The SportsHeads Meets: Nat Coombs

Nat Coombs is a sports presenter who specialises in football and US Sports, he has worked with BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, ESPN, The Guardian and Talksport.

His association with the NFL began in 2007 when he began to present Channel 5’s live National Football League coverage, alongside Mike Carlson broadcasting all Sunday Night Football and some Monday Night Football games.

We were lucky enough to chat with Nat about his career, West Ham United and how he got to work with the NFL.

Stand-up comedian to The NFL, how did that come into fruition? 

Yeah, it’s a strange thing because I did it for about 4 or 5 years. When I was doing it I got signed by an agent, I did TV and radio but I always feel slightly strange talking about it now, it’s sort of like playing football at college level and then stopping, I kind of got somewhere with it. It was very grounding in many ways and I loved it – the connection is a bit more logical than it sounds. Firstly I did it and I did alright, which meant I got an agent and that helped with making relationships in the TV and radio world. Also I realised that as much as I liked it, it wasn’t something I really wanted to do – I really liked hosting when I was doing stand-up and I’ve always loved sports but I never set out that I was going to be a sports presenter, but it just started to come together; I got to host a show and I thought ”yeah this is it, this is something I want to get into”. It’s all about trying different things, making connections and trying to find your way. 

It kicked off for you with ESPN on the soccer side, you’re a West Ham fan right? 

Yeah that’s right. Well, up until recently it was the trio of West Ham, Miami Dolphins and Chicago Cubs, it’s a long and arduous journey and I wouldn’t change it. 

A lot of the UK fans are slowly picking their teams, would you say that West Ham are the closest to the Miami Dolphins? 

Yeah, that’s a really good point in the sense that there is a lot of great history of stylish football, I think that’s fair to say! The Dolphins have achieved more in the grand scheme of things as they’ve won titles and West Ham haven’t won a title as of yet – but I think there are a lot of parallels there. 

The NFL run a pretty tight ship in terms of rules on what you can and can’t do, do you think Fifa could learn from them? 

Two things, I think, could make European football really interesting; the salary cap and the draft. Both of those things would be great to apply to European football, but it’s very unlikely to happen. One of the great things about The NFL is that there is a level playing field. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a great example, majority of the players had been acquired through the draft really, and they were given a decent shot – it does give fans hope that things will turn around. Look at The 49ers, they were just shocking for a lot of the season and now there’s a decent chance that they could at least contend next year. 

What do you think of The NFL games that have been in the UK so far? 

I think it’s terrific that we have it here; one thing I’m really passionate about is how lucky we are for getting the games. Looking back at last season, look at how many playoff picks we had- It’s great to get to see The NFL up close and personal as not many other leagues take their A-game on the road the same way The NFL does. 

If someone’s never seen an NFL game before, what would you suggest for them to get into it? 

There are so many resources online that let you get to grips with the basics, The NFL have a lot of it on their site, there’s lots of really good stuff on YouTube – but the thing I’d say most of all is to just start watching the game. When I was a kid, I grew up with watching it on Channel 4 in the 80’s and those broadcasts were essentially just the game and the commentary. You’re not going to understand a lot of it initially through just the commentary, but if you’re a sports fan, you’ll pick it up quickly; the amazing thing about The NFL is that it’s paradoxically simple yet complex at the same time. Just dive in and start watching it, there are so many terrific podcasts for you to download as well, there’s also the highlight show and our radio coverage, I’d recommend Greg Rosenthal, who writes for NLF.com, and I really rate Phil Simms as well. 

You’ve mentioned a few of the presenters that are here in the UK covering NFL, if you was in a fantasy football league with them do you believe you’d win or would someone else have better luck? 

Mike Carlson would be good as he’s got an unreal brain, he’d work out the edge. I think Osi (Umenyiora) would be quite and impulsive player and I’d watch out for Justin Bell, I think he’d be the pick to take it all. 

You mentioned before about podcasts, any advice on anyone wanting to start and get their voices heard?

The two thing’s I always say are: firstly you’ve got to graft and get your head down, just go and take as much experience as you can, offer to lend a pair of hands and don’t have any ego about it. And finally to understand you’re environment, understand how things are made and work with good people, like producers and presenters. There are so many different paths to pursue, you could concentrate on radio as apposed to TV, you might want to be a commentator and call play by play. You’ve got to just try things out and try to work out what it is that you want to do. Don’t worry if no one is reading or listening to it to begin with, you’ve got to just keep pushing it out there. There are a lot of people in the industry that will give back and be supportive- it’s a ten thousand hours thing, just keep on. When I started the Channel 5 coverage back in 2007, I hadn’t done a live show before and I was not very good, but I kept my head down, worked hard and had good people around me and I got it together. Don’t worry about how far you’re getting or how quickly you’re getting there, it’s easy to get hung up on that. 

Is there anything you’d take from the presenters in the US that we’re not already doing in the UK that you’d like to see?

There’s a different kind of connection you can build with American presenters on American shows – obviously you have the pop culture references and cultural references. With Carlson and myself, there was very much a sense that we had a strong community of people watching the show, who understood their football and didn’t want to be patronised because it’s a British show. I don’t think you need to underestimate the intelligence of the audience, because the shows that work really well over here are the shows that don’t underestimate and don’t have a simple introduction to American Football. 

What’s on the Nat Coombs playlist at the moment for those long International flights?

I love The Hold Steady, Gaslight Anthem. I like a bit of late 80’s early 90’s hair metal, that’ll get you there! Long trips like that, going to a completely different environment, you’d want a varied playlist. I say to our producer on the show that I really want to play Public Enemy and then as we’re live on air I always forget to check if it’s the radio edit, but he always remembers! 

You can find out more about Nat or follow him here;

natcoombs.com

@NatCoombs