This is the fourth in a four-part series about Grady College alumni who cover college football.
Sarah Spencer: The pull of college football
Mike Reiter: College football is the best sport in the world to follow
Benjamin Wolk: The passion of the fans
Tony “Mr. College Football” Barnhart is in his 42nd year of covering college football for newspapers, radio, television and the internet. Barnhart, a former national college football writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is currently a college football analyst on the SEC Network and is an active blogger with Gridironnow.com and through his website TonyBarnhart.com.
Among his numerous honors are the 2009 Bert McGrane Award given by the Football Writers Association of America, the 2009 Edwin Pope Vanguard Media Award presented by the Orange Bowl Association and the 2002 Furman Bisher Award for Media Excellence given by the Atlanta Sports Council. He was inducted into the Grady Fellowship in 2016.
He is a product of the journalism program at Grady College and is a regular speaker in Grady Sports Media certificate classes, as well as on campus.
Grady College: What skills did you learn at Grady College that helped you get to where you are today?
Tony Barnhart: At Grady, I learned the basics I needed to be a sports writer. Gathering the facts. Being accurate above all else. But my professors also stressed giving the reader something more than the obvious. Dig a little deeper in your reporting to find the story behind the story. Grady made me think broader about the subjects I was covering, and that included college football.
GC: What about college football keeps you motivated through the years?
TB: I have loved college football since the first time I walked into Sanford Stadium in 1965. The great sportscaster Chris Schenkel would talk about the color and pageantry of the game and that is what drew me to it early. College football, especially in the South, is much more than a game. It is a way of life. Every week it’s a new story and every Saturday you’re going to be surprised by something. It is never, ever boring.
GC: What is your biggest challenge when covering college football?
TB: The biggest challenge in covering college football today is to give the reader something relevant about the game in the new world of a 24-hour news cycle and social media. Consumers of college football immediately have the news and the highlights of the game at their fingertips. Our challenge is to give them something they don’t have—to put the game into context and explain what’s next.
GC: What is your favorite college football memory?
TB: My favorite college football memory was the 2005 BCS National Championship game between Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. I was covering the game on a tight deadline for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and my desk expected me to file the first edition of my story immediately at the end of the game. So, I had to write two versions of the story—one with Texas winning and one with USC winning. The best of the two stories by far had USC winning. But Texas, as we now know, came back with a late drive to win 41-38. So, I sent in the Texas story and trashed the USC story which I thought was one of the better game stories I had ever written.
GC: What advice do you have for students who aspire to cover college football?
TB: My advice for young reporters never changes: don’t limit yourself to writing. Use all your creative muscles and try radio and TV and podcasts and social media. I have been able to have a long career by trying new things. Be willing to listen. And by all means, make sure this is something you can’t live without. You have to feel passionate about this business. It’s too hard not to be completely emotionally invested.
GC: What are your thoughts on the Auburn/Georgia match-up in the SEC Championship game this weekend?
TB: In the first meeting on Nov. 11, Auburn completely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Georgia will have to match Auburn’s physical play up front to have a chance on Saturday….Another key will be the health of Auburn’s running back, Kerryon Johnson, who injured his shoulder against Alabama. If Johnson can’t go or is limited, Auburn is a different team.
The Auburn defensive front is one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time….
For more of Barnhart’s thoughts on covering college football, please view his acceptance speech from the DiGamma Kappa Awards in February: