By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
“It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer, wherever you may be!”
Especially if you are Tony Caridi, the man who coined that phrase on the March night in 2005 when West Virginia defeated Wake Forest in overtime in the NCAA basketball championship.
See, ever since Caridi left the dreaded winters of upstate New York after he matriculated at Syracuse University, he has been an adopted Mountaineer, successful at doing something that certainly was not easy to do, and that was filling the void left by Jack Fleming’s departure.
Replacing Fleming, the true “Voice of the Mountaineers,” was like it will be trying to follow Vin Scully on Los Angeles Dodgers baseball or like it was replacing Bob Prince on Pittsburgh Pirates baseball.
In truth, you do not replace a Fleming, a Scully or a Prince. You simply have to find a way to carve out your own niche. Some can do it. Others, like Milo Hamilton, when he came into Pittsburgh after Prince, never can gain the acceptance.
Caridi found a way. Ever since taking over the radio play-by-play for Fleming in the second game of the 1996 season, Fleming having reserved the opener against Pitt in which Amos Zereoue broke a 60-yard touchdown run on his first carry as his swan song, he has built his own legion of followers.
That is why, when athletic director Oliver Luck opted to take WVU out of the radio business, to make a cash grab by selling away the broadcasting rights to IMG, concern grew over Caridi’s future in the job.
The auction that evolved turned into a mano a mano staredown between John Raese and his West Virginia Radio Corp., who had broadcast the games, and the WVU cast of characters from President Jim Clements on down and right through Bray Cary and his West Virginia Media company.
The situation deteriorated to the point that Raese went to court, his action still pending even though the contract has been executed and IMG has begun adding affiliates to its network, none of the first 20 yet in Morgantown, by the way.
Caridi knew what he wanted to do. He wanted as much of the status quo to remain as was possible.
While it appeared that there was a line being drawn in the sand between Raese’s WVRC and WVU, Caridi said he never saw that.
“No, not in my mind,” he said. “I knew what I wanted. My choice had always been made. It wasn’t one of those things where you are asking yourself, ‘Is this the right move or is that the right move?’ and you battle at that. I never had that. I never got into that internally.”
And, he said, it never got to that externally.
“I think the misnomer that was out there was that West Virginia Radio Corp. — Dale Miller and John Raese — were drawing a line in the sand. The actuality of that is that it is not true,” he said.
“They have been from the beginning totally green light with me to continue my role as the announcer. They never were going to say, ‘It’s us or them.’ They never did that. There’s been a misperception out there in some of the things that people said or read that there’s this divide here.”
Instead, Caridi said, WVRC backed Caridi in trying to set this deal up.
“West Virginia Radio said you’ve been doing this for 30 years and you love doing this and we’re not going to throw up a road block to stop you from doing it,” he said.
And, in truth, Caridi got pretty much exactly what he was looking for.
He will be doing play-by-play of football and men’s basketball, hosting the sports’ respective coaches’ shows on the network, also hosting a television show that will be developed while continuing to do the popular “Northside Automotive Statewide Sportsline” call-in show.
“To be honest with you, there’s absolutely no change from what it was. The only difference is that I’m going to go back to hosting the coaches’ show on TV where I hadn’t done that for the last couple of years,” he said.
So it is that everything worked in Caridi’s favor.
Ah, but the big question still was left to ask.
“How much are you being paid?”
“I do this all for free,” he said, his smile giving him away, in case his taste in wine already hadn’t.
After an appropriate delay, he added, “I think it might be a dollar or two more.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.