Tim Tessalone, Former USC Sports Information Director

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Tim Tessalone celebrated his retirement as the longest-tenured Sports Information Director at the University of Southern California. During his time at USC, the school produced 54 national championship teams, 305 Olympians, and 26 CoSIDA Academic All-American first teamers, and in football, there have been 85 All-American first teamers, 225 NFL draft picks, and 5 Heisman Trophy winners. Tim shares some of his favorite memories from his 43 years with the Trojans and his thoughts on the future of college athletics. 

Tim began his USC career as a journalism student who was passionate about writing and sports. He recalls a moment that changed his perspective and inspired him to pursue public relations instead of journalism. 

“I remember I was in a journalism class one day and we had a sports writer come in, I can’t remember who it was, but he spoke to the class. This one thing that he said, really stuck with me, ‘young sports writers just become old sports writers.’ Now, that was back in the day. It’s not true anymore. But when he said that, I said, ‘well, gosh, that’s not a very good upside.’ So I started to think of what else could I do if I wanted to stay in sports.” 

While in school, Tim began working for USC’s Sports Information Office and served as the SID for both swimming and baseball. When he graduated in 1977, Tim was offered a position at USC but turned it down to gain more experience in “the real world.” 

“I want to go out in the real world, wear a coat and tie and see what that life was like… I went to this agency in downtown L.A and worked there for two years in a junior role. It turned out to be a kind of a blessing because it gave me a great foundation in the business of PR. And seeing all sides of it.” 

Two years later, the initial position he turned down opened up again and Tim returned to USC. During his tenure at USC, Tim and his staff publicized 47 national championship teams, 267 Olympians and 24 Academic All-Americans, and in football 84 All-Americans, 220 NFL draftees, and five Heisman Trophy winners. Despite these accolades, Tim says winning isn’t his motivation. 

“You don’t really look at clocks; what time it is and what time you come in, or what time you leave, you work ‘til you get it done. That’s just part of the work ethic that I think anybody who works in sports has or develops. I think there’s a reward, that you get whether your team wins or loses. To me, it’s not about the championships. It’s about the relationships and the people and, in our case, working 21 different sports, with 500, maybe 600 student-athletes, watching their growth from their freshman year to their senior year.” 

Tim has served as media coordinator at 17 championships hosted by USC and worked more than 475 Trojan football games, including 30 bowls (12 Rose Bowls). He’s no stranger to long days and busy weekends.

“It’s not a nine-to-five job. It really isn’t. That’s what I tell people who want to get into the world of sports, especially team sports. There are some sacrifices involved, but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s great. You ride the ebb and flow of the team and the adrenaline rushes. But you’re working when your friends aren’t working, you’re working when the games are at night, or on weekends, and on holidays. So, you’ve got to have a very understanding family and spouse and partners.” 

Tim has mentored countless students who have become sports information directors, professional sports public relations directors, network television sports announcers, producers and publicists, newspaper sports reporters, and even Hollywood celebrities, including Will Ferrell. Will made an appearance at a football game and recognized Tim from his time as an intern in the Sports Information Office. 

“Pete Carroll had met up with Will at a Laker game and invited him to come to practice and they would pull some sort of a gag or whatever. Will ended up coming out to practice. He was dressed in uniform Pete had said ‘hey, we have this new walk-on kid doing a tryout today.’ Will comes out and starts messing around. And the players figured it out pretty quick and had a great time with him.” 

“He’s been so great to USC and he means a lot to our university to our office. We’re really proud of the career he’s had.” 

In addition to mentoring students interested in sports media, Tim has worked with countless student-athletes to develop their professional personas. Tim shares a student-athlete success story from the Trojan football team. 

“If you remember, Rey Maualuga was an All-American linebacker who had a great NFL career. When he first came to SC, he was a very quiet, introverted shy kid, who had a hard time putting a couple of sentences together in a public setting. I remember the first time he did an interview after practice, a couple of reporters came around. It was his freshman year and it was painful. We would help him along and talk to him about it and give him some tips.” 

“Because of his playing ability, he got thrust more and more. I still remember, by the time he was a senior, he ended up winning the Bednarik Award as the top defensive player in college football. I flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the banquet. It was a black tie banquet with 1,000 people in the audience, and Ray stood up and spoke for 20 minutes without notes in front of this group. This was the same kid who four years earlier, couldn’t put a couple of sentences together. And to me, that is what it’s all about, you know, is to see the development of young people. “ 

Both Tim and Andy began their sports media careers before social media and have experienced the changes interconnectivity has brought to the news cycle.

“You would have time to deal with a story, you had maybe until that night before the story to go deadline. Then the next morning, it would be on your porch and in the newspaper. Now, as you said, everything is, 24/7 365 and it’s instant. So what has happened, at least in our world, is we’ve it’s all a lot harder to one control the narrative, which is what you try to do in the world of PR, you try to at least be in front of the story.” 

Tim has a rich family history with USC. Not only did he meet his wife there but all three of his children got their starts in their careers, because of connections they made at USC. 

“I always tell people, I say, if you go to school at USC, and you go to class every day, you get straight A’s and that’s all you do. You failed. Because it’s so much more than just going to class, it’s all the connections, the internships you take, the seminars you go to, to push yourself outside of the box a little bit and get uncomfortable, meet a kid from another country, go to a classical music concert, go to a speech by somebody that doesn’t look like you and make those kinds of connections. That’s what’s going to get you where you are, where you want to get to in life. And that’s what a school like USC does for you.” 

Tim officially retired from his position at USC on New Year’s Day 2022 but looks forward to continuing to cheer for the Trojans. 

“I did ask them to save me the last seat in the press box football Coliseum press box, the one way down the far end of the press box. They actually did put my name on it. So I will always be around and out of the way but, but watching and cheering.” 

Listen to the full episode to hear Andy and Tim talk about how NIL deals are changing college sports and their hopes for student-athletes.

 

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