When it comes to broadcasting, Oklahoma Sooners play-by-play announcer Toby Rowland said this about Merv Johnson: “I’m glad he doesn’t follow the rules. Some of our best calls are when Merv is hollering things out while I’m talking. I love it. I think it’s awesome.”
Not your typical guy with headphones and a microphone, Merv Johnson is this year’s winner of the Bill Teegins Excellence in Sportscasting Award.
And he would be the first to admit he’s the most surprised.
“I was taken aback,” said Johnson, the longtime University of Oklahoma football assistant coach-turned- OU color announcer. “I’ve never considered myself a sportscaster in any way, shape or form.”
Exactly. That’s what makes Johnson work so well in the booth. Rowland, who has worked with him for four seasons, will introduce Johnson Thursday at the Jim Thorpe Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame as part of the Warren Spahn Award Gala. The annual event is hosted by the Bricktown Rotary Club and the Jim Thorpe Association.
“The knowledge and insight he brings are unequaled,” said Rowland. “The analysis before, during and after a game is brilliant. You know he’s a coach and he comes across that way, and there are times where he gets frustrated because he knows the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Johnson started his career as a graduate assistant at Arkansas. He then went to Missouri as an assistant coach and also spent time at Notre Dame before coming to OU in 1979. He coached as an assistant for the Sooners for 20 seasons, during which time he was part of four national championships.
The Teegins award is named for the late broadcaster Bill Teegins, who died in a 2001 airplane crash that also took the lives of nine others associated with the Oklahoma State University basketball team. The honor is presented annually to an outstanding sportscaster with Oklahoma ties.
Coach, fan and critic
Johnson was chosen by members of the Jim Thorpe executive committee, as well as Janis Teegins, Bill’s widow. Previous winners include ESPN’s John Anderson, who previously worked in Tulsa; longtime broadcaster Bob Barry Sr.; OSU play-by-play announcer Dave Hunziker; and former Sooner broadcaster John Brooks.
It’s an elite group Johnson didn’t think he’d be part of when he joined OU’s broadcast team.
“I was excited about it,” Johnson said. “It gave me an opportunity to feel more involved and a sense of purpose on Saturday that I didn’t have. I was really pleased to have the opportunity. I still don’t consider myself a broadcaster.”
All part of the charm. Listen to Johnson one time and you hear a combination of coach, fan and critic. He might talk over Rowland, and he might cheer on a big play, but deep down, he’s still a coach.
“I care,” Johnson said of the Sooners. “That’s what I have to guard against the most. If we’re not playing very well or in trouble, I have a tendency to get in a tank. I have to avoid that. I really have to try then to interject some positives. Be uplifting, to some degree, but don’t sugarcoat it either.”
In addition to the Teegins award, Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez will be presented with the Warren Spahn Award, given to the year’s best lefthanded pitcher.