Bruning Speaker Series: ESPN’s McFarland emphasizes originality, authenticity

March 5, 2024

“I’m a country boy who says ‘y’all,’” Booger McFarland told students. “I am who I am. If you’re original, that’s probably going to be good enough. If it’s not, you’re probably in the wrong spot.”Photo by Kallen Lunt/College of Business Click to enlarge.

ESPN football analyst Booger McFarland encouraged an auditorium full of FSU College of Business students, faculty and staff to maintain a strong work ethic, to pursue careers that spark passion and especially to embrace their originality.

“I’m a country boy from Winnsboro, Louisiana, and I‘m very comfortable in that,” he said. “As you venture into whatever career you’re in, make sure you’re comfortable in that and know who you are.”

McFarland, a two-time Super Bowl champion who played nine NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, spoke as featured guest during the spring 2024 Charles A. Bruning Distinguished Speaker Series, a signature event of the college.

McFarland’s appearance drew more than 200 students, plus dignitaries including Bob Basham, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, co-founder and owner of PDQ and owner of Glory Days Inc.; and Danny Persaud, CEO and president of MidFlorida Armored & ATM Services and a member of the college’s Board of Governors executive committee. 

Also in attendance was longtime FSU associate head football coach Odell Haggins, the longest-serving assistant coach in school history.

"To me, he IS Florida State," two-time Super Bowl champion Booger McFarland, left, said of FSU associate head football coach Odell Haggins, right. Photo by Kallen Lunt/College of Business Click to enlarge.

McFarland said about Haggins, prompting applause: “I’ve been following him and watching him for a long time, and to me, he is Florida State. You see how kids play for him. If there were anyone I’d want to play for, it would be him.”

Michael Hartline, dean of the College of Business, introduced McFarland “as an authentic, insightful, entertaining and outspoken football analyst.”

McFarland emphasized the power of embracing those qualities, especially his authenticity. After he joined the ESPN family of networks in 2014, he said, a colleague reminded him that the company hired him to be himself, not someone else.

“I’m a country boy who says ‘y’all,’” he told students. “I am who I am. If you’re original, that’s probably going to be good enough. If it’s not, you’re probably in the wrong spot.”

To illustrate the importance of originality, he reminded students that Apple didn’t invent the phone but revolutionized it and that Chick-fil-A didn’t invent the chicken sandwich but perfected it. 

“They sure did something right because I have to sit in line for 20 minutes for a piece of chicken,” McFarland said to laughs. “So, you don’t have to invent something, but you have to be original in what you do. It’s just a matter of understanding who you are.”

Booger McFarland shares a moment with attendees of the spring 2024 Charles A. Bruning Distinguished Speaker Series. Photo by Kallen Lunt/College of Business Click to enlarge.

McFarland explored other topics, including:

Effort. “It’s a mentality that has developed in you, and that mentality doesn’t care where you come from,” he said. “It doesn’t care how much money you’ve got. It doesn’t care where you were raised. All that matters is the six inches between your ears to help cultivate this thing called work ethic.”

Passion. He said he enjoyed but didn’t love playing pro football. A few years after his retirement from the NFL, he received a call about his interest in launching a career in radio and television, where he found his love. “My eyes lit up,” he said. “A light went on that said maybe, just maybe, this was what I was supposed to be doing. I’m 46 years old, and I get an opportunity daily to talk about football. It’s one of the more fulfilling jobs in my life … I’m passionate about it. What is your passion?” 

A new generation of innovators. McFarland noted that his first phone, a prepaid cell phone in 1996 when he was a business student and All-America football player at Louisiana State University, lacked the features of today’s smartphones, including an ability to talk by video to and from virtually any place in the world. “So, in 25 years, look how far we’ve come,” he said. “Where are we going to be in the next 25? Better yet, who’s going to come up with (the next innovations)? Again, you don’t have to create a phone, but you’ve got to be original in what goes along with it. Be original. Who can be the most creative? Who can put their mindset to it. That’s what excites me.”

The College Football Playoff. Yes, McFarland addressed his sharp public criticism of the College Football Playoff Committee’s decision to leave FSU, the undefeated Atlantic Coast Conference champion, out of the four-team field that would contend for a national championship. “I try to speak from the heart,” he told audience members. “I try to say what’s right, and I try to share honestly what's on my heart and what’s going on inside. This is live, authentic television, and the response that I gave was honestly and genuinely what I feel. I try to stand up for what’s right.”

-- Pete Reinwald