The move by Fox might have surprised NFL television watchers. But not the reporters who covered Dave Diehl during his time as an Illinois football player.
Smart and interesting, Diehl became a go-to source before he became a go-to player. After a win or a loss, he was one of those guys you just knew would have something to say.
Nothing has changed. After 11 seasons as an NFL offensive lineman, Diehl is the newest Fox game analyst. His play-by-play partner will be unveiled later.
Diehl prepared for his on-air shot. For years.
Starting in 2007, after winning a Super Bowl and signing a lucrative deal with the New York Giants, Diehl formed a plan for life after football.
He made himself available for speaking engagements, charity events, internships and interviews. Anything to prepare him for the next step.
“I know a lot of people are going to see this and say, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable. This is crazy,’ ” Diehl said. “I worked and earned every ounce of this. Nobody gave me any of this.”
Broadcasting keeps Diehl involved in the NFL. Without having to get smacked around play after play.
Diehl loves the NFL. He has since he was a kid. He was an NFL fan long before he was a player, long before he won two Super Bowls with the Giants.
“Football has provided me with so much in my life,” Diehl said. “For this to happen is truly a dream come true. This was the second-best phone call that I’ve gotten besides the phone call that I got when I was drafted by the New York Giants.”
Retiring from the NFL is hard. Some players never adapt to the extra free time. And being out of the limelight and away from their teammates.
Working for Fox eases Diehl’s transition.
“There’s no way to replicate what it feels like walking into a stadium on a Sunday as a player, going out on the field, handling that week of preparation, getting yourself ready for the game,” Diehl said.
During auditions and interviews with Fox, Diehl started to get that feeling. Like he was back on the field again.
“I approached it the same way I approached it as a player,” Diehl said. “I was dedicated. I was determined. I worked my butt off. Each and every week, I made sure I went into every game with zero regrets. I knew I watched as much film. I knew I trained as much. I knew everything about the ins and outs of the personnel. That way, when you are out on the field, you’re reacting, you’re not thinking.”
Diehl has shown he can take coaching. It will be a different set of people offering suggestions — producers and directors instead of Tom Coughlin.
“I love the fact that they will give you criticism and they will help you,” Diehl said. “They will tell you when you did good. They would tell you what you did bad. They would tell you what you need to improve. I know that I’m involved with a great team. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to entertain. We’re going to teach people things that they don’t know about football.”
Though he is now living in New Jersey, Diehl has kept close ties with his alma mater. After Fox made the announcement, Diehl heard from Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas.
“You know how I feel about the university and how much it means to me,” Diehl said.
No, Thomas didn’t hit up Diehl for more money. Diehl has already done his part, paying for the weight room at Memorial Stadium.
Done with football, Diehl continues to be a workout machine. Five, six times a week, he is off to the gym, trying to stay in shape.
“I enjoy training,” Diehl said. “It just makes you feel good.”
He has dropped weight, down 35 pounds to 275. He wants to look svelte for the high-def cameras. No need to carry the weight any more.
Diehl’s Illinois buddies are excited to see him joining Fox. John Wright Sr. is a longtime mentor and someone Diehl credits for much of his success. Wright became a father figure to Diehl.
You will hear Diehl say “Illinois” a time or a thousand during his broadcasts.
“Not many people can look back at their college life and say that they wouldn’t change a thing,” Diehl said. “I’m one of those people.”
You will definitely see Diehl in the broadcast booth, but you won’t likely see him on the sidelines as a coach. That isn’t part of his plans.
“I’m satisfied with how much I’ve done,” Diehl said. “I’m excited to do the TV side of it.”
He wants to spend as much time as he can with 7-year-old daughter Addison. Diehl coaches her softball team.
“You realize when you have a kid, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about your child,” Diehl said.
Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at email@example.com.