Riley Nelson grew up right behind the scorer’s table.
The soundtrack to his childhood was the narration of the old Big West basketball games in Logan. His grandfather, Rod Tueller, was the color analyst for Utah State’s radio team, and Nelson would often tag along. Officially, if someone asked, he was Tueller’s statistician. Unofficially, it was just a way to get him in the game.
Back then, the seed was planted for Nelson’s future. Once he finished his own playing career, Nelson would take the mic himself.
In 2019, the quarterback who led the Cougars to two bowl games took over as the color analyst on BYU’s football radio broadcasts with Greg Wrubell. He became one of the main touchpoints for fans and the expectation was he’d be around for the long haul.
But after four seasons, Nelson is stepping away again. It is his own choice, even if he didn’t want to make it. The demands of life are too much right now, and the travel and prep for the games are something he can’t juggle anymore.
“I had to hang it up and it was definitely my decision,” Nelson said. “But it’s kind of strange because while it was all my decision, I’m still not happy about it. If that makes sense.”
As he departed, he and Wrubell spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune about Nelson’s time on the broadcast and gave a more detailed reason as to why he is stepping away. More broadly, they also spoke about how the broadcast is continuing to change ahead of joining the Big 12 and what the criteria are for Nelson’s replacement.
Reflecting on the broadcast
Until 2018, BYU’s football broadcast had been a bastion of stability. Wrubell has been a staple in the BYU community for decades and Marc Lyons served as the color analyst for 38 years.
When Lyons left, there was an unusual void. Nelson had never called games before, but he had played quarterback and started to campaign for the job.
“I threw my hat in the ring. I started asking guys within the football program, like who’s the right person to talk to?” Nelson said. “I kind of played politics and said, ‘Listen, whenever it comes up, I’d love to throw my hat at the ring for evaluation.’ And then of course, when Marc announced, I texted Greg and the other guys to be like, ‘Hey, when you are doing your evaluation process, don’t forget about me. I’d love to do it.’”
Wrubell doesn’t tend to do practice game tapes with potential candidates to get a feel for how they gel with him. Instead, Nelson sent him a couple of radio interviews he did. The two had a long-form interview and spent time talking.
“I knew him as a player,” Wrubell said. “He did so many great postgame interviews, and I already knew from being around him how good of a communicator he was.”
When Nelson got the job, he called a couple of practice high school games before his first BYU broadcast. His first official game was the 2019 rivalry against Utah. The next was against Tennessee, a game BYU won on a Jake Oldroyd field goal in double overtime.
On that call, Nelson can be heard saying, “money” as the kick goes in.
“I didn’t understand they used those clips,” Nelson said of the call. “They’re not just used on the live broadcast. They take them and they run them under highlight film. We use it for TV footage. They use it for marketing footage.
“So scoring plays in the game have to be really crisp calls. Anyway, off the foot, you can hear me say, ‘Money.’ Like I knew it was good,” he continued. “Greg was fine with it. Nothing was said at the moment. But we go to break between the overtimes, and Greg’s like, ‘Hey, I know it looks good, but especially on field goals where angels can get wonky, let’s always wait until we see that hands go up.’ I saw it on TV later, and it snuck in there by like two feet. I shouldn’t have been so confident because that didn’t split the uprights. A gust of wind and that thing is wide right.”
Why he is leaving
Nelson said his four-year run on the broadcast had to come to end for a number of reasons.
He started the job with one child, and is now expecting his fourth this spring. Beyond that, Nelson also has a full-time job that requires travel and said he recently added to his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints duties.
“There were multiple times where I would have to do two flights for work and get home on like a Thursday night and then fly out again Friday to away games,” Nelson said.
“I really sat down and prioritized these things: my family, my job and my religion aren’t going anywhere,” he continued. “Like I can’t cut back on those, or at least I’m unwilling to cut back on those. And so the one thing where I could cut back on was [radio].”
Nelson expressed regret mainly because he just now started feeling comfortable in his role. He didn’t rule out a potential return to broadcasting later, but said for now it has to be this way.
“I’m going to stay around and I’m going to put feelers out there just like I did the first time to see if something works out,” Nelson said. “I would love another opportunity. However I can be a part of the program, I want to. If that avenue happens to be the media then I’ll absolutely love it because of all I got out of this small taste.”
Wrubell will look for a replacement in the coming months. There is no set timetable on when he will name BYU’s first color commentator of the Big 12 era.
Wrubell said he believes the color commentator should be a former player, as is common practice in the radio business.
“We will take our time, and get somebody who will check as many of the boxes as I’d like to check,” he said. “It is a unique fit. It is not just, ‘Can the person do the job?’ It is, ‘Are they in the stage of life that will allow them to do the job?’’
“I think for a color analyst, a former player is the best fit,” he continued. “Somebody who has been there and done that. They can lend us the player’s perspective with everything going on in that current moment.”
Changes to the broadcast
As the program heads into the Big 12, there is always the question of how the broadcast itself will change.
Will there be more resources devoted to the radio and how will that manifest?
“We are really well supported to begin with,” Wrubell said. “I don’t think we lack for anything. I think big picture-wise, we want to make sure our product matches the stature of the program. It matches the stature of the conference and that will always be our objective. I think we have great personnel and great behind-the-scenes support. Hopefully we just keep getting better and better as the stage gets bigger and bigger.”
As for Nelson, he sees it in the same way as he leaves. If there was a priority going forward, he said wants someone who will continue being a touchpoint for fans. The radio team in college football tends to be the biggest contact point as the television teams change each week.
“When you’re a fan of a certain team, there’s two things you want in whoever’s broadcasting the game: to know your team in and out, right? Like you want the inside stuff. You want the familiarity and then second you want to learn,” he said. “You don’t want someone who is a homer, but you want someone who knows your team well enough to where when they give their opinion, either positively or negatively, it carries weight.”