By R.L. Bynum
From courtside, Freddie Kiger is a longtime master stats man for TV viewers
Unless you’re a Civil War history buff, you might not know his name.
You probably recognize his face because he has a great seat at the scorer’s table for all the big ACC games. You see him wearing a headset and might wonder what he does there.
If you’ve been well-informed with fast, accurate information while watching an ACC football or basketball game on television, you’ve probably benefited from Freddie Kiger’s work.
The longtime Chapel Hill resident has kept football and basketball statistics for six decades, currently doing so during basketball season from courtside for ESPN, Raycom, Fox Sports South and CBS television broadcasts.
“You may not recognize us,” Kiger said. “You may not hear our names, but you’ll hear the statistical foundation. We’re going to carry that.”
An American Civil War expert and lecturer for UNC’s General Alumni Association, Kiger is an author on the subject and is the host for the “Threads From the National Tapestry: Stories from the American Civil War” podcast.
Kiger says he’s part of a group, which calls itself the “Carolina Mafia,” that started their broadcasting careers around North Carolina and now works games nationally.
That group includes cameramen Joe and Jim Vanderford; statisticians John Maddrey (the general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Administration) and Tom Kosempa (the director of development at The Fuqua School of Business at Duke); and announcers Brad Nessler, Bob Rathbun, Dan Bonner and Marty Brennaman.
“As much as we love the game and love what we do — regardless of whether it’s ESPN or Raycom or Fox Sports South — we’ve all done it together so long, it’s family. We look after each other, we care deeply about each other,” Kiger said.
Kiger, second to the right in the above photo, and Maddrey, far right, were part of an emotional few days for Jim Valvano in March 1993.
Three days after Valvano delivered his memorable speech at the ESPYs in New York City on March 4, 1993, they, along with Brent Musburger, worked for ABC with legendary former N.C. State coach for the Duke at UNC game.
It was obviously also an emotional for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was on the short end of an 83-69 score after being with Valvano in New York. That was Valvano final game broadcast, and he would pass away less than two months later.
When it comes to taking in basketball, some people like to just sit back and enjoy the game. But Kiger isn’t one of those people.
“I get asked all the time, ‘do you watch the game, can you even enjoy the game?’ Yes, I have to watch the game,” said Kiger, who grew up in northwest Forsyth County near Rural Hall, King and Tobaccoville. “It’s crucial, I’ve got to watch it. What it allows me to do is to be very much a part of what’s going on. If I went to a game and just sat as a spectator, I don’t think I’d know what to do.”
It’s fitting that he works many games along what’s frequently called Tobacco Road since he grew up on Tobaccoville Road.
When he works N.C. State home games, viewers frequently see him close-up on the screen when there is a replay review and you can see him trying to eavesdrop on the discussion. He sits at the scorer’s table at every venue. Unlike at UNC, Duke or Wake Forest, he sits beside the replay review official at PNC Arena.
“I can pull my headset to the side and listen in and immediately accurately say what’s about to happen,” said Kiger, who was positioned in the “crow’s nest” at Reynolds Coliseum and Cameron Indoor Stadium years ago. “At Duke, Carolina and Wake Forest, that’s not the case, and so there are a few more seconds of anxiety before I can get an official call as to what exactly is about to take place.”
He can’t stick a mic in on the referees’ discussions, but he can listen.
“They’re very good about asking each other’s opinion and I wouldn’t say disagree, but all of the officials are given the opportunity to voice what they say and then they make a consensus, they make a call,” Kiger said. “That is difficult sometimes.”
He also is within an earshot of some colorful discussions/confrontations between coaches and officials and off-the-cuff remarks.
“Let’s just say that it would not make the Disney Channel,” Kiger said. “That’s particularly from the head coaches who are so intently involved, so passionate about what they do. You can see them go absolutely bonkers during the game and then afterward, they are the model of civility and diplomacy.”
He’s always near the clock operator and the official statistics crew.
“It is very intriguing and you’re very much alive when you’re right there in the middle of the central nervous system of what’s going on to run the game,” Kiger said. “There are times, too, when you can be a target — of an errant pass or a diving player.”
He’s also worked with household names in national broadcasting such as Billy Packer, Bob Costas, Dan Shulman and Tim Brant. When working WNBA games for ESPN, he also worked with coaching legend Pat Summitt. That made for some odd moments when he was on a TV crew for one of the late Hall of Fame coach’s Tennessee’s games later.
“She would walk down to where I would be and just have a conversation with me during the game,” Kiger said. “ ‘Freddie, do you believe that call?’ I would nod.
Kiger’s position at the scorer’s table for the biggest games is the envy of any basketball fan. But there’s plenty of pressure.
“You want it done in a timely, speedy manner, so that everything is on the moment, it’s in the present tense,” said Kiger, who was inducted into Cambridge’s Who’s Who for Excellence in Higher Education in 2008. “But accuracy is incredibly important, so you have to be quick, but you better be accurate. If you don’t give accurate information, you have the lifespan of dogs who chase cars.”
That wouldn’t describe Kiger who, at 66, has been keeping statistics for football and basketball games since he was a North Forsyth High School student.
“I enjoy what I do because I get to do so many different kinds of things that it keeps everything fresh,” Kiger said. “Keeps everything very unique and interesting. I still have a passion for all of it. I have a lot of people who say, ‘why don’t you just back off. You thinking about retiring?’ No. I like what I do. I enjoy what I do. Doesn’t even cross my mind.”
He doesn’t need to do it. He wants to do it.
“A long time ago, I realized that you don’t do it for the money,” Kiger said. “You do it because you love it and because you love the game and you love and respect the people that you work with who work very, very hard and are so professional and want to do a great job. I mean, I’m working with people that I’ve worked with since the early ‘80s and everybody, to this day, still loves what they do.”
A sequence of events after he arrived on the UNC campus as a freshman in fall 1971 helped catapult his career.
His first break came when he was an intramural referee and became the assistant supervisor of intramural officials on campus. It proved helpful because he then became an understudy to one supervisor — a fellow student two years older than him named Roy Williams.
That connection with a future coaching legend helped him work for a coach who already was a legend — Dean Smith. For four years, Kiger was part of Smith’s statisticians staff.
“There’s no question that was an incredible, wonderful opportunity that I had no idea at the time would be such a wonderful springboard for opportunities later on,” Kiger said.
Keeping statistics for Coach Smith was a little different than keeping them for TV broadcasts. Kiger kept a shot chart, an assist/turnover chart and numerous defensive statistics. He didn’t go to every practice but was there as part of the stats crew for every game.
Always looking for an edge, Smith also had Kiger keep referee statistics. Kiger charted each call. Kiger noted the time, score, which official made the call, what the call was and the reaction.
Smith hoped to uncover trends with the data.
“He gave the officials the greatest compliment,” Kiger said. “After two seasons, he came to me and said, ‘We’re probably not going to do this anymore because what I have found, there’s no evidence when somebody shows up there are more charges than block calls.
Smith also concluded that the number of interior or perimeter fouls wasn’t that different if one referee was working or another and that there was nothing to be gained by charting referees.
By the time he graduated with a history degree in 1974, his only broadcast experience was with UNC’s student radio station, which, at the time, was WCAR. After he got his master’s in education (with an emphasis on history) in 1977, he started a 20-year career as a teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools. At the start of his second school year, he got his first break in broadcasting.
“There’s no question that keeping statistics for Coach Smith, people noticed. I didn’t think they would,” Kiger said.
Bob Holliday, the former WRAL sports anchor who still writes for WRALSportsFan.com, was a color analyst at the time on the Tar Heel Sports Network (from 1975 until he joined WRAL in 1981). He needed a stats person and knew of Kiger’s undergraduate work with Smith.
An eighth-grade history teacher at Phillips Junior High School at the time, he jumped at the chance to join the network as a side job when Holliday gave him the chance.
For the next six seasons, he kept statistics for the network and did work with WCHL. He still does a trivia segment each weekday morning on Ron Stutts’ WCHL morning drive-time show.
He also was Woody Durham’s color analyst on football broadcasts for four seasons before Mick Mixon, now the radio voice of the Carolina Panthers, took over that role.
In the early 1980s, he began keeping statistics on TV broadcasts for CBS, NBC and Jefferson Pilot, mostly for basketball. He left the Tar Heel Sports Network in 1988 to devote more time to the TV work.
While with the THSN, he worked with Durham, Mixon, Holliday, Draggan Mihailovich and Henry Hinton, among others. In 1988, through his association with Mihailovich — who, by that time had become ABC’s chief researcher for Olympic coverage — Kiger was an ABC researcher for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. He worked with Jim McKay and Peter Jennings.
“I spent a month working with them,” Kiger said. “What an incredible experience. That experience, holy smoke, gave me an opportunity for a lot of doors nationally to open.”
That included being part of ESPN’s golf tour coverage for several years before being the lead statistician for ESPN’s Saturday night games, working with Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried and doing Final Fours broadcasts.
“At that point, one thing led to the another. I was very, very blessed,” Kiger said. “Beginning in 1988, ’89, when I started the ESPN golf tour, it was nonstop. Golly Pete, I was living in airports.”
During that time, he was one of the charter researchers, writers and fact-checkers for ESPN’s “SportsCentury” series (the forerunner of “30 for 30”). He won three Emmys for being part of that team that included Chris Fowler and Chris Berman. (He’s also won an Ace, which was the cable equivalent of an Emmy, for a Duke-UNC basketball broadcast.
Being a researcher sometimes requires tedious tasks, with one example coming as they were working on the Ray Lewis “SportsCentury” episode.
“One weekend, I had to read 108 pages of court testimony so that we could use one sentence … because we wanted to be accurate,” Kiger said. “I wasn’t happy with Ray Lewis that spring weekend.
The “SportsCentury” work also required travel. All the travel got old, and, beginning in 2003, he decided to limit his work to ACC broadcasts in 2003. He became the lead statistician for Raycom’s football broadcast as well as working basketball games.
He was hoping to reduce his travel, but the expanding ACC wasn’t in on his plan. Kiger’s move was just before the league expansion added Miami and Boston College, so he still sees plenty of airports. That only got worse with the additions of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in 2013 and Louisville in 2014.
Kiger, who is an ESPN employee with the title of “recurring remote statistician,” estimates that he works around 75 games each year. He’ll work 10 to 15 women’s games during the regular season, a few days of the ACC women’s tournament and work NCAA women’s tournament games. He’s worked every women’s Final Four since the 1990s.
Although he won’t work more than one game a day this regular season, he’s done plenty of doubles over the years. When Wake Forest played its home games at the Greensboro Coliseum years ago, he once worked a Demon Deacons game at noon, a 4 p.m. game at Duke and a 9 p.m. game at N.C. State on the same day.
In the middle of February, he’ll have a stretch of six games in eight days and, of course, during the ACC Tournament, he’ll work nine games in five days.
Even before arriving at the arena, usually about three hours before the broadcast, he spends at least an hour that day (or the night before for a day game) going through game notes and ACC notes to prepare and complete his stat sheet.
At the arena, he usually teams with Maddrey — with whom he’s worked around 900 games over the years — to put get their statistical boards together. In the case of Chapel Hill, it’s in a hallway in the bowels of the Smith Center.
“We try to make certain that the announcers have statistical documentation for why things are going as they are,” Kiger said.
Kiger’s job is usually “official stats” and Maddrey’s job is “talent stats.” Maddrey, in below photo, who has been a Raleigh resident since 1979, sits next to the announcers and frequently interacts with and concentrates on listening to them. Kiger rarely hears the announcers in his headset for ESPN games but has the option of doing so for Raycom games.
Kiger provides information to Maddrey (to pass on to the announcers), the TV truck, the graphics person, the slider person and the bug person. The slider person, a position only on ESPN games, handles statistics that slide onto then off the screen. The bug person handles the score box and needs to know the score, team fouls and timeouts.
“It is a ballet, if you will. It’s live television, and, when it all works, it really energizing,” said Kiger, who adds that a big part of his job is to anticipate what’s about to happen. “We see something, we’ve prepared for something and are prepared that, as soon as it happens, we’re able to communicate it or send it to the truck or pass it to the announcers.”
For an ESPN broadcast, Kiger listens to as many as five people in his headset over the course of a game and up to three for Raycom or Fox Sports South games. Twice this season — for the Feb. 20 UNC at Duke game and Feb. 26 for the Syracuse at UNC game — he’ll work for ESPN and Raycom at the same time and as many as eight people will converse with him during a game.
As soon as a player reaches a milestone, or a record is broken, Kiger and Maddrey make sure that it’s immediately on the screen and the announcers are aware of it.
“We’re the statistical cymbal clash,” Kiger said. “We get to jump on it. It is an art. John Maddrey likes to say that our statistics are kind of the percussion of the broadcast orchestra.”
Years ago, sports reporters had to wait until halftime or after the game to get official statistics. In recent years, most schools use the StatBroadcast Systems service, which allows reporters to see statistics updated in real time. Kiger says that he, Maddrey and Kosempa — who he also works with a lot — keep statistics by hand and only use the computer statistics to verify and double-check. Both use the same statistics sheet form.
Some of the younger statisticians rely totally on the computer.
“That works as long as the computer is running,” Kiger said. “You get a locked screen, you have a power problem and you haven’t been keeping anything? Oh, my goodness. That’s bad news. For us to be doing it manually, if anything happens, we’re covered. Not to mention, too, by doing it manually, allows us to be very much part of the ebb and flow of the game.”
Like many people who have been involved in Raycom’s ACC broadcasts in recent years, Kiger is anxious to know what happens when Raycom stops televising league games and gives way to the ACC Network after this season.
“Next year, it’s a whole new ballgame,” Kiger said of when ACC Network debuts in August. “The ACC Network is going to be all ESPN. The ramifications for so many of my Raycom broadcast buddies … what does that mean? Will ESPN allow Raycom to still do games and, if so will it be Raycom people?”
Whatever shakes down after Raycom’s last ACC broadcast, you know for sure that Kiger will be in the press box or at the scorer’s table crunching the numbers.
Major media companies merge
On Monday, the merger of the two main college sports media companies that oversee school networks around the country was completed with Learfield and IMG College forming Learfield IMG College.
This will put all the state’s major college radio networks under one company.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
Former UNC star Reggie Bullock is making a name for himself with the Detroit Pistons. And, no, that name isn’t Randy, as James L. Edwards III wrote in The Athletic.
In The Athletic, Travis Haney wrote about how new Charlotte 49ers football coach Will Healy had his interview for the job canceled, only to get a second chance. As the second-youngest FBS coach, he brings a lot of energy and welcomes comparisons to when Mack Brown first arrived at Chapel Hill in the late 1980s.
What are the Top 25 sports venues in North Carolina? Shawn Krest compiled the SportsChannel8 list that included sites for college and pro football, pro hockey, minor league baseball, golf and…oh, yeah, college basketball, too.
One punch from Wake Forest assistant basketball coach Jamil Jones led to the death of Sandor Szabo, who was in New York City for a wedding. His mom, Raleigh’s Donna Kent, couldn’t understand why Jones isn’t facing murder charges. In The N&O and Herald-Sun, Andrew Carter wrote about Kent’s grief and why Jones isn’t facing stiffer charges.
C.L. Brown wrote in The Athletic about how former UNCW coach Kevin Keatts is changing the culture at N.C. State.
What’s was it like to be a Wolfpack player on a road trip during the Valvano era? On his One Brick Back blog, N.C. State historian Tim Peeler, an author and former Herald-Sun sports writer, wrote an interesting account of one trip the Wolfpack took to Hawaii. Let’s just say that the players paid casual attention to Valvano’s instructions about what not to do off the court.