It’s your task for this weekend: Track down Amy Trask. Consider your NFL IQ dependent upon it.
First, it implores you to rise at the ridiculous time of 6 a.m. Sunday and locate the CBS Sports Network. Then again, a smartly programmed DVR can sniff out “That Other Pregame Show,” a four-hour exchange on CBS’ emerging cable channel.
Next, get over the myopic challenge of having information on relevant football issues filtered through someone of the non-male species on an otherwise chafing pro football pregame chatterfest.
In the pro pigskin business, Trask comes from 27 years as a trusted advisor for Al Davis with the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders, having left as the CEO of the team in May. She had the distinction of being the highest-ranking female of an NFL franchise not related to the team’s owner, often representing the rebellious rascal at owners meetings and bringing heavy duty Trask management to the commitment to excellence.
In the TV business, she may call herself “an undrafted rookie free agent.” But having her on the CBS roster should already make other networks wonder why their scouting departments didn’t pluck her up first.
“It’s very liberating after all these years with a team to now speak on things where I’m accountable to me,” Trask said from her San Francisco home office Wednesday. “I’m also coming to the realization that sometimes I’m not necessarily best at following direction. But it’s also nice to work as a group of very collaborative individuals.”
CBS Sports president David Berson, who stepped into his current role in June after the previous two years starting up CBS Sports Network, said “Amy was one of the first we discussed” in filling out a team for an alternative Sunday morning studio show for the cable channel, something of a lead-in to the iconic “NFL Today” on CBS – one that introduced the first female co-hosts in Jayne Kennedy and Phyllis George long ago.
“In subsequent discussions, it was clear she’d be a good fit,” Berson said. “The role we were looking at for her helped her in the transition into being a TV personality for the first time. There are already a lot of hosts and ex-players breaking down the game. We wanted her to bring a lot of real conversation and a different perspective, and that was intriguing to her.”
Trask admits she might have spent most of her time with the Raiders “running away from TV cameras,” but after talking to CBS reps, she “got feeling energized and interested in their vision.”
Trask had already dealt with many of the network execs on a regular basis for the business end of things, and most of them had ties to CBS, which focused on the AFC.
As a result, many at the network were championing her as a valued asset. At the top was chairman Sean McManus. Another was longtime network NFL sideline reporter Lesley Visser.
“You have to remember that Al Davis, one of the cornerstones in the history of the NFL, both hired and empowered Amy,” Visser said. “She couldn’t buy her way into the career she’s had, she couldn’t be born into it, she had to earn it. CBS is so blessed to have her.”
Andrea Kremer, the acclaimed TV reporter working these days on special assignment at the NFL Network, calls Trask “an amazing breath of fresh air amidst the testosterone-laden legions of screaming men.
“There seems to be a rush of late to hire front-office execs – Charlie Casserly, Bill Polian, Scott Pioli, to name a few – but I believe that Amy’s perspective as a CEO as well as a lawyer -- and, oh by the way, a woman -- places her in a unique place. She’s a natural communicator and a very prescient hire by CBS.
“She is so knowledgeable about all aspects of the game, beyond her expertise on the business and financial sides of football, and I’m glad she has an outlet to showcase that information. She is opinionated but it’s informed opinion, not something said to create a headline or debate.”
That subtle distinction came to reveal itself when Trask rose last Sunday morning to read on her Blackberry about Lane Kiffin’s firing at USC less than an hour after it happened at about 4 a.m.
Trask experienced firsthand Kiffin’s surprising rise and messy fall as the Raiders’ head coach from January 2007 until the first few games of the 2008 season – ending with Davis calling him a “flat-out liar” and guilty of “bringing disgrace to the organization.”
Trask’s opinion of what happened was the show opener.
She said her immediate response was wondering if a) Kiffin would end up back on an NFL sideline as an assistant coach, maybe as soon as this year, and if b) USC would start looking to the NFL to fill the vacancy.
Asked about his struggles in Oakland, Trask explained: “He is very intense, as are most coaches. He has his own manner about him, as do most coaches. And it works with some people and not with others.
“We were his first head-coaching spot, either at a collegiate or professional level. There were a lot of other issues impacting his coaching. I don’t know that I have that (why he struggled) answer for you -- and it’s not as if I’m shy about giving it. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it.”
Honesty also means not making up sound bites just to frame a topic for Twitter regurgitation.
In reassessing what she said about Kiffin, Trask expanded Wednesday: “As a general rule – something that transcends football and sports as a view of the world – in most instances when things don’t end well, there are many parties involved and it’s more than just one issue. There’s a greater dynamic going on. Maybe it didn’t end well with the Raiders, but it’s over and there’s not tremendous value in revisiting it.”
A week earlier, the “TOPS” cast, which includes host Adam Schein with former NFL players Bart Scott and Brandon Tierney and reporter Allie LaForce, discussed what it would take for a franchise like Jacksonville to relocate to Los Angeles.
“No team is relocating to Los Angeles unless it’s the team that the league wants in Los Angeles,” Trask warned, having done that dance before. “There’s an arduous process a team has to go through - demonstrate they cannot succeed in their current market, and that’s a 75-mile radius. You have to prove you have exhausted all possible options and opportunities. And then, you must demonstrate initially not only that you have a great team to move, but you’ve got a deal in hand ...
“And oh, by the way, there might be a relocation fee.”
Trask, who grew up in Brentwood, graduated from Palisades High and got her law degree from USC, interned with the Raiders the year they moved from Oakland to L.A. in 1983, two years before she was admitted to the state bar in 1985. She says resigning from the organization now under the leadership of Davis’ son, Mark, was “the hardest decision I have ever made – I agonized over it – but it was the right decision for many reasons.”
Still, she had “no idea, no plan, no thought whatsoever to do as a next adventure. If you said anything about the possibility of doing TV, I’d have looked at you as a nutty person, and called you that.”
As Trask becomes more comfortable with the TV gig, colleagues are noticing.
Just on last Sunday’s show, CBS studio analyst Bill Cowher referred to Trask as “the voice of reason.” For good reason.
She said she’s not about to start biting her tongue for fear something she says would prevent her from ever re-entering the world of NFL front-office work.
“I’ve never been a bite-my-tongue person,” Trask said. “One of the many misconceptions about Al Davis was that the people around him couldn’t disagree with him. If that was the case, I’d have been terminated two weeks into my job.”
She’ll have even more exposure when CBS adds her to the “NFL Today” team Oct. 13 because the show is sending Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe out to game sites.
She’ll be easy to spot. Not just because she’ll be the only female on the set.
“Is it nice to have a woman making a meaningful contribution? Certainly,” Berson said. “But to be clear, she’s not here because of gender. She just makes us better.
“In this day in age, I’d hope people could get past that. Watch her for five minutes, and you’re way behind all that.”