Stephen A. Smith Admits He Wanted Max Kellerman Off of ESPN’s ‘First Take’

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

ESPN network personality Stephen A. Smith admitted on Friday that he wanted co-host Max Kellerman off of the “First Take” program. 

After five years, Kellerman left the show on Sept. 1. He starts his own ESPN show on Sept. 14 and will host a morning talk show on ESPN radio.

Deadline reported Smith’s comments on Friday. Smith told Hot97 Radio that the relationship “was not a great partnership anymore and that was something that needed to change.”

According to the website, Smith attributed the move to ESPN. At the same time, Smith gave his input into the decision to make the change.

“First Take” is one of the highest-rated ESPN shows, although its audience has dwindled since Skip Bayless left for Fox in 2016. 

Stephen A. Smith Gets Paid

The 53-year-old Smith, who started in newspapers before making it with ESPN, is currently the network’s top-paid personality. The New York Post reported in July that Smith earns $12 million a year from ESPN. Smith’s contract calls for $8 million a year, with an additional $4 million coming in a yearly production contract. 

According to The Sun, Kellerman takes home $1 million yearly with the network. Rumors of the host leaving the show began in August.

When asked further about the move, Smith said he was unapologetic about his position. The “First Take” host said he didn’t have any problems with Kellerman’s work ethic and talent. 

The website said Smith didn’t want Kellerman to get fired and knew ESPN would find another spot for him among their vast sports resources. 

Molly Qerim Rose acts as the show’s moderator, introducing discussion topics for Smith.

Longtime ESPN Guys Part Ways

Both men are longtime ESPN personalities. 

The 48-year-old Kellerman started with the network’s boxing coverage and “Friday Night Fights” in the 1990s. He moved on to ESPN Radio before taking on ESPN’s afternoon coverage. He took over hosting duties for “Around The Horn” before moving on to “SportsNation.”

After Bayless left “First Take” for Fox Sports, Kellerman stepped up to co-host with Smith.

Smith, on the other hand, took a different road to ESPN. The former college basketball player had newspaper stints at The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, Greensboro News and Record, New York Daily News, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Over the next few years, Smith would bounce back and forth between ESPN, Fox Sports, radio and television. 

In 2005, ESPN gave him his show, “Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith.” Two years later, the network canceled the show. Smith got another shot in 2012, this time with “First Take.”

Over the years, Smith has waded into controversies. His brash nature has earned him a ton of fans, but also many detractors. 

“First Take” will now go through a Jeopardy!-like process for selecting a permanent host to go with Smith. Tim Tebow and Michael Irvin have taken turns this week, with more drama likely to come.