The force behind the Fox 11 Sports Force is leaving.
KMSB sports director Vinnie Vinzetta, who started the local Sunday night sports show from scratch six years ago, is leaving in July for a job in San Antonio.
“I didn’t think I would be this emotionally attached,” Vinzetta said.
“I put my life into this the past six years. This is just something I should not say no to. But it’s going to be tough to leave here. I really have an emotional connection to a lot of people who have helped me out. When we started, we were the new guys on the street.”
Vinzetta, 38, will be the new No. 2 sports reporter on San Antonio’s KENS, a CBS affiliate that is owned, as is KMSB, by Belo Corp.
No doubt, Vinzetta has been one of the good guys on Tucson TV — personable, friendly, someone who took the work, but not himself, too seriously. (I’ll miss, yelling “VINNIE!” whenever I see him at a news conference or a game.)
Ask him about his favorite moments among his six years in Tucson, and he talks first about people, not events, like bowl games and NCAA Tournaments and NCAA championships.
“What comes to mind first is I was able to say some kind words about Larry Smith on the air when he passed away, because he was too young,” Vinzetta said.
Smith, the former head coach at Arizona (among other places), died in January 2008 after a long bout with lymphatic leukemia. He was 68. Smith had been a regular football analyst for Vinzetta on the Fox 11 Sports Force.
“I was afraid of him at first, but he comes in here and treats me like a grandson. He was the best.”
If so, Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez isn’t far behind.
“Andy Lopez has been like a second father to me,” Vinzetta said.
“We attend the same church. I love that man dearly. He has given me a lot of good life advice. He means everything to me.”
Vinzetta continues on mentioning names, including high school football coaches Jay Campos, Dennis Bene and Dustin Peace, who made frequent appearances on the Sports Force and on the nightly newscasts. Those are some of the bigger names in the local high school scene, but Vinzetta said he always wanted to go beyond that.
“I don’t care if it was for a small audience — I really don’t care — but I really felt it was important to give as much love to Pima and small high schools as the U of A,” he said. “That’s the way I see it. Local to me means local. There is a real sense of community in Tucson, but UA is not all there is.”
Another frequent guest on his show to discuss Arizona athletics has been Brad Allis of Wildcat Sports Report, also a blogger at TucsonCitizen.com. Allis helped Vinzetta navigate the UA sports world upon his arrival in August 2005.
“He was amazing to me,” Vinzetta said. “A blessing to me.”
Vinzetta launched the Sports Force with the help of sports reporter Brandon Nash, who left KMSB last summer to pursue a different career. Vinzetta said the 40-minute Sports Force (9:20 p.m.) will continue on with Kevin Lewis and a new hire.
Vinzetta, raised in southeast Oklahoma by adoptive parents, spent eight years working in Lubbock, Texas, before arriving in Tucson. Earlier this year, he was reunited with his birth family.
William Brent Vinzetta begins his new job on July 18.
“It’s a scary proposition, but it’s something I have to face,” he said.
“I’m going to have to be shaking a lot of hands and let folks know I can be trusted. … I try to be humble and not use vanity in this business, but it’s butterflies in my tummy. I have to press on and see how successful I can be in San Antonio.
“But I have friends for life in Tucson and I will never forget this place.”
Assuming the NFL can sort out its labor problems, one of Vinzetta’s first assignments in San Antonio could be covering the Dallas Cowboys training camp.
“I’ll have to do my best,” Vinzetta said with a playful tone in his voice, “to not let anyone down there know I’m a Redskins fan.”