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Shaq trade led to two-month Francesa-Russo fight

(Credit: Watchdog)

Click below for another installment of my conversation with Mike Francesa last week, in which he discusses his involvement (or lack thereof) in the breakup with Chris Russo, their fight last winter over the trade of Shaq from Miami to Phoenix and other matters.On perceptions of Francesa’s role in the breakup:

“Let’s be honest, you know a million of the rumors that were stated as this unfolded were not true. First the rumor, that I was walking out on Dog, were out there for months. That didn’t turn out to be true. No. 2, they had me going 42 different places. That wasn’t true. No. 3, I was never doing another show with YES. That wasn’t true."

On his emotional on-air response in September to critics of his rumored role:

“I couldn’t decide whether Dog re-signed. I had nothing to do with it. How was I orchestrating it? I was doing nothing. I’m always made the bad guy, which I understand. Mike’s always got to be in control and manipulating. I wasn’t manipulating anything. I was sitting there and getting hammered. What I was saying was, ‘Why did I get hammered when all I did was tell the truth?’ I didn’t do anything. What I said is that it was all negative toward me, and I thought that no one ever asked me my side of the story, ever.

“So the reason I said that that day was, enough’s enough. I know I don’t have a [newspaper] guy as a vehicle. I don’t have someone. It’s not fair. There are two sides to the story and I didn’t feel what I was doing was being made public. I had my say once and I let it go at once. I didn’t have anything to do with Dog leaving. I sat there and let it unfold. I was told he was leaving. He called and told me he was leaving. I didn’t know what day he was leaving or when he was leaving. I had no idea.’’

On a stretch in the spring when he failed to acknowledge Russo’s greetings at the open of each show:

“That was stupid. I apologized for it. That was stupid.’’

On the big fight this spring:

“We had a terrible on-the-air fight one day about the Phoenix Suns, about Shaq getting traded. And it boiled over into almost personal name-calling and we didn’t talk for like two months after that. That was really what happened. I said it wouldn’t work, he said it would. I got him on that one, too. But the point is, we got into a vicious fight, a bad fight and didn’t speak for a long time after that, and I think some stuff boiled over.

“Were there other things going on? Yes. Here’s the thing to be fair: Dog and I were both upset with the station because we hadn’t been happy with the way the Imus thing was handled, which we were very public about. And we were mad at corporate about that. That went by the boards. Then we thought at the time that the station was not being very fair to us because we thought they were mad at us because of the way we handled the Imus thing, and how they were dealing with the whole station.

“We thought they were maybe paying more attention to the morning show and maybe not paying enough attention to their big show that had been here 20 years. Were we totally fair to the morning guys about that? No, we weren’t in the beginning, which I’ve said. Since then I don’t have the greatest relationship with them, but I’m being cordial. I’m trying to be supportive. So there are no issues. I don’t have any issues with them right now.

“The point is that we were having trouble with corporate, Dog and I. And we were upset with each other. So that was all going on, and now we’re coming up on contracts. So that is how this all played out."

On the station not being happy with how Russo handled his situation this spring and summer:

“I wasn’t part of that. I wasn’t part of the meetings. That was corporate, Chernoff. I was not part of that. That did not concern me. Did Dog tell me he was going when he was negotiating? No. Did I hear he was negotiating? Yes. Honestly, I said to him, ‘You can tell me. I’m fine with it.’ But he was keeping it close-mouthed, which he has every right to do, which people do during negotiations.

“Do I think Dog was doing anything out of the ordinary when people are negotiating? No. He was saying nothing. He was trying not to address it. He was asked a specific question and he was trying not to address it. Did we know he was talking to them? Yes. Was that my business? Well, it was my business from the extent of was I going to be working alone or not. But the station said, ‘Mike, you’re just going to have to be patient.’

“The only time I ever showed frustration was when I said to them in the summer, ‘Can we find out what’s going to happen here? Can we finally find out what’s going to happen here?’ And they said, ‘As soon as we can find out, we’re going to find out.’ As far as their negotiations, Dog and corporate, I had nothing do to with it. I was on vacation most of that time. I just waited to hear from Dog, and the night before it was coming out they called me in the office and said, ‘Listen, it’s all going to be public tomorrow, it’s over.’

“I knew Dog and corporate had been talking for a week to try and settle things, and that last week I knew they were negotiating and I was waiting for them to decide what was going to happen, and that was it.’’

On when he sensed Russo might leave:

“To be honest with you, I kind of knew after May. Chernoff, Dog and I had had a meeting in May. I had told Dog then that I was staying, and he said, ‘I thought you would.’ Now, there was some discussion during that time of whether or not I had signed my contract. I will not discuss that. That’s a private matter. But I had told Dog by May I was staying. By his comments I kind of got the idea he was going to leave. I’ve been with him 20 years. I kind of got the idea.

“Cherny was saying, ‘No, he isn’t going to leave.’ I was saying, ‘I think he’s going to leave.’ But I didn’t know for sure until he left. I knew what I was hearing on the street, that he was definitely leaving. I asked him and he gave me no answer, which was his prerogative. And afterward he said, ‘Well, this was how I had to handle it.’ Was I happy he handled it that way? I wish he would have told me. But he didn’t owe me anything to tell me. I’ve been around a long time. I think I could read what he was not saying bigger than what he was saying. I knew he was leaving, and that was it.

“I never harbored any animosity that he left. The only thing I had animosity about was I didn’t like Mel [Karmazin’s] comments [at Sirius’ news conference introducing Russo in September]. I worked for Mel for 15 years, I deserved better than what Mel gave me that day. But Mel likes to be a wiseguy in those situations, saying I’m going to be crushed and this and that.

“You know what, I made Mel a lot of money. So did I like that? No. That annoyed me. But that’s the campaign. Mel has to start the campaign: 'I made a great move; they made a bad move.' That’s how every company handles it."

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