Colleagues, coaches remember Hubert Mizell

Hubert Mizell, left, shares a laugh with Bob Costas, right, while Bobby Bowden speaks during a retirement roast at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in 2001 in Tampa. [Times files]
Hubert Mizell, left, shares a laugh with Bob Costas, right, while Bobby Bowden speaks during a retirement roast at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in 2001 in Tampa. [Times files]
Published Mar. 4, 2016

Remembering longtime St. Petersburg Times sports columnist Hubert Mizell, who died Thursday

Bob Costas, NBC analyst and host, who emceed a roast of Mizell at his retirement:

"He might have been among the last of a breed in that there wasn't a thimble's worth of cynicism in him. Maybe a journalist's skepticism now and then, but he wrote more often about what he appreciated in sports and in people. He wrote about the things he enjoyed and saw the shared experience, the fun of it, the friendships and associations made. He reveled in the time he spent at the Final Four or at the Masters golf tournament. Not just because they were big events, but because people gathered there for a period of time. It wasn't a quick dash-in and dash-out. You saw your fellow professionals, the past and present competitors. You saw the people that made up the fabric of an event or of a sport. He kept those associations going. I always got the feeling that those relationships he enjoyed were as important to Hubert as the events themselves.

"You never felt like he was looking to diminish people, but rather to find what was best about them.''

Bob Knight, retired college basketball coach:

"Hubert was one of the very, very best writers that I was acquainted with during the time that I coached. Part of the reason for that is he just really, really liked the game of basketball. He had a really good knowledge of the game. I always enjoyed the times I discussed the game with him because he had such good insight into the various parts of the game.

"As a writer, I thought it would be hard to find anybody who was more knowledgeable or more accurate in his reporting than Hubert was. You never had to be careful about talking to Hubert. He just had a great sense of delivery in his writing and was extremely fair about things as a writer.

"There was nobody better than he was. I'm sad about his passing."

Kevin Mizell, Hubert's son:

"Bobby Knight, Bob Costas and Dick Vitale. They've all already called to express their feelings and talk about dad. Bobby Knight said my dad was the only media guy he liked because he told it how it is, but was always very fair. He said they don't make them like that anymore."

Tony La Russa, Tampa native and baseball Hall of Famer:

"He had a job to do, and he earned your respect and your trust. He was in it for the real story, not to sensationalize anything, not to make anything up. I had great respect."

Lou Piniella, Tampa native/longtime MLB player and manager:

"He was a giant in the newspaper world.

"Nice man. Just a tremendous writer and human being. He really knew how to conduct an interview professionally and translate it so the reader could digest it and understand it and enjoy it.

"I really enjoyed talking with him and listening to his stories. He was very knowledgeable about the sports world."

Steve Spurrier, 1966 Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and former coach:

"I've known Hubert since I played at Florida, so 45-50 years. Hubert was one of the real good guys in sports writing. He covered the games, he covered the people, he didn't look for the negative. He told it like it was. I don't know of anybody in the sports world who had an issue with Hubert or anything he wrote."

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Bobby Bowden, former Florida State football coach:

"He and I did a lot of interviews together, and he and I played a lot of golf together. I really enjoyed Hubert. I thought he was one of the cleverest writers I'd been around. I just hate to hear that he passed away. He was one of my favorites."

Jack Nicklaus, Hall of Fame golfer:

"I've known Hubert for a long time. He's been a good guy and a good friend. He interviewed me countless times and he did some really nice articles on me. … He understood the game. He understood what his role was and what my role was and how we could best accomplish things together.

"He was one of the good guys."

Dick Vitale, ESPN college basketball analyst:

"A great man. You're talking about one of the all-time legends in journalism. Not just locally in St. Petersburg, but across the nation. Few men in the business had more respect and admiration among those he covered than Hubert Mizell."

Dave Scheiber, former Times staff writer:

"Hubert was larger than life. He was the heart and soul of the Times' sports section. He was connected to the community and the community was connected to him. He wrote like a regular guy and that's what endeared him to the readers. He was their man in the press box. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. There wasn't anybody out there who he couldn't pick up the phone and get a hold of.

"He had a great sense of humor. He was famous for his running commentary in the press box of Bucs games back in the old days when they were really bad. He would comment throughout the game and he would have everyone cracking up.''

"I was a kid when I first started there and I was in awe of Hubert. We all were. We all remember him for his great columns, but a lot of people might forget that he could write incredibly detailed and rich game stories. That was part of his talent."

Bruce Lowitt, former Times staff writer:

When Lowitt joined the Times, his first story about Mizell started with this phrase about looking at a note on Hubert's computer: "To write, hit create." To which Lowitt added, "If only it was that easy."

"I had the dual honor of working with Hubert when we were colleagues at the Associated Press and occupying Hubert's seat to write my first column — about his first departure and the impact he had on the Suncoast — when I joined the St. Petersburg Times in 1986. He was a most gracious friend."

Marc Topkin, Times staff writer:

"What struck me the most, and left me in the most awe, as a young reporter at the Times was how easy Hubert made it look. He knew everyone. He could get anyone to talk to him. And he wrote a better column than any of us could ever hope to.

"Also, how kind and accommodating and willing to help young reporters he was. Except for when he left me at the 1989 earthquake World Series in San Francisco — which we would still joke about years later."

Rick Stroud, Times staff writer:

"We traveled to Bucs and Gators games together for years and I was always struck by how early he wanted to get to the stadium, not to prepare for his job, but to spend time with people and bask in the atmosphere. I don't think I will ever work with a man who enjoyed his job as much as Hubert did.

For someone who grew up reading him, he inspired me to choose working at the St. Petersburg Times as a career. I was stunned the first time he called me by name, that's how much of a giant he was to many of us. Above all else, this was a good man."

Jack Sheppard, former Times deputy managing editor/sports:

"Hubert absolutely loved his job as sports columnist for the then-St. Petersburg Times. For several decades he stood face-to-face with the biggest sports stars on the planet and shared their stories with his friends and neighbors throughout Tampa Bay. He was honored by his peers as the best columnist in the nation at a time when newspaper journalism was in its heyday, which speaks volumes. For generations of Times subscribers, reading Hubert was as much a part of their morning routine as a cup of hot coffee. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marcy and Kevin at this difficult time, but I know they are immensely proud of the work Hubert did, and the man he became."

Bob Harig, former Times staffer and current ESPN golf writer:

"Whenever I traveled somewhere in my early days for the St. Pete Times, it always struck me how much Hubert was the face of the paper, even the face of our area as it related to sports. Everybody knew him, everybody asked about him. When they thought of the St. Petersburg Times, it was Hubert who came to mind because he represented the paper at so many different events over the years. They might not have known exactly where St. Pete was, but they knew of it because of Hubert.

"Hubert loved to play and write about golf and he was on a first-name basis with many of golf's legends. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player among them. They knew him and he knew them, even to chat beyond the game, about each other's families and such. It was a different time, when it was easier to get to know players. Obviously it was great to be at these events with him, because he knew everyone and made it a point to introduce you to them. Hubert especially loved the Masters, an event he covered more than 40 times. He was there for Jack's sixth in '86 and Tiger's first in '97, and he was especially pleased to be at St. Andrews in 2000 when Tiger achieved the career Grand Slam."

Steve Nohlgren, retired Times staff writer:

Nohlgren was the executive sports editor and Mizell the sports editor from 1978-83:

"Hubert and I ran the Times sports department together for five years (1978-83). I remember a big man with a big heart who loved golf, his job and his family. He was a great poker player with an extra asset — as the night wore on, the rest of us kept drinking and Hubert never touched a drop."

Buddy Martin, former Times sports editor/author

Martin and Mizell went way back to the University of Florida together. Martin hired Hubert away from Golf Digest to work at the Times:

"He was the veritable Jerry Seinfeld of the press box. He was known for his sense of humor and his quips. He was a giant in the industry. Not many have Bob Costas emcee their retirement party. …

"He was my seatmate at UF games the last few years and he would look around and say I don't know these people. Most of the people he knew were gone. And now he's gone. He had a hard time accepting things had changed so dramatically.

"Make sure you put in there Hubert was one of the best hires I ever made."

Former Times staffer Jeff Klinkenberg, who was hired away from the Miami News as outdoors editor by Mizell in 1977:

"He really gave me a new lease on life.

"I wanted to write stories; I was a storyteller. And that's what he wanted me to do. He wasn't really looking for a writer who could tell the readers how to bait a hook. He was looking for someone to sort of take advantage of all the colorful characters out there. … The door was opened for me in my career when Hubert made that phone call.

"He was an extremely colorful character. I mean, he was not what you would call a traditional writer. He used sort of made-up words. He used words like 'studly.' … But he just wrote with great color and it was fun to read. He started on the front page, which I did, too, when somebody who wrote with color was probably a little more welcome than right now.

"I think one way to judge department heads and leaders is by who they hire, and Hubert hired really good people. At one time, we were considered one of the top 10 sports departments in the country. So I think he had an eye for talent, and the thing about Hubert was, some sports editors and columnists might not want a lot of writing competition. It's kind of sad to say, but that's true. But that was not the case with Hubert. He seemed to be really excited when some of his young people started to make a name for themselves."

Rick Dodge, longtime St. Petersburg city administrator involved in the baseball pursuit:

"I don't think there was anyone who was more involved in the sports fabric of the community than Hubert was. With Hubert, it was never an interview, it was more like a conversation. You felt like you were in a bar talking with someone who probably knew more about the subject that you did, but he didn't let on."

Leigh Montville, Boston Globe columnist:

"Good guy. I always thought he was one of the few adults in the room."

Rick Vaughn, Rays vice president of communications

"For all he accomplished, I saw him as a humble, Southern gentleman. He took me under his wing when I started here in 1996 and gave me a thorough education on the community, the people I would be meeting and about the history of Tampa Bay sports. He still called regularly to get the latest on the Rays."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

"Hubert Mizell's name is legendary in sportswriting. His dedication to the craft left a lasting mark and impacted millions of people in this region and beyond. Mr. Mizell was a true tribute to his profession. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and all those who loved and admired him."

Tampa Bay Rays, on Facebook:

"Mizell and Tom McEwen were Mantle and Maris to Tampa Bay area sports fans for decades."

Steve McClain, University of Florida athletic department spokesman:

"We are sad to hear of the passing of Hubert Mizell. Hubert was a respected member of the Gainesville community in his retiremeetirement and a giant in the history of Florida journalism. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Hubert's family and friends."

USF athletic department:

"Big loss for Tampa Bay sports community with the passing of sportswriting legend Hubert Mizell. Our thoughts are with the Mizell family."

Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel sports columnist, on Twitter:

"RIP, Hubert Mizell — the legendary columnist of the St. Pete Times. … Mt. Rushmore of Florida columnists: Hubert Mizell, Tom McEwen, Larry Guest, Edwin Pope."

Ira Kaufman, Tampa Tribune sportswriter, on Twitter:

"Hubert Mizell was a classy gentleman and a standout columnist for many years in the Tampa Bay area. It's a big loss."

Shaun King, former Bucs quarterback and current USF quarterbacks coach, on Twitter:

"ALWAYS treated me honest and fair. He was a great guy. RIP."

Peter King, Sports Illustrated senior writer, on Twitter:

"A good man, that Hubert Mizell. RIP."

Times staff writers Tom Jones, Joey Knight, Rick Stroud and Marc Topkin contributed to this report.