Why Tom Rinaldi left ESPN for Fox Sports

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Tom Rinaldi is about storytelling. When asked about his move from ESPN to Fox Sports, he talked about how his favorite story is always the “Next one.”

Next, he harkened back, to a time before he became a broadcaster, to when he was a high school teacher and coach in Pittsburgh and then in the South Bronx at Morris High School. He remembers the feeling when students graduated.

“I would find myself sad, kind of at a loss, because the students were going on to their ‘next,’ their next adventure, their next chapter, their next move,” Rinaldi told The Post. “And I wasn’t. That’s always been a part of something in me. In this case, the simple truth is a chance to move to the next.”

While it is true Rinaldi will continue to make a seven-figure living at Fox, he said the move is about what Fox could offer him that ESPN couldn’t, meaning the excitement that comes with “a chance to move on to the next.”

Fox Sports, led by its CEO Eric Shanks and its executive producer Brad Zager, wooed Rinaldi over Zoom for the past few months.

“It is about as 2020 as it gets,” said Rinaldi, who grew up and still lives in Bergen County. “All of it was without ever being in the same room.”

This gave him a comfort level to leave ESPN, about which he only had good things to say, but which he chose not to give the opportunity to match his increased salary.

ESPN recently eliminated 500 positions and let go of 300 employees. It has also been tighter in contract negotiations with on-air personalities.

ESPN executive vice president Stephanie Druley said in a statement that ESPN was proud of Rinaldi’s award-winning years at the company.

“While we are disappointed to see Tom move on, the moment we find ourselves in demands an even more disciplined approach to our business, and we are blessed with exceptional storytellers who lead us forward,” Druley said.

In Rinaldi’s place, ESPN will increase the presence of Jen Lada and Gene Wojciechowski on GameDay, while Marty Smith and Wojciechowski, on golf, and Jeremy Schaap, on tennis, will expand their roles. ESPN has not yet decided who will replace Rinaldi on the sideline for the National Championship opposite Maria Taylor.

When asked directly if this was a financial decision, Rinaldi declined to answer.

“I’m going to keep any of the financial considerations private, but I can tell you with absolute earnestness that ESPN has been awesome in every phase from the moment I have arrived to the most challenging year that it has had, in 2020,” Rinaldi said.

In his classic Rinaldi style, he added, “This is not stepping away from something as it is stepping toward something.”

And Fox thinks Rinaldi will fit right in, raising its biggest events to a higher level.

“Tom has created almost a category of his own in the way that he has been able to tell stories and features in sports,” Zager said. “He’s become almost an adjective. It’s a Rinaldi-type piece.”

Rinaldi, in the style he brought to ESPN for nearly two decades, added: “It is a once in a lifetime to have the opportunity to contribute, in whatever ways, to the Super Bowl, to the World Cup to the World Series, those are once in a lifetime opportunities, and they are properties that only Fox has.

“It really is for the next.”

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