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Chet Simmons

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Chet Simmons

Chet Simmons
Born Chester "Chet" Robert Simmons
(1928-07-11)July 11, 1928
New York City, New York, United States
Died March 25, 2010(2010-03-25) (aged 81)
United States
Occupation Sports Television Executive
Years active 1952–2010
Known for ESPN
United States Football League
NBC Sports
ABC Sports
Sports Programs Inc.
Dancer Fitzgerald

Chester Robert "Chet" Simmons (July 11, 1928 – March 25, 2010) was a founding father and pioneer of sports on Television. He worked at ABC Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN, and was the first Commissioner of the USFL. From 1957 to 1964, he helped build ABC Sports into a leader in sports programming and was a key part of the development of Wide World of Sports. He joined NBC Sports in 1964 where he stayed for 15 years becoming the first President in 1977. At NBC, he pioneered instant replay and coverage of the Olympics and NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four. In 1979, he left NBC to join the soon to launch ESPN becoming the first President[1] and CEO. At ESPN, he oversaw the launch of the Network, the development of SportsCenter, the first broadcasts of the NFL Draft, coverage of the early rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four and the development of Greg Gumbel and Dick Vitale. In 1982, he became the first Commissioner of the United States Football League and led it through three Championships and players including Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Reggie White, Steve Young and Anthony Carter.

He is the 2005 recipient of the Sports Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award and a member of the University of Alabama College of Communications and Information Sciences Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010.


Early life

Born in University of Alabama where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting in 1950. He went on to receive a Master of Science in television from Boston University.[4] While in college, Simmons became a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi.[5] He served in the United States Coast Guard after completing his graduate studies.[6] While in the Coast Guard, he was stationed in Cape May and was the Sports Editor of the Coast Guard's Newspaper. Following his Coast Guard assignment, he started his media career in NYC at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample the Ad Agency.[2]

Personal life

Simmons and his wife Harriet met in NYC where she was working as a medical technologist. Harriet was born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts with roots in Savannah, Georgia. Their first date included the Elbow Room at the Beekman Towers, and her finishing his meal. They were married in Brentwood, NY at Simmons' uncle's farm in 1956. Harriet and Chet started their life together in Queens, NY while Simmons was working in Manhattan in the ad agency business and then later at Sports Programs Inc. founded by Edgar Sherick and later merged into create ABC Sports. While living in Jericho, Long Island, their first child Pam was born in 1959 (the same year the Dodgers beat the White Sox to win the World Series) and then Jed in 1960 (the same year the US won Olympic Gold in Men's Ice Hockey in Squaw Valley). With his growing life in sports, the family moved to Manhattan, where Pete was born in 1969 (the same year the Jets won Super Bowl III and the Mets won the World Series, both broadcast live on NBC Sports). While still with NBC, Chet and Harriet settled in Old Greenwich, CT in 1971 and had Nicole (Nikki) in 1972 (the year NBC Sports televised the XI Olympic Games in Sapparo, Japan). In 1979, the family moved to West Hartford, CT as the opportunity of ESPN unfolded in Bristol. The USFL called for a return to NYC and life in Greenwich, CT in 1982. Harriet and Chet moved to Savannah in 1986, and settled on Tybee Island in 1992.

Simmons was an avid New York Yankees, Dodgers (starting with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field) and Alabama Crimson Tide fan. He loved listening to Mel Allen and Vin Sculley on the radio and Tony Kubek, Joe Gargiola, Jack Buck, Greg Gumble and Chris Schenkel. He loved watching SportsCenter, the NFL draft, the early rounds of the NCAA Basketball Championships and all the talent he helped discover and develop. He loved the beach, to smoke cigars, a good laugh, pens, his dogs,, Jazz, the Blues, spy novels, and all things London. He was a favorite of Elaine’s Restaurant in NYC. He was especially close to his four children and their spouses, Randy, Jana, Gaby and Micah and nine grandchildren, Zach, Ella, Claudia, Streeter, Ben, Zander, Jack, Reid, and Tyler.

Television career

In 1957, while working at the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, Simmons accepted an invitation from Edgar Scherick to join Sports Programs Inc.,[2] which would evolve into ABC Sports four years later.[6] Along with Sherick and Roone Arledge, Simmons help pioneer ABC Sports to become the leader in Sports Television in the United States with the creation of Wide World of Sports and full coverage of the Olympics. While at ABC Sports, he became Vice President and General Manager of Programing. Called by colleague Roone Arledge "the sanest of my office mates," Simmons played a major role in laying the groundwork for helping ABC to carve its own niche in the world of network sports.[2]

In 1964, Simmons moved over to NBC Sports first as Director of Programming and moving up in 1977 to become the first President of NBC Sports. During his 15 year career at NBC, Simmons was instrumental in the creation of “instant replay” and securing major sports properties, including the American Football League, National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, NCAA basketball, the Rose and Orange Bowls, Wimbledon and the 1972 and 1980 Olympics (although the 1980 Olympics were boycotted by the United States and NBC's coverage was significantly reduced).

Slightly more than five weeks prior to USFL in 1982.


In July 2014, Forbes magazine named Simmons as one of 7 CEOs Who Took A Gamble and Scored. Included in the list are Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page (Google), Steve Jobs (Apple), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Fred Smith (FedEx) and Karen Kaplan (Hill Holiday). "He left his stable position at NBC Sports in 1979 to become president of a new cable sports network dubbed ESPN. In his three years there, he turned the upstart 24-hour sports network into a powerhouse in the TV industry."[9]

During Simmons time at ABC, NBC and ESPN, he helped discover, launch and develop the careers of some of the top announcers in Sports including Chris Berman, Bob Ley, Tom Mees, Dick Vitale, Cliff Drysdale, Sharon Smith,Tim Ryan, Marv Albert, and Jack Buck.

United States Football League (USFL)

In June 1982, Simmons was appointed the first Red Miller formerly of the Denver Broncos to coach the Denver Gold, and Canadian Football League coaching legends Ray Jauch joining the Washington Federals and Hugh Campbell, joining the L.A. Express.[13]

Under Simmons leadership, the USFL expanded to 18 teams including Pittsburgh, Houston, Oklahoma, Jacksonville, San Antonio, Memphis and New Orleans (moved from Boston), secured TV rights with ESPN, and crowned three Champions - Michigan Panthers (1983), Philadelphia Stars (1984), and Baltimore Stars (1985). The lineup of stars to play in the USFL included Brian Sipe, Steve Young, Bobby Hebert, and Doug Flutie.

Due to Simmons background in the Television, their was a perception that the USFL was a "made for television" entity. One of the USFL's first accomplishments under Simmons watch was the signing of a two-year contract with ESPN. It was the cable network's first-ever agreement with a sports league to televise select regular-season games. The USFL also had a two-year deal with ABC, consummated before Simmons' hiring.[14][15]

The league incurred heavy financial losses and Simmons increasingly came under fire from some club owners for failing to negotiate a more lucrative [14]


  1. ^ a b "Chet Simmons, long-time president of NBC Sports had become ESPN's president."
  2. ^ a b c d , Saturday, March 27, 2010.The New York TimesSandomir, Richard. "Chet Simmons, a Founding Force of ESPN, Dies at 81,"
  3. ^ , Friday, March 26, 2010.Savannah Morning NewsSarkissian II, Arek. "Broadcast pioneer Simmons dies at 81,"
  4. ^ "Two Prominent Media Leaders to be Inducted into C&IS Hall of Fame at UA," The University of Alabama, Thursday, September 28, 2006.
  5. ^ Dashefsky, Arnold (2012). American Jewish Year Book 2012. Springer. p. 409. 
  6. ^ a b "Former ESPN president dies at 81,", Friday, March 26, 2010.
  7. ^ , Thursday, March 25, 2010.The Associated Press"Sports Broadcasting Pioneer Simmons Dies At 81,"
  8. ^ http://[, Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.]
  9. ^ "7 CEOs Who Took A Gamble and Scored" "Forbes", July 22, 2014.
  10. ^ "The USFL Chronology".
  11. ^ "NFL Draft 1983"
  12. ^ ""The USFL Chronology".
  13. ^ " In The Beginning".
  14. ^ a b , Wednesday, January 16, 1985.The Associated Press"LAOOC's Usher Replaces Simmons as the Commissioner of the USFL,"
  15. ^ "In the Beginning..." –

External links

  • Fang's Bites: Chet Simmons, The First President of ESPN, 1928-2010
  • Fang's Bites: Videos of the Week – Chet Simmons’ Influence on Sports
  • Chet Simmons interview video at the Archive of American Television
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