them at the top of the key and drill the ball. And he do stuff like spin the ball between his legs and catch it behind it. All this past stuff, low power type stuff. And then two players would cut past and throw like a blind pass to what they lay it up. It was a show. They knew how to market. It wasn't really marketed. But even today, one thing I was cheaper when I went to the NBA was how much influence you had on the NBA players. I never thought he had influence on. Like, when I worked at Memphis, I covered the NBA with the Grizzlies. And so you cheap on the players, like, at all, like a George Gervin or Isaiah Thomas. I love this whole game. Like this passing. I love when he come down and pull up, stop and pop shot. It'd be off bounds. And before he released the ball, he would just start turning the other way because he knows what's going in. He goes on the playground. We named him Marabich because he was a bitch.
[00:57:36.970] - Ron Higgins
We come down and go shoot a shot and shoot and start running down the car and going, you're a bitch. Yes.
[00:57:45.250] - Todd Jones
Pete knew it was a show. I mean, guys like Steve Spurrier, Dale Brown, Whip Sanderson, Sunny Smith, these guys, they kind of had a twinkle in her eye because they knew there was more to this than what you might think. And they made it fun to cover. Right?
[00:58:02.790] - Ron Higgins
Characters make it. Characters make stuff that fun. That's what you long after you quit this business. But you might remember games, but you remember characters more than anything else. Ten USA baseball made Memphis or training base for the Olympics. That's when they had College stance. Ron Fraser was a manager. He was one of the hilarious people of all time. He lives in Miami. A lot of great stories about him. But the Team USA would have to have open trials before they invited people. You had open trials. So here it is. It's in Millington, Tennessee, just north of Memphis. There are Trouts on this field. I'm going out there and I see the sky at Short Stop. It's 9000 Deg. It's June. It is absolutely boring. And this got this guy out there run around high and shorts of Alfield shagging balls like an older guy. He's got this full flannel uniform, a wool flannel uniform. You've got to tell me, who is that guy? His name is Lonnie Altman. I said, Where do you play this? He said, he never played baseball. He's like 48 years old. Okay, I know your house. Some of these people come in like a hotel.
[00:59:28.770] - Ron Higgins
No, he's living in his van in the parking lot. I said, it was just getting better and better. I said, he's living in a van in the parking lot. I said, yeah, he'll be out there. This is awesome. So it's over. So I go knock on the bandsliding door with the commercial appeal. Memphis. I'm doing a store in trials and I noticed your unique uniform, and I just got to know why you are doing this. Can I come in? Come in and have a seat. He goes, sure. So I get this van. I look around, he's got all his clothes in there and baseball books and extra gloves. And I look on the dashboard and there's a spring picture, this old lady on there. She said, Lenny, why are you doing it? I always wanted to be a baseball player. I always devoted my time to other stuff in my life. And I never got married. I was single and my mother loved baseball. And she also said, London, why don't you ever try to baseball. And I never had the chance. But when I saw this, I thought, I'm not going to make the team, but it's a chance for me to try out at least a day or two.
[01:00:53.670] - Ron Higgins
And he pointed the picture because she'll know I tried to be a baseball player. And I'm like, oh, man, it was awesome. That's the main thing about sports riding is that you don't know what you're going to stumble into. And a lot of times it's the sheer gold, like in an SEC basketball firm. There's this guy in Alvin Lee played basketball, Alabama. He's dead now. Got a rest of his life. But the first time scrubbing. She's horrible. He's a Guardian. She's horrible. Lights it up. I mean, everything's going in. So I go in the dress room with them myself. Joe Bill of Asheville, go to the album. Got to ask tonight. You're on fire. You just turned it around. I mean, you couldn't make a shot. What happened? Did you just get back in the shoot around and really work on what you're doing? Just really work on the stroke. He goes, no, man, I got my girls back. What girls? And I'm thinking, I didn't want to say that you were divorced. Both Joe and I said, like, girls. He goes, yes, I got my old kicks back. My girl. And he held up this basketball shoes and they're like, warned the hell out.
[01:02:14.320] - Ron Higgins
Just like hell out here. Last night I had some new kicks on my feet. Killing me, man, killing me. Tonight I got my girls back. They sticky, but I love them.
[01:02:28.350] - Todd Jones
He was right. He got his favorite shoes on his feet and he lit it off.
[01:02:33.380] - Ron Higgins
I'm like, walk around the corner and just clap to the last for five minutes.
[01:02:38.970] - Todd Jones
[01:02:39.880] - Ron Higgins
You can't make this stuff up.
[01:02:41.990] - Todd Jones
[01:02:43.530] - Ron Higgins
I guess of all the bad things about sports, Ryan, the lousy hours, the bad deals, the fact you work insane hours, the fact that all of a sudden you tell your wife, the guy go do this when you can't do something with her, and she's managed for three days, and all that stuff somehow gets worth it when something like that happens, it's why I still do this. What makes your job? Why have you all done this all this year? I said, you know what, because I can wake up in the morning and I think I know what's going to happen, but then all hell breaks through. It's glorious.
[01:03:25.870] - Todd Jones
[01:03:26.460] - Ron Higgins
[01:03:27.890] - Todd Jones
You just never know when a great story is going to come along and it's evident in this episode the great stories you shared with us. It's been such a pleasure to shine a light on all these 40 plus years that you've been writing about sports down in the south. I've really enjoyed this Rhonda some of these stories were fantastic. Thank you so much and I wish you the best as you continue to run and gun on the keyboard, as you say.
[01:03:56.660] - Ron Higgins
Thank you so much. I enjoy being with you all the show. It's tremendous. I'm honored to be a part of it. Robert Lee, thank you for asking to have me on.
[01:04:05.110] - Todd Jones
Thanks, Ron. Take care.