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Andy Katz on the Sweet 16, Barack Obama’s bracket, and life after ESPN

Andy Katz is synonymous with college basketball. The veteran analyst and TV host was in Indianapolis last weekend as a sideline reporter for TNT Sports’ March Madness coverage. On Thursday, he’ll be at the East Region semifinals in Boston covering top-seed Connecticut (33-3) vs. No.5 San Diego State (26-10) and No.3 Illinois (28-8) vs. No. 2 Iowa State (29-7).

Katz is best known for his longtime stint at ESPN, including segments with then-President Barack Obama picking the NCAA Tournament bracket. We recently caught up with Katz to talk about some of the Sweet 16 matchups, and continuing his career after being laid off by ESPN in 2017.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful Announcing: How fascinating is UConn-San Diego State, a rematch of the 2023 title game?

Andy Katz: “Love the rematch. Brian Dutcher has done an outstanding job retooling the Aztecs. He has two anchors in Jaedon LeDee and Lamont Butler. LeDee had an all-American season. This team will defend and play every possession as if it were their last. But so will UConn. The Huskies have been so locked in and dominant thus far. This will be a familiar foe and arguably the toughest game they have had to date. But they are up for the challenge and will have a great crowd in Boston.”

Speaking of rematches, what are your thoughts on Purdue vs. Gonzaga, teams that met in the Maui Invitational in November?

“I was there in Hawaii. At the time, Gonzaga was not a match for Purdue. Purdue was playing great early. Now Graham Ike, their center, he’s gotten better. But so has Purdue. The guard play for Gonzaga has gotten better. But so has Purdue. Gonzaga’s ninth straight Sweet Sixteen appearance is a pretty remarkable feat in today’s climate. That should be celebrated. I expect Purdue to win and get to the Elite Eight against either Tennessee or Creighton. It’s interesting. It could be a rematch of what Purdue went through to win the Maui Invitational because they beat Gonzaga, then they beat Tennessee, and then they beat Marquette. Obviously, Marquette would have to win the South Region to have all three of those things happen but it could.”

How do you see Marquette vs. NC State going?

“NC State’s having a magical run. No one had ever gone five games in five days like they did in the ACC. They caught a huge break with Oakland upsetting Kentucky and made the plays at the end. DJ Burns is having a great postseason, and he’s going to be a major factor in this matchup. The good news for Marquette is they went against (Colorado’s) Eddie Lampkin who causes similar problems. They did a decent job on Lampkin, so we’ll see if they can do the same thing on Burns. I do think that Marquette’s guards are better than NC State’s guards. I would expect that Marquette will get to the Elite Eight.”

How did you convince President Obama to do a March Madness bracket?

“It was my idea in 2008. I was interviewing then-Senator Obama, about 10 days before the election. I was doing a piece on the Obamas and basketball for Outside the Lines. Colin Powell had just endorsed Obama over John McCain, and Obama was about to give a speech at Fort Bragg. That meant that they had to tweak the speech. David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs had to work on the speech. So they said, ‘Hang tight.’ That gave me about 30 minutes in the room with Obama and the Secret Service. I had an epiphany and said, ‘Hey, if you win, I would love to come to the White House in March and do the bracket with you.’ He said, ‘Great idea.’ I looked at Axelrod and said, ‘Do you guys hear that?’ To their credit, they never wavered.”

How did you become involved with TNT Sports, NCAA, and the Big Ten Network?

“As you know, in 2017, I was . I had two years left on my contract, and I was adamant that I did not want to miss a season. I thought I handled it well. I was not going to say anything on social media. I wasn’t angry but I was hurt because I’ve been there for 18 years as a loyal employee, I’ve done so much but I was determined to stay in the game. Over the summer, Dan Gavitt called me from the NCAA with a potential deal with the NCAA and Turner, and then Mark Hulsey called me from Big Ten Network. Later that summer, I went to ESPN and John Skipper and said, ‘Hey, I want to keep working. I want to do this.’ We worked out a carveout where I didn’t make more money, but I didn’t lose money, and sort of an offset. I stayed on the air, never missed a game, never missed anything. I’ve been with both still, and I’ve been loving it.”

What advice would you give to someone who has been laid off after going through the experience yourself?

“I would say No.1 is do not burn the bridge. That is critical because future employers are watching how you behave, and it’s a small world. There are crews I worked with at ESPN that I now work with for Turner or the Big Ten Network, and everyone talks. There are management and producers who I’ve worked with at different places. I think it’s critical to rise above it. You were laid off. You weren’t fired. That’s a key distinction. You have to remember that nine times out of 10, it is an economic decision that the company makes, that they feel they have to cut costs. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason. You have to accept that your name is on that list. So now what am I going to do about it? How am I going to handle this? And that’s why relationships matter. Networking matters. And I think it’s imperative to continue to stay relevant.”

Do you have a favorite March Madness memory?

“I have a few. I will say . And that has even more special meaning. Even though I didn’t know him well, I sat next to when Jenkins hit the shot. That ended up being the last tournament he went to. I always remember the 2008 . The Gordon Hayward shot that didn’t go down. And I will go way back to the second Final Four I ever covered when I (worked for) the Albuquerque Journal. I was sitting behind the Michigan bench. So I will always remember the .”

As an avid runner, are you still doing races?

“I am. I did the Chicago Marathon in October. That might be my last full. That was my fourth. I am still doing halves. I’ve got a half in Newport, (Rhode Island) in mid-April. I enjoy them. I run. I play tennis. I swim. I do a lot of yoga and pilates, which has helped me with stress. I need to stay active. My father passed away in February. He lived to be 90, but he had congestive heart failure for quite a while. It has been a trying year. When he retired, he loved watching me on television.”

How did your father impact your life and your career?

“My dad, , was a law professor at Boston College for 47 years. My brother’s a lawyer. My mom, a social worker. So I didn’t follow the same path. To answer your question, my dad was an incredibly hard worker. He was loyal to his friends and family. His students loved him. He had great relationships. He also networked. Those are all things that I have definitely picked up from him.”