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Utah Jazz: Everybody likes Craig Bolerjack

Published June 16, 2012 12:26 pm

Veteran Utah sportscaster Craig Bolerjacklives up to his reputation as a friendly guy.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Craig Bolerjack just wrapped up his seventh season as the voice of the Utah Jazz. This fall, he'll return as one of the voices of Pac-12 football on Fox.

He'd really like to be the voice of a cartoon hedgehog.

"I would love to do an animated film," Bolerjack said. "It would be fun to do something like 'Over the Hedge.'

"Just a supporting role, like the fifth hedgehog," he said with a laugh. "Just some nice little hedgehog."

It would certainly be typecasting. Not the hedgehog part, the nice part. Ask anybody who knows Bolerjack what they think of him and one of the first things you'll hear is what a nice guy he is.

"He's a great guy," said his Jazz broadcast partner, Matt Harpring. "I've gotten to know him pretty well, and I call him my new best friend.

"And it's not just me. Everybody likes Craig."

KUTV sportscaster David James recalled meeting Bolerjack back in 1992.

"He bounced out of his chair and ran around the table to introduce himself," James said. "He's just that Midwestern, nice guy.

"I know this is hard to believe because it sounds like the sort of thing everybody says, but he really is the nicest guy you'll ever meet."

When Bolerjack succeeded Hot Rod Hundley in 2005 as the play-by-play guy for Jazz telecasts, it marked a generational shift of sorts. Not just from the folksy, hyper-kinetic Hundley to the smooth, professional Bolerjack, but from one basketball generation to another. It was sort of a changing of the guard.

"His style and his knowledge is from the mid-'80s back," said Bolerjack, who expressed great admiration for Hundley. "I'm connecting with players that are in that [John] Stockton and [Karl] Malone era to where we are today. I kind of bridge the gap from that era to this era and watching this young team grow before our eyes."

Bolerjack is the guy both the Jazz and ROOT Sports want making the calls.

"We are lucky to have someone of Craig's caliber on our ROOT Sports team," said Tim Griggs, ROOT senior vice president. "He provides fans with knowledge and insight that goes beyond the game.

"Craig's delivery is top notch and his passion for the team is evident in his work."

A high school football player who walked on at Kansas State but had to quit because of injuries, Bolerjack didn't grow up a huge NBA fan.

"Football was everything to me," he said "But when I saw the Jazz in '85, I thought, 'This is unbelievable' — athletically and the speed of the game. That's what really made me a fan."

When he got a job at KSL back in 1985, Bolerjack figured Utah was just a step in a TV career that started at Kansas State, then moved to stations in Topeka and Wichita.

"I thought I'd stop here for, like, a year," said the Missouri native, who grew up in Kansas City. "And then you start to build family and you start to go, 'I really like this place.' It was amazing that after one year it became five, five became 10, and all of a sudden it's over 25 years later."

He spent 13 years at KSL. He also freelanced for ESPN, working mostly college football and basketball, from 1991-98. Then he moved over to CBS for 13 years, working college football and basketball, the NFL and other events.

Last year, he went to Fox to call Pac-12 and Big 12 football.

"It was just a good time for the change," Bolerjack said. "I love CBS. I love the SEC. Great football. But I was real excited when Fox called because, knowing that Utah was going to the Pac-12, I could actually kind of use some of my Utah knowledge within the new conference. And I could also not miss as many Jazz games because I could get back-and-forth a lot easier.

"Going to Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa or Gainesville was an all-day adventure."

You might think that the NBA would keep him busy, but Bolerjack loves "switching gears" for football.

"You wait for that big play, and it happens maybe five or six times a game. It's almost like you're in rhythm," he said. "I have to go for more of a mellow approach for those three-and-a-half hours.

"But in basketball, it's just blasting up and down the floor. That's another challenge."

His peers are full of praise for his work in both arenas.

"I think the world of Craig," said Bill Riley, the radio/TV voice of Real Salt Lake and radio voice of University of Utah football and basketball. "He's a pro's pro. From a play-by-play standpoint, he's just as good as it gets."

In his 27 years in Salt Lake City, Bolerjack has had other offers, "But when I was going to go do something else, something just pulled me back."

He and his wife, Sharon, and their three sons — 22, 19 and 16 — moved to Kansas City very briefly in 2005, but then the Jazz called.

"So we just decided to make this the place," Bolerjack said. "Challenges come. And I've been disappointed along the way, sure."

Like when the Discovery Channel flew him to New York to audition as a narrator for documentaries.

"It didn't work out, but I really wanted to try," Bolerjack. "They said I was too Midwest."

Midwest? He's a Utah TV institution and one of its most familiar faces — and voices. You can hear him coming before you see him. That big, affable voice is unmistakable.

"It's the voice we all wish we had," James said. "Booming. Authoritative. Very professional."

And he stops to talk to people, whether it's the employees at EnergySolutions Arena or people who recognize him at the grocery store.

"He's a fantastic guy," said Riley. "Very approachable."

"I just like to talk," Bolerjack said. "I'm flattered they ask me. People say, 'Hey you got a minute?' I'm, like, 'Sure, what's up?' "

That's "something that was drilled into me as a kid by my parents. And when I was in college, one of my professors told me, 'Listen. You hope people talk to you. Always take time. Because if you don't, you've lost a viewer.' "

Affable as he is, Bolerjack comes in for his share of criticism from Jazz fans. Which he tries to not let bother him.

"The nightly challenge is to be the best that you possibly can," he said. "I know there's people that don't like me. That's part of the business. It's hard to accept sometimes, but the challenge is you're on live TV. There's no do-overs."

Bolerjack has sort of a big head, but only literally. His ego is under control. He's "drawn down to Earth" when somebody greets him in the grocery store "and somebody will say, 'Who are you?' Not everybody watches television. So a lot of people don't care.

"I'm not changing the world. Hopefully, I'm connecting. I just want to be a professional and do it the right way."

And there are certainly worse things than having a reputation as a nice guy.

"Sometimes people make fun of that," Bolerjack said. "But I am who I am. And I'm happy to own that."

spierce@sltrib.com

About Craig Bolerjack

Born • March 16, 1958, in Willow Springs, Mo. Grew up in Springfield, Mo., Wichita, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas State (1977-81) • Walked on with football team, but injuries quickly ended his career. Became sports director at college radio station. Graduated with degree in broadcast journalism.

KTSB-TV (1981) • Weekend anchor at Topeka, Kan., station.

KSNW-TV (1982-85) • Reporter/anchor at Wichita, Kan., station.

KSL (1985-98) • Sports anchor and the original host of "SportsBeat."

ESPN (1991-98) • Play-by-play for college football, college basketball, Arena Football League and more.

CBS Sports (1999-2010) • Play-by-play for NFL, college football and college basketball; hosted studio shows and more.

Utah Jazz (2005-present) • Play-by-play for the Jazz TV telecasts.

Fox Sports (2011-present) • Play-by-play for college football.

Family • Craig and his wife, Sharon, are the parents of three sons — D.J., Nick and Brody.