Jonathan Coachman

Why Jonathan Coachman Would Never Go Back To WWE, The Rock’s Promos, Heel Commentary, MJF

Jonathan Coachman (@thecoachrules) is a broadcaster and commentator known for his time in WWE and also ESPN’s SportsCenter, the PGA Tour and CBS Sports. He sits down with Chris Van Vliet in Aliso Viejo, CA to talk about his stints in WWE as a backstage interviewer, commentator and on-air personality, turning heel, his hilarious promos with The Rock, being trained to wrestle by Chris Benoit, working with John Cena, why he is so impressed by MJF, his current job hosting “The Early Edge” podcast on CBS Sports, his advice for aspiring broadcasters, why he would never work for WWE again and much more!

Quote I’m thinking about: The past has no power over the present moment. – Eckhart Tolle

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On what he’s doing now:

“It’s funny, because I find social media funny. And I tell anybody who asked me, you can’t believe almost anything on social media. I won’t say everything, but almost anything. Because I have people tweet me. Oh, where have you been? You’ve done nothing with your career. Oh, I mean, your career stopped in 2008. Did it really? I mean, 10 years doing sports Center. And now at CBS Sports. I work for the PGA Tour, I do all the betting content for the PFL. The only MMA League that has a regular season, playoffs and a championship night coming up in November. So the thing that most wrestling fans don’t realise is in their minds, they think everybody aspires to be in the WWE aspires to be in pro wrestling, I never did. I stumbled into it, I backed into it, I was lucky to even get into it when I’m 23 years old. But my dream was always sports. And part of the reason I left ESPN in 2017, is I wanted to do more golf. And I knew that after 20 years of doing things my way, it’s time for me to start helping. And what I mean by that is, that there needs to be diversity in everything. And in the world of golf, especially when you have Tiger Woods, who’s a black man, as your most popular golfer of all time for the last 25 years. But yet, that’s not represented on television or in, in golf in general. So that’s what I wanted to do. And now I’m a big part of what the PGA Tour does. And I just love being in the world of golf.”

On meeting The Rock for the first time:

“I’ll never forget the first day I met him, August 24 1999, which just happens to be Vince McMahon’s birthday, as well. And we were in Kansas City. And we were still kind of figuring out, you know, if I was going to come, I’d already done the interview. And I remember standing there and you can imagine you’re in the early 20s. And this was when The Rock really took off. The WWE was really taken off. And I remember standing in there at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, we’ve had a lot of things happen over the years, obviously, and watching him walk in and thinking this is the coolest human being I’ve ever seen in my life, and how he interacted with the security guards, with people in catering and things like that, and then getting to work so closely with him for the next two or three years. Watching how he treats people, even to this day, is amazing to me. And he also he brings it up all the time, he never forgets $7 in his pocket coming out of college never had that opportunity. And that’s what drove him. I feel like now, I’ve been given the opportunity in my career to do more. And I always think about that, because he never stops. And he never stops. But people love working with him. Even when he gets in a spat, he figures out a way to make it positive. You know, I mean, whether it’s Vin Diesel, whether whatever it is. And I’ve said this many times, nobody has taught me more about performing, interacting with people at a macro level than him.”

On not wanting to be a wrestler:

“But it’s usually people that their lives are wrestling, you know what I mean? That’s what they aspire to be. That’s not who I aspired to be, I got lucky. And then there were things that happened in the last five years that make me not want to go back, you know, I was 100% loyal to that company and to Vince. So when things happen, sometimes you got to draw a line in the sand and say, I can’t be treated that way, and still go back and be loyal to that company. It’s not like they need me anyway, they’re not crying over spilt milk. But I like to think I treat people a certain way. And I want to be treated that way. So yeah, I would never go back. So I reflect now. And when I think about the the cool things that people have done for me when I was in the WWE, whether it’s fans, wrestlers, whatever, that might still be the coolest thing. And it was my very first night on the air. I’d already been there for a few months, but the first time for him to do that was still such a cool thing. And I have people that will send it to me every now and then on Instagram or whatever but completely unselfish. Which a lot of people I hate when people say oh, The Rock was selfish back then. Everybody had to be selfish back then. People don’t understand they look at what it is now. You hear it all the time the best time of wrestling was the Attitude Era was 2000 to 2004. Because you had Imagine having 15 LeBron James, and then your NBA finals or your Super Bowl is only two guys. And you got 15 guys that can be in that spot. Well, that’s what you aspire to be. You’re talking about a million-dollar bonus to be in the main event at WrestleMania would you be unselfish or I mean would you be selfish? 100% You would be. So when I hear that narrative about The Rock was selfish back in the day, you had to Stone Cold was selfish. Triple H was selfish. Undertaker was selfish. Shawn Michaels was selfish. Mick Foley was selfish. They had to be because everybody fought to get in that spot. If more people in wrestlers thought today to get in that spot, I think we’d have better storylines, we’d have more competition, we’d have better promos we’d have quicker, whatever. I really believe that.”

On closing the door with WWE:

“So I went back in 2017. And I kind of instantly knew. This is not really where I need to be where I want to be. But it was a nice bridge between ESPN and what the next full-time thing was going to be. So in my personal life, I was moving to California. So I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. And so I went back, and it was it was fun. But the people I worked with on the shows, I don’t know what it was, but didn’t really want me to be there. So when I got switched to the pre-show, that was fun, because that was just once a month, I had to show up. And that was cool. But then I missed and part of the reason this is so Vince, when they called me and they said, hey, we’d love for you to come back. I said, I’m already doing golf. So I had five events already booked. And I said I’m missing the shows that week. They went Oh, no problem, no problem until it was a problem. And so I missed one show in 10 years. In my first run. I missed five shows in the first seven months of my second run. But I think everybody would agree and the schedule has changed now they were running people into the ground. Nobody should be working 52 weeks a year, nobody. They shouldn’t be having new shows 52 weeks a year, let’s be honest. And everybody inside WWE says it. They just don’t want to admit it. But no company should work that way. But for me what it was, I’ll just be honest with you, Chris is they came to me and they said XFL 2020. And Vince needs somebody there that he trusts that can do it the right way. So I was flying from California to New York every week to do the pre-show. And because they hired a lot of people who never worked for him before. So I trust Vince, implicitly, like I’ve done so much for him with him. Everybody knows that. And so you turn in invoices, right? Well, I didn’t turn mine in right away. Because I’d worked for him for 20 years. He had always paid me. Right. So COVID happens. And I have a fairly large check. And I hold on to it for a couple of days. I go put in the bank. It bounces. It bounces. And so I called or texted a high executive there. And I got a response. Oh, that’s a lot of money. I said, I agree. I agree. I said can you just call Vince let’s take care of this quietly no big deal. Yeah. And ghosted me, absolutely ghosted me. And, you know, Vince has the amount of money in his back pocket. You know what I mean? And it really hit me hard. And it wasn’t the money. It was the process. You know what I mean? That and I sit there I’ll never forget Chris. I sat there one day and I said man, they really bounced a check to me. Oh, I did get a second text. It was like, oh, that’s another company. I don’t think there’s anything we can do. So basically telling me, people I’ve worked with for 20 years. Oh, that’s the XFL. It’s not the WWE. There’s no. But the same guy owns the two. Yeah, right. And he, I mean, everything was a crossover. So that to me was a complete slap in the face. And but some people there just don’t care. And I’m not gonna name names. It’s not my style. But even to this day, and anybody who watches this interview will agree with me because it’s true. There are certain people, and they’re usually the ones that get the biggest bonuses that do not care what happens below them. And I had literally done everything I had ever been asked to do. And this is how you’re going to treat me? And literally, they didn’t care. They did not care. And I even gave it months because they were going through remember there was no there were no shows. The company’s losing money I felt for all of that. But then eight months later when you start advertising biggest year we’ve ever had financially making all this money, and then you can’t make things right. So again, that’s why I’ve never really talked about it. I’ve mentioned it in a couple of interviews, but I can’t at this point in my life. I can’t work for people like that. I cannot work for people who do not care about human beings to the point that in a spot where you really need it. Because we all are lost our jobs during COVID. And that’s when you’re going to decide to now let’s just turn our back on a guy who’s been loyal for 20 years, like to a point, the things that I’ve done for that company really bad, you know, would blow your mind would blow your mind. I was 100% loyal, but they were not loyal to me. And that’s it.”

On wearing multiple hats:

“What’s crazy is that my ego was so big at one point that I actually thought that people cared if I bought my own action figure. So I borrowed a credit card that had somebody else’s name on it, and bought 10 of my own action figures. And as I look back on that, over the years, I was like, literally, nobody cares. Nobody cares if you [bought it] because I think we all would buy our own action figures. And the way it’s done just so people know, WWE doesn’t make these action figures. It’s a company and they license them. So the company is not in the business of giving you Yeah. Hey, Chris, here’s 100. You know, because that would mean, they would lose money? So you kind of have to buy your own. But I was happy to because when you’re growing up, you think about really two things, being in a video game, and an action figure. And I was able to not only get that I was able to get my own entrance music, which I loved. And those $17 checks that I still get every three months. It somehow somebody is still buying that album. I have no idea. But I get a check every three months for $17.”

On wrestling fans:

“Wrestling fans need to understand, especially new wrestling fans, and I don’t know how it got this way, Chris, but wrestling fans think they know everything. Like I know everything about everything. I have been in the business of pro wrestling. And I tell them all the time, literally, you could not walk one day in our shoes. You couldn’t do it. And I remember years ago at WrestleMania they used to set up a thing where we would call matches with fans. And I wish you could do that today. Anybody that wants to be a troll or a hater. Guess what? You’re gonna sit down at that table and you’re gonna call that match you know everything about everything. Let’s see. Let’s see you call it with somebody screaming in your ear. Let’s see your call when you’re trying to weave storylines into a match and call the moves all at the same time. Wrestling fans I wish could take a step back. Just enjoy it for what it is. Because it is entertainment, and quit trying to guess what’s going to be on the show quit reading the dirt sheets, quit reading all these things. Because oh, by the way, all these Dirt Sheet writers, I’ve never seen one of them backstage ever, ever. So how do they know all this stuff? You know, and most of the time, it’s wrong. But people don’t realise in wrestling media, that if you throw something against the wall, most of the time, people don’t care, because it’s not real journalism, right? So when you do get a story, right, that’s when you’re going to run with it, I was right. I call that right there. But most of the time, you’re wrong. And I wish wrestling fans could realise that. Listen to people like me, or people that have actually spent time not only in the business, but doing the business and living the business, not just somebody who is guessing at what’s going to happen.”

On the merger:

“100%. And that’s the other thing you have to think about. And you gotta remember, when I started the WWE, they were just becoming a publicly traded company. In fact, I came like six months after, so I didn’t get any stock or anything like that. But things started changing, then, I mean, the show was pretty risque back in the day. And then when you have to start answering the people that are investing in your company that changes everything, some would argue that that was the beginning of the non-risque part of Monday Night Raw was when you have to answer to people who are saying I hated that last night, my young daughter or my young son can’t watch that. Well, you got to answer for that now. And that was a big difference.”

On how he impressed Vince McMahon:

“I don’t know if it was one moment, but because we had shows early on Wednesday morning, I had to fly back on the private plane every Tuesday night with him. And everybody was oh it must be so cool. You’re flying on a private jet with Vince, It kind of sucks. Because the rule was, and I don’t know what the rules are today. But you can only sleep when Vince sleeps well, he doesn’t sleep on the plane. He drinks red wine. And so you’re back there you somewhere over in Nebraska, and you’re like, oh my god, three more hours. And this is torture. And all your buddies are back partying after SmackDown. You know? So I think what was that triggered him. Because I was such a good talker. I hosted all the press conferences. I hosted the first three Tough Enough, I was a part of the first three Diva Searches. So all the ancillary stuff, the shoulder programming, I was the host of it. So he got to see firsthand because he was always there for everything, I would always introduce him. And he saw how good I was at all the different scenarios that he put me in. And then I was also big, meaning I’m six, three and a half, I walk around between 240 and 280 pounds depending on the year, right? And so I was doing an interview. And it was a tag team interview that was going to end in a fight. Well, whoever I was interviewing, we have a little secret, and you spread your legs out and make the guy look and put them in front of you. And it makes the person look taller. Well, the problem was that the camera cameraman widened out too quickly. And all of a sudden, I’m standing there with my legs completely. And all sudden, the other tag team came in late. And it was just a bad segment altogether. And Vince was furious because it kind of gave away a couple of our secrets. Yeah, so he’s like, You can’t do interviews anymore. You’re bigger than half the roster. You know what I mean? So we’ve got to figure this out. And so he came up to me in the gym at the WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. He goes, Hey, we have an idea. Would you want to be an in-ring performer? But before you say yes, you will have to get into the ring. And you will have to train before shows every single day. And that’s how I started doing house shows. I would go on the road Friday through Sunday. And I would either have a match because it wasn’t on TV, or I would be the ring announcer. And at the end of the show, it would allow a heel to win, because you never want the heel to win because the fans go home unhappy. So with me, the heel could win. And then the babyface would put me through a table or they would beat me up. And that’s how the show would end. And so I agreed to do that. And so I get them trained quietly, so to speak. And that’s kind of the scenario that happened. So it wasn’t one moment [who trained you]? Chris Benoit trained me.”

What is Vince saying to announcers:

“A lot, a lot. The more he trusts you, the more he’s going to lay out. But in the height of when I was doing it, because they moved me around. I did Sunday Night Heat then I did Monday Night Raw. And you know, and obviously, JR is the greatest. And he would still scream at JR and I got so good. Because Vince would say something. And if you didn’t say it, because he wanted you to say it, then not wait for Jr to get done not wait for King to get done. I want you to say now. So after a while, I was like I don’t care if JR and King are mad at me, I don’t want to get screamed at by Vince anymore. So he’d be he’d say something and I was so good at regurgitating it that I would say it within a second. Probably I could talk as he was talking in my ear. That’s how good we got together. But there’d be sometimes if you said you didn’t tell the story the way he wanted you to tell the story. Because this business is all about stories as we’ve talked about and you just ruined his character. You just killed him. You just ruined it. Like that’s the kind of stuff you’d scream at you if you told a story the wrong way, which is why it was so paramount. The show’s going on. It’s at a big spot in the match and he’s screaming at you and you’re trying to get back on track. And it was paramount to meet with the agents and the superstars who are wrestling We had to, you’d go round during the day and meet with all of them, because you had to know the story they were telling. And the really great ones can have a match and tell a great story. And if you’re just watching it like, Man, this is amazing. But the commentary adds to it.”

On getting in trouble with Vince McMahon:

“Real trouble? Yeah, there’s one story that still kind of rubs me the wrong way to this day. And back between, you know, after 9/11. Unfortunately, there obviously was a war. And we started going to Afghanistan in the Middle East or Iraq and, and it was supposed to be a volunteer trip. So I went I actually wrestled Ric Flair in Afghanistan, one particular trip. And again, I was right next to Vince. It was three groups of six and man I never said no, I took pride. I never say no, I’m the ultimate team player. So I get married and my wife is pregnant with our first child. And yeah, they said, Hey, if you don’t feel comfortable going, there’s no pressure whatsoever. Like do you believe that? So they didn’t believe it I told them from the jump. I never said I was going. I said, No. I show up the day and they take your bags, and because it has to go through screening at the Pentagon or whatever, and they’re like, where’s your bag? And I was like, I told you, we thought you were kidding. I said, at what point did you ever think I was kidding? Did I ever laugh? Did I ever not look you in the eye I say, I’m not going there’s like you’ve never told us know, before, [because my wife’s pregnant]. Thank you. And she didn’t feel comfortable. Yeah. So they had to scramble at the last minute. You got to get passports. It’s a whole big thing. I think it was actually Chris Masters that took my spot on that particular trip, if I remember correctly, but I should have known. I should have known that. It wasn’t just going to end there. So fast forward a week. And at that time, I was out doing commentary, and the show ends and the Undertaker ends the show, and he’s getting ready to walk up the ramp, and the referee comes over and the music’s playing. He’s like, go hit Taker from the back I’m like, why would I do that? That makes no sense. They’re like Vince’s is telling you. There it is. So he was angry that I told him no, and that I went against you know, God forbid you say no to anybody, especially Vince. And so like the team player that I am, I go over and attack the Undertaker he turns around apologises to me and says, I’m sorry, I don’t want to do it throws me for Batista to beat me up. And as he gets done, but Batista’s, music hits, down comes Batista. He does the same thing. Does his 3  finishes, I was so irate, you know that few times in life where you get so angry, you start to cry, like it’s just your emotions are just overwhelming. That was one of those moments. And I didn’t sell. I mean, I just took like five finishes from the two of the biggest stars of all time. I got up and walked to the back, like just in like completely disrespecting them. But I wasn’t thinking about that. At the time, I was thinking, how could I get beat up? When for all these years? I was completely loyal. But yeah, that was that was one of the times where I was so angry because I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve it.”

What is Jonathan Coachman grateful for:

“My family, my career and good people.”

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