Kevin Negandhi is getting a big promotion at ESPN, and he has the perfect tie for the occasion.
Negandhi, a Temple graduate who hosts the 7 a.m. edition of SportsCenter, will anchor ESPN College Football on ABC on Saturdays as part of a revamped lineup that debuts Sept. 2. The day will open with Akron at Penn State at noon, followed by Florida vs. Michigan at 3:30 p.m., and then finishing with a highly anticipated matchup between Alabama and Florida State at 8 p.m.
In taking on the new role, Negandhi will replace last year’s host, fellow SportsCenter anchor Stan Verrett. He’ll also be filling a role held for years by broadcasting legend John Saunders, who died last year. That fact reminded Negandhi of a special tie he’s largely kept tucked away in his closet.
“One day I walked into the green room, and Saunders looked at my chest and said, ‘Man, I like that tie,’ ” Negandhi recalled. The 1998 Temple graduate responded, “All right, it’s the John Saunders tie now.”
Negandhi first met Saunders while he was a student at the North Philadelphia university. Back then, the aspiring journalist hounded national broadcasters and reporters who came to cover Temple basketball games at McGonigle Hall. When Negandhi approached Sanders one night, less than half an hour before a broadcast, he was surprised at how willing the ESPN announcer was to offer advice.
“John didn’t know me, yet he spent 10 to 15 minutes giving me his background. He didn’t have to do that, but he did,” Negandhi said. He said that discussion opened his eyes to the different journeys broadcasters took to end up at the network.
Over the years, Negandhi got to know Saunders; his wife, Wanda; and their two daughters, Aleah and Jenna. Last May, Negandhi was asked to take over another role previously held by Saunders: hosting the annual Dick Vitale Gala, which benefits The V Foundation for Cancer Research that Saunders created.
“I want to make Wanda and the girls proud,” Negandhi said. He said he isn’t sure yet if he’ll break out the special John Saunders tie on his first day in the new role.
Appearing weekly at the center of ABC’s college football coverage is just the latest high-profile job for the Phoenixville native. Negandhi has hosted many marquee events for ESPN over the years, including the NCAA Women’s Final Four, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and most recently the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
But nothing compares to being able to cover college football and the NFL. In addition to his role on ABC, Neghandi will anchor the Friday and Sunday morning editions of SportsCenter during the football season, when his plate will be overflowing with news in his favorite sport.
“I’m beyond excited,” Negandhi said. “Man, I am so lucky to do what I do because I’m so passionate about these sports.”
It’s unclear if ESPN will return Negandhi to his morning SportsCenter role after the college football season ends. SportsCenter is scheduled to move to ESPN2 in January to make way for a yet-titled morning show hosted by Mike & Mike co-host Mike Greenberg.
Teaming up with Negandhi ESPN College Football on ABC will be former Louisiana State standout and two-time Super Bowl champion Booger McFarland, who has been a football analyst for the SEC Network since 2014 and has appeared as a guest host on Mike & Mike. The two go way back: McFarland played for the Buccaneers when the ESPN host was the sports director at ABC 7 in Sarasota.
Returning to the desk for the fourth straight season as an analyst is former college football coach Mack Brown, who won a national championship in 2005 as coach of a Texas Longhorns squad led by former Eagles quarterback Vince Young.
Negandhi isn’t the only ESPN personality with a connection to Philadelphia. Former Eagles coach Chip Kelly, hired by ESPN back in May, will join the network’s studio coverage of college football on Saturdays, where he’ll be joined by former Jets and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and host Chris Cotter. Kelly is also expected to make regular appearances on SportsCenter on Fridays and Sundays, so he and Negandhi might eventually cross paths during the season.
“I have’t run into him yet, but I look forward to talking with him,” Negandhi said. “I can’t wait to pick his brain about college football — he’s brilliant when it comes to that.”
ESPN is also moving former Florida Gators quarterback Jesse Palmer from ESPN’s Thursday night prime-time game, which he has called for nearly 10 years, to the network’s studio coverage of college football. He’ll be joined by former Cowboys wide receiver Joey Galloway and anchor Adnan Virk. Palmer will also continue his role as a contributor on ABC’s Good Morning America.