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Cronkite School honors ESPN director

November 17, 2009

Chip Dean, award-winning director of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” is the newest member of the Cronkite Alumni Hall of Fame.

Dean, a 1977 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, joined ESPN 30 years ago, just two months after the network’s September 1979 launch. 

He worked on “Sunday Night Football” from 2001 to 2005, then moved to one of the top positions in the industry in 2006 as director of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” He is one of 43 original ESPN employees still with the company. Dean will be recognized at the Cronkite School’s annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism luncheon on Nov. 18. This year’s luncheon at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel will feature "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams. 

While at ASU, Dean studied broadcast journalism and played free safety for the Sun Devils under longtime former football coach Frank Kush.

“I wanted to be an on-air talent until I took some [broadcast] production classes and realized it’s just like playing a team sport,” Dean says. “You all work together as a team and every show and every event is different.”

A native of Ridgefield, Conn., Dean returned to his home state after graduation to work for a cable television station. But in 1979, he heard about a new sports cable television network and signed on as a production assistant without any idea that ESPN would grow into a worldwide enterprise that regularly attracts more than a million viewers.

“I was young. I wasn’t thinking about the future,” he says. “I couldn’t anticipate that ESPN would grow into such a force in sports as it is today.”

Dean went on to a number of high-profile assignments for ESPN. He was director of the network’s prime-time college football telecasts from 1987 to 1996 and the network’s lead college basketball director from 1985 to 2000. His other high-profile directorial assignments have included ESPN’s College World Series coverage, the ESPYs, the X Games, the NCAA Women’s Final Four, “Wednesday Night Baseball,” men’s college basketball and more. He also served as coordinating director for ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft.

In addition, Dean served as the lead director for ABC Sports’ college football telecasts from 1997 to 2000, featuring two Rose Bowls, two Orange Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl and a pair of National Championship games.

Dean’s work, along with that of producer Jay Rothman, on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Football” earned the pair sports television’s highest honor in 2004 – the Emmy in the Live Series category. Under their direction, ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” has grown to the most-watched series in cable television history. Dean also has been recognized with two other Sports Emmy Awards as well as two CableACE Awards.

Cronkite broadcast engineer Jim Dove, who has worked part-time as an editor for “Monday Night Football” for 18 years, described Dean as an innovator who understands technology, a leader who challenges and inspires others, and a hard worker who pays attention to detail.

“Work ethic says a lot about a person,” Dove says. “And you can’t find a lot of people who work harder than Chip. He’s a real role model for students.”

Dean says one of the highlights of his career was returning to ASU to direct coverage of the 1999 Fiesta Bowl – a bowl he played in as a college student.

“Walter Cronkite [was] probably the greatest newsman of our time,” he says. “And to be remembered by his school ... it’s incredible.”