Freddie Coleman is to nighttime radio what Bert was to Ernie, Bonnie to Clyde, and Jordan to Pippen. A stalwart of ESPN Radio for the past 17 years, Coleman joined the network in the year 2004, when George W. Bush was beginning his second term, the Red Sox finally broke the curse of the Gambino, and Facebook was in its infancy.
17 years and 46.8 thousand Twitter followers later, surrounded by completely new colleagues, in a massively changed sports industry, the listeners are still there, and Coleman continues to be the prominent voice of national sports talk radio.
Coleman’s career journey has been a rollercoaster that has included not one, but two stops, right here at Marist College.
Coleman, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, is a lifelong sports enthusiast. His earliest memories include watching the 1971 NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Baltimore Bullets as a five-year-old. When the crowd went wild after a spectacular dunk, Coleman’s passion for sports was born. His affinity for sports continued to grow as he got older, both as a fan and as a participant, playing basketball and tennis in his early years.
In 1982, Coleman enrolled at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. In his first semester, Coleman, an admittedly undersized college freshman, decided to walk-on to the Mansfield football team. He recalls a coach looking at him in his pads at one of the first practices and asking what he thought he was doing. Undeterred Coleman simply replied, “I’m going to show you what I can do.” Four years later, with over 1,000 receiving yards at wide receiver, earning all-conference honors in his 1986 senior year (2nd PSAC East), Coleman ended his college football career as a star and was elected into the Mansfield University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
Although originally a political science major, Coleman’s radio career took root at Mansfield when his friend, Melissa, invited him to do a voice over at the campus radio station. Coleman was immediately hooked and went directly to the registration office to change his major to communications.
“If you hadn’t told me to do that, I never would’ve gotten to where I am,” Coleman told Melissa recently as the two remain friends to this day.
After graduation, Coleman was invited to give a speech at a friend’s wedding. After the speech, which mentioned his work in radio, a friend of the bride approached Coleman about an internship opportunity at FM-103 in Portland, Maine. Coleman secured the unpaid internship and took on two part-time jobs, one of which included loading trucks, for income. When the internship concluded, Coleman was offered a full-time position at the station as an overnight DJ and music director for a salary of $11,000 per year.
Coleman left FM-103 when he was offered a job as a part-time overnight radio personality at WPDH-FM 101.5, in Poughkeepsie, New York. Coleman accepted the Poughkeepsie position with the hopes that being closer to the New York City market would lead to a job in his home city. His gamble paid off with an offer from WWRL in New York which put him on air in a market where his parents could listen each day. Unfortunately, WWRL was not a great fit for Coleman who did not get along with the program director, so he returned to Poughkeepsie working for a couple of stations before securing a position at Cablevision of Dutchess County, his first job in television.
“I knew nothing about working in television” Coleman recalls. “I took a leap of faith taking the job, and they taught me everything.”
Part of Coleman’s job at Cablevision included broadcasting Marist College basketball games.
His coverage of Marist basketball, from 1999-2002, coincided with a period of increased success for the program. Coleman recalls that in his first year covering Marist, the team started their season 5-10, before ripping off nine wins in their next twelve games.
“On the last day of the regular season, Sean Kennedy hit a forty-five-foot buzzer beater to beat Siena and the place went absolutely nuts” Coleman said. “I did the games with Dean Darling and he kept saying, the more they win, they more they [the fans] shall come out. The more they kept winning, the larger the crowds got, and that final game against Siena felt like a playoff game”
Marist success continued over the next two years. In Coleman’s second year covering Marist, the Red Foxes won 17 games and made the MAAC semifinals. In his third year covering the team, Marist won the MAAC regular season championship.
“It’s amazing, in the three years I was able to cover Marist basketball, before Cablevision cut my department, that they were able to have that kind of incremental success. It was really fun.”
Coleman credits Cablevision in helping with his career ascension.
“It was a great two years as it showed me that I not only had the talent but the ability,” Coleman said.
After Cablevision, knowing he belonged in the business, Coleman was searching for the right full-time job when he received a call from John Tobin, a friend and his old boss at WPDH, who was now a morning show anchor in Albany. Tobin was tired of the morning show grind.
“John told his wife he wanted to do a sports show,” Coleman said. “He didn’t want do it by himself, so she suggested he do it with me, because we were friends and always arguing about sports.”
Although Coleman had fallen in love with television, he decided to join Tobin back in radio.
His decision was short lived. Coleman and Tobin were not even four months into the new radio show when the loud speaker in the studio buzzed announcing, “Freddie Coleman, Jason Barrett for you on line one.”
Jason Barrett, a producer at ESPN Radio, offered Coleman the opportunity to audition to be a host of the ESPN weeknight show, GameNight.
Coleman got the job and started immediately on GameNight, which was live on air for six hours straight.
“You never knew what was going to come out of our mouths after being on air for four straight hours, sometimes I was just glad we did not get called to the principal’s office,” Coleman said.
After nine years of GameNight, Coleman was offered the Freddie Coleman Show on ESPN Radio which was his first solo show experience.
“I knew if I ever got the chance to do my own show, I did not want it to be conventional,” Coleman recalls. On The Freddie Coleman Show, Coleman talked about more than just sports. His main goal, to put a smile on the face of his listeners, while also letting viewers know about the untold stories of sports, like his multiple interviews with athletes from service academies, detailing how they balance their sport and rigorous academic challenges. On his show, Coleman embraced the age old adage “leave the listeners always wanting more.”
Coleman recalls on multiple occasions, hearing from listeners who had just pulled into their driveways, who were unable to turn their cars off and go inside, because they were afraid they were going to miss something important Coleman had to say.
“Hearing that, makes it all worth it,” Coleman said.
In 2016, Coleman returned to the team show approach launching Freddie and Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio with college football reporter, Ian Fitzsimmons.
“It was nice to have a partner again. I do not mind the pressure, but it’s nice to share the burden of the bad and the good with someone else.”
Freddie and Fitzsimmons has been going strong on for the past six years, rounding out Coleman’s 17 years at ESPN Radio.
Coleman attributes his loyalty to ESPN, despite offers from other stations including CBS Sports Radio, to freedom.
“We can talk about whatever we want and ask whatever questions we want,” Coleman said.
Throughout his tenure at ESPN Radio, Coleman has been able to interview some of the pillars of sports history including Nick Saban, Venus Williams, Tim Tebow, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Coleman’s personal sports hero growing up and star of the 1971 NBA Finals which led to his love of sports.
This year, Coleman’s career has come full circle bringing him back to Poughkeepsie and the Marist campus. Last fall, Marist Director of Sports Communication, Jane McManus, contacted Coleman, her longtime friend and former ESPN colleague, to see if he had any interest in becoming an adjunct professor, teaching a radio/podcasting course.
“Two years ago, we had Michael Smith [former Sportscenter anchor and currently of NBC Sports] teach a class an interviewing class here at Marist,” McManus said. “I wanted another person from the industry to teach a class, not just some big name, but someone who can actually contribute and make the education stronger.”
At first Coleman was unsure.
“But I have never been a teacher before,” Coleman replied to McManus.
Fortunately, Coleman reconsidered.
“You know what? This will be a great challenge. With what I have to offer the kids [experience], I’d love to do it”
While it’s only a month into his teaching career, the radio star said that he is enjoying every bit of teaching so far. “The back and forth and the give and take has been my favorite part” Coleman said. “I am learning about what I do for a living, and you guys are learning exactly how the process works.”
Coleman hopes to go back to school one day to get his master’s degree. Perhaps his time here at Marist will inspire him to not only do that, but to fall in love with teaching and remain part of the Marist faculty.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Ricardo Martinez
Photo from Marist.edu