ESPN has officially announced that Max Kellerman will be Skip Bayless’s replacement on First Take, confirming weeks of reports that he was the leading contender for the job of sitting stone-faced while Stephen A. Smith yells. Kellerman will give up his radio show and duties on SportsNation to take the position.
Kellerman got his start at ESPN in the late 90s, covering boxing and becoming the original host of Around the Horn. But in 2004 he moved to Fox Sports to host I, Max, which was quickly cancelled, and over the next decade took on a potpourri of assignments, like analyzing boxing for HBO, politics for MSNBC and CNN, and hosting an ESPN radio show. He returned more prominently to the mothership in 2014, when he began co-hosting SportsNation with Marcellus Wiley and Michelle Beadle.
All things considered—and knowing that ESPN wasn’t going to mess with the formula of the stupid, successful show—Kellerman is a fine host. He has the technical chops, having previously hosted two of ESPN’s most prominent sports shout shows, and made a career out of being just boorish enough for sports radio while sometimes showcasing an intelligence uncommon for the medium.
More interesting than Kellerman’s appointment, however, is how the show will change, if at all, now that it belongs to Smith. It is hard to remember, but First Take wasn’t always a booming success. For four years it was a middling successor to Cold Pizza, before gaining prominence in 2011 when Bayless moved front-and-center, and then in 2012 with the appointment of Smith as co-host and eventually Cari Champion as moderator.
While Kellerman will sit in Bayless’s chair, he wasn’t hired to play Bayless’s role or to be Smith’s equal, but rather to be a supporting player and foil for Smith, who is now one of the network’s highest-paid personalities, and its unquestioned face.