June 28, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Although many had long taken it as gospel that Wes Durham would be back at the mic this fall when Georgia Tech cranks it up again, some fans – in Atlanta and Chapel Hill — weren’t so sure until the University of North Carolina on Monday announced the successor to Durham’s father, Woody, as voice of the Tar Heels.
To hear Wes tell it, there was little chance of him stepping in for Dad after he retired in April to wrap up 40 years calling the action for the Tar Heels. Wes will also continue calling the action for the Atlanta Falcons.
As promised, this from our lengthy conversation last week in Wes’ office at Tech:
Sting Daily: Did you ever have dialogue with UNC officials about the job?
Durham: “I never talked to anybody at the University of North Carolina. I hesitated to even go to the press conference [announcing his father’s retirement] in Chapel Hill. But at the end of the day, it was my dad. I didn’t go to Chapel Hill as the voice of Georgia Tech and the voice of the Atlanta Falcons.
“I went because that was my dad. I had to be talked into it a little bit. My wife, Victoria, did a great job. She said, `It’s your dad. It’s not you going up there to take questions. You’ll know how to handle it.’ I wanted the story to be that my dad had done a marvelous job for 40 years at the University of North Carolina, and he deserved to be lauded. The people at Chapel Hill did an incredible job.”
Sting Daily: Beyond your father’s history, you have plenty up there as well. You were at his knee, literally, for several years in his early days with the Heels. What does that emotional connection mean?
Durham: “The passion at Carolina only means so much. We’re in a business. There are business decisions to be made. Since 1995, the support that I’ve gotten from Georgia Tech, and since 2004 the incredible support that I’ve gotten from the Atlanta Falcons organization . . . the support you get from those people makes this doable.
“The same goes here. Coach Johnson and I are friends. [SID] Dean Buchan and I get along great. Dan Radakovich and I have a really professional relationship. Those are important things. I’m excited about working with Brian Gregory. It’s going to be interesting to see how that comes together.
“That resolved a lot. My [two] kids are here. A lot of things come into play. The idea of going to North Carolina, while pretty romantic I guess for some people up there, doesn’t really make a lot of business sense for Wes Durham.”
Sting Daily: Your father’s retirement didn’t catch you by surprise; this was planned for a while, right?
Durham: “I knew he was going to retire for sure on Christmas Eve because he sat in this office, and the discussion from his press conference [first took place] here. It may be funny for the people at North Carolina to know that it happened at Georgia Tech.
“He sat where you’re sitting, and my brother sat over there. We basically just hammered it out and talked about it. He said, `What do you think?’ I said, `You have the ability to call your own shot. I think that’s one of the great advantages of where you are.’ “
Sting Daily: Given that you must have had a hunch for the past couple years that your father’s retirement was drawing near, did you view him through a different prism the past couple years?
Durham: “Yeah, I did. I learned that this business is about the fan. Sure, it helps to win. He said it in his press conference. They won 73 percent of the 1,805 games he did. But it’s about the fan. Since my dad retired, two things: No. 1. The amount of correspondence he receives, still, has been just incredible. He had a 15-minute phone call with Mike Krzyzewski.
“No. 2, the other thing is the work is remembered but his friends are his friends, and they are important to him. That meant a lot to me. At the end, you have great friends. My parents aren’t going anywhere. They love where they are. When he retired, his friends were very supportive.
“He took a page out of coach [Dean] Smith’s book. My dad has responded to everyone who has written him. [And] . . . he’s going to do a book. Eventually, I’m hopeful think he’ll do some great moments in Carolina basketball and football. He’s retiring from the broadcasts. He’s not retiring from Carolina.
Sting Daily: Again, given all your background, the fondness with which you speak of your father’s career at North Carolina, were your heartstrings never tugged?
Durham: “I think you have to rely on your faith a little bit, rely on your professional experience, you have to realize where you’ve been blessed, and I’ve been very blessed right here.
“This will sound a little arrogant, but it’s not meant to; they won’t find anybody who knows more historically about that program as I do because I breathed it . . . since I was 3 or 4 years old. I know who wore No. 23 before Michael Jordan, and I know who wore 23 before the guy who wore it before Michael Jordan. That’s who I was as a kid. I’m cool with that.”
Sting Daily: Will your father miss the work?
Durham: “Oh yeah. That was the hardest part for him to come to grips with. They’re not telling you you’re done; you’re deciding. And you have to kind of measure that [timing]. I’m sure when they play James Madison on Sept. 3rd, he’ll miss it, but his approach has been sound. I know for a fact, he has said when they play that [basketball] game on the deck of that aircraft carrier on Nov. 11 [against Michigan State in a rematch of the 2009 NCAA title game], he’s going to miss it.
“They’re going to go on the trip with the team to San Diego. That’s the kind of thing he’ll miss, the unique. There will be a Duke game that will be different for him. But he’s ready for that. The comfort level, when I first joked around with it a couple years ago, he said, `Why you asking about retirement?’ I said, `I’m just being the dutiful son here. You’ve always said it’d be nice to go out on a national championship . . . well, guess what, they just delivered you one.’ “
Sting Daily: Then again, there will be some game-day upsides as well, right?
Durham: “Going to games, he can’t wait. He can’t wait to go to games and pay at the gate. With the James Madison game, the tailgating will be like a Woody Durham street festival. There will be people trying to figure out where he is. I told him, you realize there are going to be people on the internet trying to figure out where you are. He said, `That’s nuts.’
“I’ll tell you what he won’t miss; he won’t miss not being about to go out on Friday afternoon and play golf because he’s working on the boards or working on the games. I’ll tell you this, on Sept. 2, he’ll be playing golf. And if the game is at 7 o’clock, Saturday morning he’ll be playing golf.
Sting Daily: Ah, the stories to be told, to be lived, eh?
Durham: “This is a pretty good story: He said Carolina is playing in Atlanta on Sept. 24. My son plays football, and my daughter plays softball. So he said, `Well, you know what we’ll do; we’ll just come down that Wednesday or Thursday, stay with you, and then I can watch the kids play softball and football, and my mom says, `Nope, you can’t do that.’
“He said, `What do you mean?’ She said, `We’re going to go to a wedding.’ Now, he’s getting scheduled for things that for 40 years he couldn’t do.”
With that, Wes laughed.
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