"I love it, hiring and working with writers." Daniel Shirley on a career in college football...
Following our first chat about memorable games, traditions and storylines, Daniel talks about his commitment and passion for his work in this second instalment. Taking calls for his local paper on Friday nights, through Clemson University, writing and editing through the evolving newspaper industry, he is now Senior Editor for College Football at The Athletic. As an aspiring writer, I was intrigued to hear his journey through a fascinating career...
How did you get into it, from a professional point of view? Was it your ambition growing up?
"I remember taking standardised tests in high school in the ninth grade. You had to put down what you wanted to be when you grew up, and I do remember putting on there that I wanted to be a sportswriter."
"When I went to Clemson, I joined the school newspaper. My hometown is Anderson, South Carolina. I went to the sports editor at the newspaper there between graduating from high school and starting at Clemson and I asked to do anything to work for the newspaper. He found me a job taking phone calls on Friday nights, calling in scores. I worked there all four years, got to write a little bit more for him and wrote at the school paper. That's how it got started really."
"I got a job at Valdosta, Georgia when I got out of college. That was my first job (he pauses), which was weird because that's where I was born and I had never been back. My dad was in the Air Force and I was born on the base. I'd never been back in Valdosta until I interviewed for the job. I worked there for a couple of years and then went to another paper in Albany, Georgia for a few years. I went back to Anderson for one year and then I got a call back in Albany. They wanted to know if I wanted to be the sports editor."
"I had never thought about being an editor. I always just thought I just wanted to be a writer, being at the games and writing the stories, I thought I'll try it now and see if I liked it, and I love it, hiring and working with writers. I've been doing that ever since. I was there seven years as the editor (at The Telegraph), then we came to Macon, here in middle Georgia, which is where we still live and I was there for twelve years as sports editor."
"I then went to SEC Country, which was a sports website and was there for about a year, before The Athletic happened, and I was lucky enough to get on board here. It's been awesome ever since."
What's it like working for The Athletic and how have you found the difference from newspapers to online, and from sportswriter to editor?
"It's been a huge difference. Just for me, I've always worked at smaller papers. The biggest staff I worked on as a newspaper, we had nine people when I came to Macon and so we had our own little corner of the world. Now I came to The Athletic and we had our own little part of the staff in Atlanta, six of us."
"Chicago was the first city and then they added some others in the summer of 2018 including Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis. We're part of a huge organisation and the best part of it is the resources to do things that before, if you're a small newspaper, we can't go and cover this because of the staff size or the resources to do that."
"Here, especially as part of the bigger college staff, we're at every big event, we're at every big game. We can have somebody take two weeks to write a big story as opposed to just churning out a bunch of stories. You can take the time to produce good journalism."
"We've got a series about all the coaching changes that happened in the past year and how the Lincoln Riley to USC hire affected so many jobs and so many openings. Max Olson and the guys worked on it and they worked out there were 250 jobs affected from that one hire. Clay Helton left USC and ended up as Georgia Southern's head coach. Every member of that staff was impacted."
"It's cool to be part of a bigger staff where we have the resources, and something special."
You still write, and spent some time covering Georgia Tech football...
"Georgia Tech is an interesting program. Jeff Schultz , who writes for us a columnist, he does more than wrote about college football. He wrote a story about Georgia Tech last year. It's hard to be part of that school because it's a smaller, more academic school - academically really strong - and right around you, you've got Georgia who just won the national championship this year. Alabama's Alabama, I mean everybody knows Alabama. Clemson has won two national titles since 2016. Georgia Tech has those three monster programs right next to it. It's hard to compete with that."
"How do you differentiate yourself, how do you win games and keep the fans engaged? These are all the things Georgia Tech has to deal with. We're talking about the difference between the NFL and college football, the NFL doesn't have that. As one of 32 teams, you all have access to the same resources. In college football, that is a huge difference in that some schools have it and some don't. How do you win if you don't have what some of these others do?"
It's very difficult, isn't it? Now you have NIL and the transfer portal, what do you make of that?
"I love it because I'm in charge of our transfer portal coverage (laughs)! It's been good business for us."
"I think there needs to be a way to regulate it, it can't just be the Wild West, that won't be sustainable. I do think it's good that the players have freedom of movement. If you're a player and your coach leaves, you shouldn't be tied to that scholarship if you want to leave. If you feel like, hey, I'm not going to get a chance to play here, you ought to have that chance to try something new. I do like that, and I think it's a good thing for college football."
"Now, will it be as wild as it has been for the past couple of years? I don't think so, I think it's going to slow down a little bit. We can see what will happen going forward."
Do you get to go to many games now?
"Not as I used to. I'm mostly in the home office, waiting for stories to come in. We have a live blog that's an all-encompassing file where people can come and check out all our work, so I work on that Saturdays. So, I'm typically not at games, but I can keep up with more games that way, to be honest."
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers?
"Learn as many new skills as you can. Our profession has changed, and you need to understand how to use social media well too."
Many thanks to Daniel for his time, you can follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley and his work at The Athletic.