On Aug. 31, Kevin Kugler received the breakthrough he’d been waiting for his entire career: an opportunity to broadcast NFL games on Fox.
He’d earned this moment, as the 47-year-old had spent his career rising up the ranks, from talk radio in Omaha to jobs at the Big Ten Network and Westwood One and finally to one of the highest pinnacles in sports broadcasting.
About five to six years into his process, Kugler was nearly ready to leave the business entirely.
“I was on the cusp of leaving the business,” Kugler said. “I didn’t know what I was gonna do, and the University of Nebraska-Omaha called, and they had an opportunity to do play-by-play for their then football team and their men’s and women’s basketball teams.”
Kugler always had a passion for sports growing up in small town Holyoke, Colorado, watching people do things that most can’t, like dunking a basketball or throwing a touchdown pass.
In middle school, Kugler and his family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he would go on to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He started college as a business student, but fell out quickly from the track. Early on, he switched over to sports journalism. Because of his switch in majors, Kugler said the sports journalism process was very slow for him at first, with his only opportunities to hone his skills coming in the form of unpaid internships.
After job opportunities proved to be few and far between after graduating from Nebraska, Kugler was ready to give up. He hadn’t found success in the industry yet and needed to provide for his family. Then UNO called, jumpstarting one of the most decorated careers a Nebraska sports broadcaster has ever had.
“It was not an immediate ‘Oh.’ I walked out and somebody handed me a fancy job somewhere,” he said. “That was not my path to where I am and I’m glad my path was unique to me, and it was the path I had to take, and it’s a path that taught me a lot along the way.”
He turned his opportunities from UNO into a sports talk show on KOZN called “Unsportsmanlike Conduct,” something Kugler is very proud of. Over the course of eight years, Kugler built the show and helped to make it a continued staple every weekday.
Kugler now serves as a play-by-play announcer for Westwood One in college basketball, as well as the Big Ten. And as mentioned earlier, Kugler is now entering his fifth week as a television voice of the NFL, replacing Thom Brennaman. He now works with former NFL player and analyst Chris Speilman and sideline reporter Laura Okmin.
He said that his success stems from not only hard work, but also from meeting the right people at the right time.
“It takes one person to read something you’ve written and say you have promise,” Kugler said. “Then that person gives you an opportunity or you earn an opportunity through something else that you can then capitalize on and grow into something else.”
Sports and sports writing have helped to give Kugler a life. Not just from his childhood, but onto his adult life. He hopes that his broadcast commentary can also help to serve society in some way, however strange a way that may be.
“The opportunities that I’ve gotten through sports have helped me raise a family, have helped me put food on the table and a roof over our heads. And there’s the utilitarian portion of my sports career that has been much bigger than somebody dribbling a ball on the court,” Kugler said.
Although he is constantly on the move in the fall as he announces NFL games, Kugler has set a routine for gamedays. Kugler is up early in preparation for his work ahead. He logs onto Twitter, watches some game film, and reads about the teams he will be announcing for later that day.
“You just start reading and then you watch tape, we’ll sit in a hotel on the weekend and watch the previous two games for the teams that are playing,” Kugler said. “We’ll watch a little bit of our last games broadcast, do a little self-seeking, it’s just a whole lot of reading and a whole lot of prepping. It’s an open book test, so I don’t have to memorize.”
Although memorization isn’t necessary, Kugler said he does it for most offensive players, which helps with pronunciation as well. While in the broadcasting booth, he gets to use a cheat sheet which helps him keep track of the overload of statistics and information he must have at his disposal during games.
“As I put together my spotting board, which I put in front of me, which is essentially an 11-by-17 sheet of paper with every player for every side of the ball and their bio information, and you know, little nuggets of information I want to throw into a broadcast,” Kugler said.
Kugler believes he is fortunate to have been surrounded by the people he has worked with over the years. His longtime partners, former NFL quarterback Mark Malone, and legendary former men’s basketball coach at Georgetown John Thompson, are two of many Kugler thanks for his time in the industry.
Kugler doesn’t believe in saying no to any opportunity, and it's the advice he has given students for years. Unpaid internships are something that most people don’t want to do, but Kugler says he never turned them down. This is how you build a career, Kugler says, and all it takes is one person to recognize your hard work.
Despite early troubles in deciding his career path, Kugler has continued to thrive as a sportscaster, and his goals aren’t like most others. He said he doesn’t believe in setting specific timed goals for himself and his future, as they only set one up for disappointment. Instead, he takes a broader approach to achievement
“If I set a specific, narrow goal of I wanna be doing X by X, and I don't make it, then by my own judgment I have failed,” Kugler said. “So I have to be broader in that situation and say, this is what I wanna do. How can I achieve doing it? And that, you know, it takes work.”