Stories I tell: A vibrating phone and a Lovie lost

I was watching television with my wife a year ago tonight when my phone buzzed at 10:21 p.m. with an email. I read the message, turned to my wife and said, “The Bucs just fired Lovie Smith.”

At the time, I was the interim sports editor at the Tampa Bay Times, so firing the head coach was a big deal. Conveniently, my wife is the managing editor at the Times, so we both sprung into action. She called the A desk to tell them a news story would be coming.

I tried to reach beat writer Rick Stroud, who covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His phone was busy, a good sign that he was on it. Next I called Anthony Perez, the editor in charge of our copy desk and night operation in Sports. I alerted him that we’d have a news story for 1A and an opinion column for the Sports front. 

Next, I called our Sports columnist, Tom Jones. I told him I needed a column, and I needed it in about 45 minutes. Anthony texted asking what to do with the first edition, which needed to go to the printing plant at 10:40. I told him to put in a one or two paragraph bulletin and let it go.

The printing plant agreed to give us a 15-minute deadline extension, so we had until 11:45 for the late edition. Designer Andy Rosenthal, editors and writers flew through all the moving parts needed to remake the section. It wasn’t a matter of just subbing one story for another, the entire front page was changing, which affected story continuations on many inside pages. It was a team effort, and our team was experienced and well trained.

As you see above, the Sports section was transformed. The front of the A section had a similar makeover. The news story and column made the late edition, which goes to subscribers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. A later “stop press” update even made nearly 65,000 papers. Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times, commended us for delivering “excellent detail and analysis -- all well before the light of day.”

“To pack so much splendid work into such a tight window marks a talented organization that is committed to excellence,” Tash continued. “If Lovie Smith ran his team with as much success as the clock was winding down, the Bucs would be in the playoffs and he would still be coach.”