Maryland coach Missy Meharg will have to talk the talk

As the coach of a storied Maryland field hockey program that has won five of the past seven national championships, Missy Meharg has been interviewed more times than she can count.

But now the coach-turned-Olympic broadcaster says her greatest challenge is asking the questions that she has become so accustomed to answering.

“I was so uncertain of the whole interview, live-interviewing people. I had never done that,” Meharg said of the game she broadcast last month between the United States and Argentina. “Thankfully, I just sat there thinking ‘OK, this can’t be that hard. I just have to pretend that I’m them.’ I just kind of faked it ‘til I made it.”

The nine-time national Coach of the Year will be the lone color commentator for NBC’s Olympic field hockey coverage. But apart from a few women’s basketball and lacrosse broadcasts 20 years ago, a series of instructional coaching DVDs and the handful of field hockey games she has called in the past year, Meharg has little broadcasting experience. Moving from the sideline to the television booth will be an exciting yet challenging transition.

“I love the game, and I love talking about it,” she said. “It feels right, so we’ll see how I do. It’s obviously not my profession, but I feel pretty comfortable with it.”

Last October, Meharg received a call on her cellphone from a number she didn’t recognize. It was nine-time Emmy Award-winning producer Molly Shannon informing her that she was one of three finalists for NBC’s field hockey color commentating position.

Meharg’s experience as an international player and coach made her an attractive candidate, as did Maryland’s unprecedented success of late. When NBC offered her the position, she saw an opportunity to spotlight the sport that desperately needs the exposure.

“I remember when curling went on in Vancouver [in the 2010 Winter Olympics]. I had never known about the sport, but they showed it and the commentator was great,” Meharg said. “I found myself learning about a sport that I wasn’t aware of.”

Field hockey can be confusing to pick up, and casual fans may be annoyed by some of the game’s more unusual rules — such as one that prohibits touching the ball with any part of the body — as well as its frequent stoppages in play. Meharg is tasked with explaining the basic rules to first-time fans while still satisfying the diehards with gritty details and analysis.

Entering her 25th year as Maryland’s coach, Meharg has been around the sport for as long as she can remember. Her ability to quickly identify and explain situations on the field, she said, is her greatest strength. Terps senior Janessa Pope agreed.

“I mean, she knows more about hockey than anyone I can think of, just the game, the tactics, strategy, things like that,” Pope said. “She’s so passionate about [it] that it’s really easy for her to talk about it and bring in her own experiences and her own knowledge.”

Meharg and play-by-play announcer Mike Corey will broadcast two or three games a day July 29 through Aug. 11 from a studio in New York. She will share housing arrangements with Olympic broadcasters for other sports and operate out of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

“I’ll be like on the set of Saturday Night Live, apparently,” she said.

Meharg is excited to share field hockey with a new audience and hopefully help the sport grow in the process. But back in College Park, players such as Pope are equally excited to see their longtime coach on television.

“It’s going to be very weird seeing her on the screen, and it’ll probably be really funny for us to hear her say the stuff she says at practice on TV,” Pope said. “But I think she’ll do a great job.”

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