More than a dynasty
Covering the culture of the South
When Mark Schlabach was offered a position covering college football for ESPN, he could hardly believe it.
“I think [ESPN] is the pinnacle of sports journalism today. It’s the company that everyone wants to work for,” says Schlabach (ABJ ’96). “I still pinch myself at the start of every college football season because I get to go sit in a college stadium press box on the sideline, cover a college football game and get paid pretty well for it.”
Schlabach initially explored his interest in sports journalism during his time at the University of Georgia. Journalism school and his work at The Red & Black, where he was sports editor, laid the foundation for Schlabach’s future work with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and ESPN.
“[UGA] gave me an opportunity not only to get great instruction at Grady but also to write for a student newspaper for a couple years, which put me way ahead of the game,” he says. “[The Red & Black] taught me all the fundamental tools you need to become a sports journalist.”
In 2012, Schlabach received a call that would push his career well beyond the newsroom. He had just finished co-writing a biography about former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden when Philis Boultinghouse, one of his editors at Howard Books, asked a peculiar question.
“She called me one day and asked if I had ever been duck hunting,” Schlabach says. “She said they had a family of duck hunters from Louisiana they thought would be a good match to collaborate on a book.”
That family was the soon-to-be famous Robertson clan from the swamp of West Monroe, La., the stars of A&E’s hit television show “Duck Dynasty.” The night of Boultinghouse’s call, Schlabach saw a special interview with the Robertsons on “20/20.” He immediately called her back to ask when he could start.
Since then, Schlabach has written a biography for nearly every member of the Robertson family, including Willie and Cory’s The Duck Commander Family, Phil’s Happy, Happy, Happy and Si’s Si-cology 1.
“One book became two books and now we’re on five books. It’s been quite a ride,” Schlabach says. “If you went there you would never think they’re worth what they’re worth today. Fortune and fame hasn’t changed them at all. They’re the same people as when I met them.”
Although a bit odd, Schlabach says the transition from covering college football to profiling a family of duck hunters has been easy and even natural due to their seemingly equal importance in Southern culture.
“I still like to tell good stories. I like to write stories that make people laugh, or stories that make people feel good,” he says. “I cover college football nationally, but a lot of my focus is in the South. I guess there’s a cultural intersection.”