“How That Happened” Episode 41: Toby Rowland – Voice of OU Athletics – Landing Your Dream Job

Interview Transcript

Toby Rowland:             The realization hits you, “This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” And I told my dad, “I’m not sure I’m on the right path here.” And he said, “What would be your dream job?” And I said, and this is God’s honest truth. People think I make this up. I said, “The greatest job anybody could ever have, would be to be the voice of the Sooners.”

Aaron Ackerman:         From Hogan Taylor, I’m Aaron Ackerman and this is How That Happened. A business and innovation success podcast. On each episode of the show, we sit down with business and community leaders behind thriving organizations to learn how business and innovation success actually happens. Well, welcome to another episode of How That Happened, my guest today is Toby Rowland. Toby is a two time Emmy Award winning sports caster. Toby is currently the voice of the Oklahoma University Sooners. He does football games, basketball and baseball. And prior to him becoming the voice of the Sooners in 2011, he was a sideline reporter starting in 2009. Toby is also, and I just learned this, the author of a best selling children’s book called Unhitch The Wagon, we’ll ask him about that. And he also hosts a daily sports talk show called T-Row in The Morning on 1100 am, KREF in Oklahoma city, as well as numerous coaches shows and other parts of his responsibility as being the voice of the Sooners. Toby, thank you so much for joining us today.

Toby Rowland:             Oh, it’s my pleasure. I’m honored to be on with you. Thank you.

Aaron Ackerman:         You’re welcome. So I think I probably got that right. Was everything in there accurate about your bio there?

Toby Rowland:             I think so, 1400 am-

Aaron Ackerman:         1400, right.

Toby Rowland:             Correct, but they would find this on the dial. We talk loud enough that they’ll find us around there somewhere.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah, that’s right. Thank you. So I just want to start out asking kind of a How That Happened question. So I’ve heard you talk about your path to your role now and how it sort of had some zigs and zags, but maybe just quickly tell our listeners about really how you ended up as the voice of the Sooners and maybe kind of the pivot that you took at an earlier point in your life.

Toby Rowland:             Yeah, I was an accounting major in college and-

Aaron Ackerman:         You did a great decision to change from that, I’ll go ahead and pour that in.

Toby Rowland:             I don’t know, it was a situation where I loved sports, I mean I was eaten up by sports growing up as a lot of us are as kids. I played everything, I watched everything, I collected baseball cards, I played on the Dr. J goal and in the backyard baseball and in the front yard football. And I had my own NCAA college football rankings I would release to my family every Monday morning when I was growing up. Somehow regardless of OU’s record, they were number one every week. And so I was eaten up by it. I loved it. And I went to Southern Nazarene University in Bethany and signed up to be an accounting major because I was good at math. And when you’re going into college, you feel that pressure to pick something. And so I thought, “All right, well maybe this is a profession I’d be good at.”

                                    So I started down that path. They didn’t really offer a sports broadcasting degree at SNU and honestly, I thought that was unrealistic. So I tried to be practical and I was a sophomore and was just not digging it. It was debits and credits, when I couldn’t imagine myself at that point saying… The realization hits you, “This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” And I told my dad, “I’m not sure I’m on the right path here.” And he said, “What would be your dream job?” And I said, and this is God’s honest truth. People think I make this up. I said, “The greatest job anybody could ever have, would be to be the voice of the Sooners, but that’s never going to happen. So if I just figure out a way to get one of these sports broadcasting jobs, where you could get paid to go to games and to call games.”

                                    I loved listening to sports on the radio growing up, obviously watching on TV, but there was kind of a romantic feeling to listening to the Cincinnati Reds and listening to John Brooks and Bob Barry call OU games. I can imagine it while they were describing it. And so I thought if I could maybe go down that path, that would be amazing. And my dad to his credit, I mean, he’s a pastor and I respect him so much. If he had said, “Let’s be a little more realistic here, you’re good at math, why don’t we just stick it out with this accounting thing?” There is zero doubt in my mind, I’d be an accountant today and maybe be a happy one, I don’t know.

                                    But he didn’t. He said, “I think you should chase your dream. I think that’s maybe what you were made to do.” And I did, I started that day. I went and asked SNU, “How can we get this done?” And they kind of cobbled together a sports broadcasting degree for me, got me an internship at Channel Nine. My basketball coach there allowed me to start calling games my senior year at Southern Nazarene basketball games, and I stayed on as the sports information director there after I graduated and called baseball, basketball, football games for them for the next four or five years, and really learned how it was done. There was a professor there named Larry Mills who was the chairman of the School of Business, who was the play-by-play guy for the basketball program and taught me how to do it, and then graciously stepped aside and allowed me to do it. He became my color guy the next few years. And-

Aaron Ackerman:         So you guys just traded chairs.

Toby Rowland:             We traded chairs, yeah.

Aaron Ackerman:         Because Idea-

Toby Rowland:             I was his color analyst, he was the play-by-play guy and then after about a year, he said, “I think we’re in the wrong chairs here. I think you’re made to do this.” And we traded chairs and it was so unselfish of him. And he was great fundamentally in teaching me how to do it. And those were the years I fell in love with play-by-play. It was just the most fun you could have. And the idea that you were also… It was a job, was amazing. Well, I went to Channel Nine, I got a great opportunity with Bill Teegins for a while, but while I was there and I loved my years at Channel Nine, I was there for a decade plus, and I loved it, but I would always try to call some games on the side. College, high school, when opportunities came because again, it was the most fun you could have and I always thought that maybe something will work out on down the line. And like you said, in 2009, the opportunity came along with OU to join the radio crew as the sideline reporter. And I mean, listen, that was unbelievable.

                                    I was on the air with Bob Barry and Merv Johnson, and I was a part of the Sooner broadcast team that I had heard growing up. This was Jiminy Christmas, John Brooks, this was the legend Bob Barry. This was Walter Cronkite and Curt Gowdy just to be the sideline guy was amazing. But when Bob announced his retirement and I got lucky, honestly, I didn’t deserve it anymore and way less than a whole bunch of people out there. But for some reason, Joe Castiglione and president Boren put their faith in me and I’ll be eternally grateful. I’m so happy. I hope its worked out okay. But I knew it would be great and it’s been so much more than we could have ever even imagined.

Aaron Ackerman:         Man. That’s an awesome story. Thanks for sharing that. A couple things that stand out to me there and I’m sure it wasn’t always just a rose petal covered path. I know there was hard work and bumps along the way, but to have people like your dad and the professor, Larry Mills and people at SNU, and nobody said, “Toby, this is kind of a pipe dream, or this isn’t very practical.” They invented a degree for you. Larry Mills said, “Hey, let’s switch chairs.” And I mean, just to have people that encourage you kind of follow your dreams, nobody really sounds like put up a big wall and tried to make you think you needed to go a different direction. I mean, that’s awesome. What a blessing.

Toby Rowland:             No, you’re exactly right. And there’s Pam Broyles, who was the professor at SMU, my advisor, who put together a graduation path that allowed me to get an internship and a sports broadcasting degree. Bill Teegins was a tremendous influence on me in so many ways and may have had the biggest impact on how I call games to this day of anybody that I’ve been influenced by. And I know he was an OSU guy, so wearing this color, you’re not supposed to maybe say that, but I loved bill, loved working for him, and there was an ease and a friendliness and an every guy quality to the way he called the game that I was so attracted to. And I think OSU fans were attracted to as well. And I think that had a big impact on me. Bob Barry was very much the same way, but Bill was very instrumental in opening doors for me.

                                    Dean Blevins was very instrumental at Channel Nine and in allowing me to pursue passions on the side and opening doors for me to climb the ladder there and you’re right on and on and on, there’s a ton of people I could think. There were some roadblocks along the way that we were able to climb over and work our way through, but we’ve been very, very, very lucky and fortunate, and it’s taken a lot of hard work for sure. But, yeah. I mean, I’m telling you that there are so many guys and girls out there that are just as good as I am, and I just am one in a million lucky that they selected me to have this chair and I’m just trying to do its rightful justice.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. That’s so cool. Anybody who achieves a level of success can probably point to people that have mentored them, or like you said, opened doors and kind of greased the path a little bit. And so I think about the responsibility we have to try to take an interest in somebody else, right? Whether it’s our kids or an up and comer that works for you, or looks up to you, I mean that somebody kind of paid that forward to us to help us be successful, and we need to keep it going. That’s pretty humbling, but thanks for sharing that story, Toby. I love it. Hey, you threw several names out there I want to ask you about. So, OU fans that have been listening to OU football for a long time could probably just instantly conjure up phrases or even specific game calls from people like Bob Barry and John Brooks you mentioned, and even back to Walter Cronkite. Growing up for yourself, being an OU fan, probably having a little bit of looking up to these guys as kind of a legend or an icon, and then you find yourself sitting behind the same mic.

                                    What does that mean to you and also kind of how did you balance the thought of following a legend cliche? That can be intimidating yet you’ve done it beautifully now for 10 years or whatever and you’ve got your own style, you’re yourself, but how do you think about that? First of all, what does that mean to you to follow those guys and then how did you approach following a legend?

Toby Rowland:             It’s a little overwhelming if you spend too much time thinking about it, to be honest. And I have the utmost respect for not just the men who have come before. It’s amazing the legacy we have at OU in that chair as the play-by-play guy. I mean, we’re talking Hall of Fame after Hall of Fame after Hall of Fame. And so when you get that call, when they go to the bullpen and say, “Hey, you’re next up,” I mean, that’s a lot. That’s a heavy thing sitting on your shoulders and I’ll be honest with you, I think for about a year, even though I had more experience than most people realize, for about a year I don’t think I really settled in. I was constantly thinking about how people were comparing me. I wasn’t seeking it out, but I was thinking about, “I wonder if I’m being accepted. How do they like me compared to Bob Barry and John Brooks? Is my touchdown call as good as his touchdown call? Is this working?” And I worried about it a lot. And I heard an interview one day with Vin Scully, who is the goat in this industry. And he was relaying a story about a similar situation for him. His first year calling the Brooklyn Dodgers.

                                    After a game one day, Red Barber came in, who he had replaced and was mad at him. And Vin said “What did I do?” And Red said, “I hired you to be Vin Scully, I didn’t hire you to act like me”. And it was simple but man, that resonated with me and this was Vin Scully. And it should have dawned on me before that, but it was that moment, that interview that I heard, that it dawned on me, they didn’t hire me to be Bob Barry. They didn’t hire me to be John Brooks. I can never be as good of a Bob Barry as Bob Barry, and I can never be as good of a John Brooks as John Brooks. But that’s not why they hired me. They hired me to be Toby Rowland, and I’m the best at that. I’m the best to be a Toby Rowland. And there was a freedom in that, that allowed me to just be me and to call a game the way I knew and was confident how to call a game. And it’s not like Bob, and it’s not like John, it’s not like anybody else. There’s a uniqueness to it. And that realization allowed me to relax and just be myself. And you’re so much better when you’re just doing what comes naturally and not trying to imitate or compare yourself to someone else.

                                    And so that was about a year into the job that I heard that interview, and from that moment on, I just let it rip basically. I just said, “Here’s me, I hope people like it, but this is how I know how to do it.” And it was good enough for Joe Castiglione and David Boren and Bob Stoops to say, “He’s our guy.” So if it’s good enough for them, it’s going to be good enough. And I think that’s, it’s probably not coincidental, that’s about the time it felt like Sooner fans really kind of warmed up to me. I think there’s a natural transition period there when you hear someone your whole life or a large portion of your life, and then somebody else is doing it, it really doesn’t matter how good they are. I’m a Reds fan and Marty Brennaman was the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for 40 years. He’s the only voice I ever heard call a Reds game until this past year. Marty retired and a new guy took over and he’s fine. He does a perfectly great job. But I’m so used to hearing Marty’s voice, that I didn’t like it for a while.

                                    That’s not the way Reds baseball is supposed to sound. It’s supposed to be attached to Marty’s voice. But as the season went along that faded, the new guy grew on me. And by the end of the year, I really liked him. I think that’s kind of the natural progression. It would have been for me. If I didn’t get the job, and I was listening to somebody else be the new voice to the Sooners, I wouldn’t have liked it at first because I’m used to hearing Bob. Bob’s voice is supposed to be attached to OU. So I think there was about a year of me figuring out my comfort zone, of Sooner fans getting comfortable with me and eventually we got there.

Aaron Ackerman:         Man, so much good stuff in there Toby, and just universally applicable. I love that concept that you’ll never be as good at being somebody else as they are. And no one’s ever going to be as good at being you as you are. And once you get comfortable with that I think confidence just swells. That’s awesome. So a couple things that I want to touch on, you kind of talked about Sooner fans or early on you worried about, “Will I be accepted or will they like me?” And in a job like yours, I’m sure that feedback is plentiful. And you get feedback potentially from the people that write the checks, feedback maybe from players and coaches, feedback from your crew in the booth that you work with and feedback from fans. Some of that feedback may be useful for you, some of it you-

Toby Rowland:             Don’t forget my wife.

Aaron Ackerman:         And your wife and family, for sure. Some feedback should just be rejected when you’re kind of a public figure like that and just open kimono, but some of it’s probably useful. How do you kind of process and utilize feedback that you get almost in real time from all these different directions?

Toby Rowland:             Yeah, well I think fortunately, that’s something I learned early on and I think probably I give that credit to good genes. My dad, as I mentioned was a pastor and that’s a job where pretty much you’re fielding complaints and problems all the time. And watching him deal with people and handle people was very helpful for me. I think that there is a small circle of people who, when they give me an evaluation or say that was good, or this could be better, that I take it to heart. But it’s a pretty small circle because one, I trust myself and I don’t seek out message board criticism. I don’t listen to podcasts or sports radio, if they’re evaluating me or whatever, I just don’t go there. So the evaluation that does get to me are people that call or text me directly and family and friends and like you said, people I work with or whatever. And so you’ve got to pick and choose the people who really understand what you do, maybe it’s fellow play-by-play guys. Joe Castiglione has an unbelievable track record for hiring broadcasters and a tremendous skill for knowing what sounds good and what doesn’t. And so these are the very top of the list of people whose opinion of what I do, I take to heart, not just because he’s my boss, because he’s really, really good at it.

                                    But other than that, it’s my dad, it’s four or five play-by-play guys that I’m really close with and that’s about it. And any other advice that comes in, you should do it that way, you should do it this way, maybe it’s even good, you’ve got to discard. Respectfully, you just have to, because you can’t constantly be trying to change yourself to please someone else. One you’ll drive yourself crazy, and two, they hired you, not them. So I’m sure if a mechanic was fixing my car, they don’t want me leaning over the hood the whole time telling them you should do this, you should do that. I’ve hired them to fix my car, all right. Then apply that to whatever profession you want. And if I’m constantly listening and trying to alter myself to please the masses, it’s going to be, not me, what we were talking about before. It’s going to turn into a conglomeration of what 1,000 people think I should be. It’s going to be watered down, I’m going to be worried about not pulling the trigger on an exciting play, because I’m going to say the wrong thing or whatever.

                                    So you’ve got to ignore it. And that’s I think tougher for some people to do than others. It’s not that hard for me to ignore it. I don’t know if you’d be surprised or not, how many people in the middle of a broadcast will text me. They have my cell phone number and have suggestions for this or that or whatever. And you’ve just got to delete and even if it gets into your brain, it’s got to go in one ear out the other. And you know they mean well, maybe they’re complimenting you, but the actual circle of people who from the X’s and O’s technical standpoint, evaluation of doing what I do, who I can allow in to actually influence and mold that is pretty small. And I think it has to be that way in this profession or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Aaron Ackerman:         So you’re saying you don’t have a Kevin Durant burner account out there fighting with people?

Toby Rowland:             No.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. That’s good to hear.

Toby Rowland:             I do not. And I fully understand people. I’ll give you an example. One of the things I’ve heard the most since I got this job is people wish I would say touchdown Oklahoma. That’s what Bob Barry said. It’s a simple thing. Touchdown Oklahoma. Well, I decided before I started, I was going to say touchdown Sooners instead of touchdown Oklahoma. That’s what Bob said, so I’m not going to say that I’m going to say touchdown Sooners. It sounds like not a big deal. But you’d be amazed how many people that bothered and to this day, I will get emails or tweets, or sometimes even text messages from people who say, “I really wish you’d say touchdown Oklahoma.” And I respect that. I understand that, but that in my mind is what Bob said and that’s not me. And even now I don’t even really say touchdown Sooners I’ve kind of morphed into just kind of a touchdown call and whatever comes and there’s not really a signature there. But all of those suggestions of what people wish I would do, I fully respect that because I’m on the other end too.

                                    I’m listening to the Thunder games and I’m listening to Reds’ games and I’m listening to other broadcasters. And there are times when I’m irritated by them, or I wish they would do this, or I wish they’d do that or I have to turn the sound down, I can’t listen to Jay Bilas anymore, whoever it is. So I understand people at times have opinions on what we do. And they’re probably right a lot of the time. But like I said before, if I allow myself to constantly worry about that and constantly be shaped by that, I’m never going to get where I want to go.

Aaron Ackerman:         Toby, let me ask you a little bit about teamwork. So I’m sort of making some assumptions here, so set me straight. But the football game broadcast is a big production that probably starts early in the week with preparation and everything. And you’ve got a team that I assume you’re the leader of, or one of the leaders of a team of people who are employees whether they’re photographers, sound technicians and engineers. You’ve got probably contract people that just do that as kind of a side gig. I know you’ve got some volunteers that are key parts of your team. So what does a week look like getting ready for a Sooner game? What is the preparation, what are you doing throughout the week? And from a teamwork standpoint how does that work, including after the game, is there kind of an after action review where the team gets together to talk about what went well, what went bad, what do we need to keep or stop or start that kind of thing?

Toby Rowland:             Yeah. Okay. So I’ll walk you through a normal week and we’ll say we’ve got a road game that week, because those are more interesting from this standpoint. So on a Monday, I will try to get my scene setter written and voice. Scene setter is the video we do before every game and the audio we do before every game that plays. And I will usually host a TV show or two on Monday. Tuesday, I’ll start to put my spotter boards and there’s usually another TV show or two that day as well. Spotter boards are the boards that are 11 by 17 thick art boards. There’s two of them that I put in front of me before every game they go between me and my spotter. And it has all of the numbers, names, biographical information, statistics of the players. 2D sometimes 3D so that you can quickly be able to not just say who caught the football, but if you want to add some information about who made the tackle or threw the touchdown pass or whatever, it’s visually right there. So that’s a long process to not just put the biographical information on, but to be able to add all of the details that you want on that. The goal quickly as a side, the goal of a spotter board is I don’t want to ever have to look something up during the game.

                                    I hope that every piece of information I’m going to need is on those boards in front of me so I can quickly look and have it. Now, things happen and records get broken that you end up having to look up, but that’s the goal. So I’ll start on Tuesday entering all that information. Wednesdays, those things continue. We’re scheduling coaching interviews with Lincoln Riley, with the opposing coach. We’ve got sponsor interviews that we’ll be setting up, that’ll run in our pregame and halftime. And we have to record those interviews throughout the week as well. Chris Planck, who is our sideline guy will be gathering player interviews and assistant coach interviews as the week goes along as well. And those kind of ramp up in the mid week, and we’ll be in communication with the opposing radio crew so that we can get whatever information they have forced about their team, whatever audio they may have about their team as well, and get it to us.

                                    Thursday, kind of more of the same of Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are the days when, as a crew, we start to communicate more with each other. So I will reach out to Teddy, Gabe, Chris, the on-air guys, and say, “All right, what guys do you want for spotlights? What do we want to do in the pregame show specifically?” That’s where most of the planning goes into the premium show. We have an engineer, two of them, actually, the last couple of years, Drake Diacon and Michael Dean, we’ll reach out to on Thursday or Friday and say, “Are we set? We’re going on the road, do we have all the coordinates that we need to be able to make our in-house feed work so that signals aren’t crossing between TV and radio? Everything in the booth set for us from an ethernet and a phone line situation. Make sure we take this, this week because in this stadium we have this issue.” My spotter, who until this year was Greg Blackwood, unfortunately Greg passed away this year, but my spotter and I will…

                                    I’ll send him my spotter boards when they’re done and we’ll talk through some things to look for. Maybe there’s somebody in the pregame that may be injured and may not play. “So here’s the list of OU guys and here’s the list of Iowa State guys that we’re going to be looking for in pregame.” That conversation with my spotter, and then my statistician will have conversations as well about what do we want to keep track of this week? What are some milestones that could be passed that we need to be on the lookout for in this game? So those conversations will usually take place on Thursday into Friday. And my goal is always to have everything done Friday night before we go to bed. I-

Aaron Ackerman:         And Toby, you’re quarterbacking all of this. You’re kind of the head coordinator, right?

Toby Rowland:             That’s right. Yeah. That’s true. If I can have everything done I figured out early, if I can have everything done Friday by when I go to bed, one, I sleep better. Which factors in somewhat significantly to your performance and availability the next day. And two, I wake up and enjoy my Saturdays a lot more. If I’m not worried about still trying to get something written or something edited, then I could wake up Saturday and go, “it’s game day. Let’s go get it today.” So we always try to get everything wrapped up by Friday. Now, if we’re going on the road, if it’s a road trip, we will get on an airplane Friday afternoon, or a car, and we’ll travel to our destination and dinner time that night we’ll get together and have dinner together and kind of talk through what’s going to happen the next day.

                                    We’ve done it so many times now, and we’ve been fortunate to have pretty much the same crew for the past decade. That a lot of what happens is short communication or non-verbal communication. We trust each other and everybody knows what jobs they have and how to do their job. And then we’ll arrive at the stadium five or six hours before kickoff, the engineers will start plugging everything in and we’ll hit the ground running and going. The interesting thing is, that is five days of preparation and meticulously planning and writing and editing to get you to kick off. And then-

Aaron Ackerman:         And then the improv starts, right?

Toby Rowland:             And once it kicks off, you become a dancer. You go from meticulously planning, you go from left-brain guy to right-brain guy, or maybe I got that backwards. But everything’s planned out to the minute and then they kick off and you have no idea what’s going to happen for the next three and a half hours. And you have to, I mean, we refer to it as a dance. You have to be ready to move and shift and just describe what happens in front of you and nothing from that point on is scripted.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Probably even more so this year than the first nine, 10 years you did it with 10, 20, 30 players being unavailable and guys that are deep on the depth chart having to play. There’s probably a lot more curve balls you guys were trying to hit this year, I would imagine.

Toby Rowland:             That’s exactly right. Good observation.

Aaron Ackerman:         Well, that’s really interesting. So after the game, I mean, you guys, assuming you’re not on an off week, you’re going to roll into the next game pretty quick, but is there any kind of debrief that happens or a kind of AAR type meeting that you guys have together?

Toby Rowland:             Yeah. Well, I mean, we will discuss usually during the post-game show because we’re on the air for about an hour and a half. So there’s a lot during commercial breaks and as we’re packing up after the game we can pretty much have our debrief there. What went right, what went wrong? What do we want to do different next week? I liked how this went. Let’s try that. And then we’ll give each other a break on Sunday regardless of when you play on Saturday, you’re probably either getting home in the middle of the night or at a late hour and we all need a day to just step away from it, to try to not be completely consumed by football. And so we try to leave each other alone on Sunday. Sometimes that’s not possible, but as much as possible, we try to at least give ourselves a day for everybody to be with their families and just relax.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. Well Toby, we’re kind of getting down to the end of our time here. Being a big sports fan like I am, and a Sooner fan, I could probably just keep you here all day. So maybe we’ll have part two sometime, I’ll ring you up next year. But we’ve got five questions we ask all of our guests and so I want to ask you those now, but I’m going to add six to yours. I’m going to add a special one just for Toby. And I’m curious if you have, you can pick either one you want, favorite call you’ve ever had, or most embarrassing or most forgettable call you’ve ever had. You can pick whichever one of those you want.

Toby Rowland:             I can give you both. My most embarrassing call was Javan Foster, which my first year on the job we were out in Lubbock and the play of the game, the decisive play of the game was a pick six for OU, that won the game. And I called it like a champ, Javan foster picks six touchdown unhitch the wagon, all that kind of stuff. And just nailed it and got in the car and was headed home and I heard the highlight come on ESPN which is always an unsettling moment.  Because that’s the first time you hear a highlight back and they played it, “Javan Foster picks six, touchdown.” And it dawned on me that we don’t have anyone named Javan Foster.

                                    And we had a Javan Harris and the other team had a Foster and I had mixed the two and I had the biggest play of the game I had given them credit to an imaginary person. So they still give me a hard time about that to this day. I think my favorite call honestly, is kind of a funny story to that. But the year we went to the final four in basketball, Buddy Hield got hot as he tended to do in the second round against VCU in Chesapeake Energy Arena. And it was late in the game and he hit a big shot. And I went on this top of mind rampage about how much Buddy loves to dance, he loves to salsa, he loves the tango, he loves the cha-cha and he came to dance. And I don’t watch Dancing With The Stars, but the night before I think, or a couple of nights before, I had seen it. My wife was watching it and I sat down and I watched it with her and so it was just fresh in my mind, like all these different dances that they were doing.

                                    Otherwise, I couldn’t have named a single dance for you. I don’t dance. I don’t have any… I’m a Nazarene, so I never was allowed to even go to dances when I was a kid, much less name them all. But I happened to have watched Dancing With The Stars at night or two before. And so it was stuck right here. And so when Buddy got hot, “We are at the big dance,” that came flying out, and a lot of times when you hear it back, you don’t like it, but that one, every time I hear it back, I smile a little bit because-

Aaron Ackerman:         That’s awesome. You never know where your inspiration is going to come from, right? Well, okay. So that was a Toby specific question, here are five questions that we ask everybody and some of these we may have even just kind of touched on in your story, but first one is what is the first way you ever made money?

Toby Rowland:             Mowing lawns. Yeah, I mowed lawns when I was a kid growing up all the way through junior high and high school, and ended up getting a collection of four or five, six yards. And that’s how I made money.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yup. Good stuff. That’s probably on the leaderboard I think after a year of episodes, that’d be on the family feud leaderboard. That was mine as well. So this was interesting. I think, what would you be doing if you were not the OU voice of the Sooners? If you were just in a different career, I mean, you started out accounting, what do you think you’d be doing had you gone a different way?

Toby Rowland:             If I’m not in broadcasting at all, I think it’s pretty easy to say that I would probably be in the ministry of some sort. My father’s a pastor, my grandfather was a pastor, my other grandfather was a music minister, and I’ve got three uncles that are pastors. So I’m the black sheep in our family that-

Aaron Ackerman:         You’re not in the family business.

Toby Rowland:             I’m in the secular world of calling sporting events. So I probably would be in the ministry.

Aaron Ackerman:         What would you like to go back and tell your 20 year old self?

Toby Rowland:             Just what we were talking about that I wish I had heard Vin Scully’s interview earlier that you are good enough being you. You are talented and unique and good enough being you and don’t waste your time and the years and the stress of comparing yourself to other people. And I think that applies to way more than sports broadcasting. We have a hard time with that in society in general, just keeping up with the Jones’. But I wish I had learned that at a younger age.

Aaron Ackerman:         What would be the title of your book, your autobiography?

Toby Rowland:             Oh, man. I’m 47 man. And there’s a lot of that book to be written. I don’t think that… Nobody needs to be writing any kind of books or I don’t need to be writing any kind of books about a career that’s in its infancy or teenage years at the very least. So I would say right now, if I had to pick it, I would say Luckiest Man in Oklahoma. How about that?

Aaron Ackerman:         I like it. We’ll just call that volume one.

Toby Rowland:             I like it, yeah.

Aaron Ackerman:         What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Toby Rowland:             Bob Barry, we chatted right after I got the job. He invited me over to his house one day and there’s a lot that I took from him as far as the X’s and O’s of how you go about calling a game that would bore people. But the biggest thing I ever took away from him was his friendliness and jovial style. The way he came across a radio. I mean, that’s the way he was, but he also was able to bring that across the radio with him, which is a skill. I mean, that’s a talent. It’s not just okay to accurately say what yard line the ball is on. You have to do it in a way that people want to listen for a long time. I mean, you’re asking them to experience this thing they love with you rather than the TV guys, rather than in person. They are listening to OU football, which they love so much and choosing to experience it with you. So you have to do that in a manner in which they want to listen to. And Bob said to me, and it’s really something simple. He just said, “Have fun and make sure that comes across, make sure people can tell you’re having fun.”

                                    And I mean, that’s not easy to do all the time. When you’ve got nine people that are all talking in your ear at the same time, and maybe something’s gone wrong and you’ve got sponsor reads. And you’re kind of in a pressure packed situation there. One, to have fun is not always easy, and two, to come across as if people can tell you’re having fun is not always easy, but he was the master at that. And so I think that might be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

Aaron Ackerman:         Yeah. That’s great. Well as a fan I love listening to you probably hear this all the time. I know a lot of people that I talk to, they watch and you kind of said you would do this as a kid. They watch the television broadcast, but keep the sound off and listen to Toby do the radio call. So that’s just a testament that your joy and the fact that you’re having fun does come through. People love to listen to it. And man, thanks so much for your time today. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Toby Rowland:             And I appreciate that. And just thank you for doing that, for listening and the greatest thrill we have when we’re calling a game, especially football game, where you’re looking out of a press box, is to look down at the crowd and see the people wearing headphones. And I mean, it makes you almost tear up when you think what I was just talking about. I mean, these people went to a lot of effort to make sure they have batteries, to make sure they’ve got a radio, to bring it to the game, to pack it, to bring it. And that’s how they want to experience OU football, is with us. So when I hear people say that they turned down the TV or they watch a game and listen, it just, it’s the greatest compliment that you could ever get. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Aaron Ackerman:         Man, you’re welcome. Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it and best of luck. We’ve got what? Baseball and basketball before we have another football season. So I know you’re busy year round, but I appreciate you taking a few minutes out.

Toby Rowland:             I appreciate. You let me know when you’re ready for volume two. We’ll do it again.

Aaron Ackerman:         Okay. I’ll take you up on that. Thanks Toby.

Toby Rowland:             Bye.

Aaron Ackerman:         That’s all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2020 Hogan Taylor, LLP. All rights reserved. To view the Hogan Taylor general terms and conditions visit www.hogantaylor.com.


Toby Rowland is a two-time, Emmy-winning sportscaster, the author of a best-selling children’s book “Unhitch the Wagon,” and currently the Sooners’ voice. In addition, Toby hosts a morning sports talk show in Oklahoma City and coaching shows.

Rowland started out as an accounting major in college before he realized it was not what he wanted to do long-term. Toby met with his college, where they put together a sports broadcasting degree. He later had an internship at Channel 9, and he started calling games his senior year at the university. He stayed on as Sports Director, calling sports games for his alma mater for the next five years. 

In 2009, he received the opportunity to join the radio crew at OU as a sideline reporter, and when Bob announced his retirement, the president of the team decided that Toby would fill his shoes.

In this episode, Toby talks about the influence of mentors on his career, turning points in his career, and how Toby handles the negative press. 

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