“I’m not so sure I’d be good enough," Meharg recalled saying.
A few days later, Meharg called back and said she’d be interested. By mid-November — five days before leading the Terps to their second consecutive national championship — she had the job. And after one trial run, in June — an NBC Sports Network broadcast of the U.S.’s 2-2 draw with Argentina — Meharg will depart for New York this week, ready for three weeks unlike any in her career.
“I’ve never done something like this,” the nine-time national coach of the year said from her office on Friday. “We’ve got a whole group of people that are going to be doing the same thing.”
The field hockey broadcasts, like those of several other sports, will be done live from a studio in Manhattan. Meharg — who was in Beijing as a spectator in 2008 and in Atlanta as an assistant U.S. coach in 1996 — is scheduled to work 20 games, many in the middle of the night because of the time difference. She’ll do men's and women’s broadcasts, and already knows that one of her biggest obstacles will be objectivity.
After all, she helped coach the U.S. program for five years, has aided in the selection process for the under-21 team and worked with two members of the U.S. team — Keli Smith Puzo and Katie O'Donnell — in College Park.
“I was already reprimanded about not referring to the team as ‘us’ or ‘we,’ ” Meharg said. “I was definitely not neutral [during the June broadcast], and that’s something I want to adjust. Have to do some more work in the mirror, apparently.”
But Meharg doesn’t have to be neutral about her love of the game. And with recent international rule changes and the rise of smoother-playing synthetic fields, she thinks field hockey is ready to attract a bigger U.S. audience. Like so many other sports fans, she was drawn into Olympic curling in Vancouver two years ago, suddenly gripped by a sport she previously knew nothing about.
“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, if field hockey ever had this opportunity...’ ” she said last week. “I just became a fan of a game I never knew, and I’m hopeful that can be what I make accessible to the American people, particularly with the men’s game. It’s quite a historical game, and I really want to get that message out to people, and convince them not to change the channel.”
Meharg, I should note, is hardly a novice in front of a camera. She’s created seven teaching tapes and DVDs, and early in her career did color commentary for NCAA field hockey and lacrosse.
Since then, she built Maryland into a field hockey behemoth, coaching 49 all-Americans, making 14 appearances in the NCAA final four, and winning seven titles, including five of the past seven. I asked whether her NBC work would help her recruiting efforts and she said she never considered that.
She was more concerned, she said, with talking directly to the thousands of young players who rarely get a chance to see their sport on national television.
The Olympics take place “during every single scholastic preseason in the country, and I hope coaches just let them watch hockey [occasionally] instead of practicing,” she said. “There are just such limited opportunities for our young players to see live hockey of this level.”
NBC Sports asked Meharg to begin tweeting, so she started an account with an initial goal of one tweet a day. Her real work starts with three hours of production meetings Tuesday morning, and she’ll head to New York with significantly more confidence than she originally expressed.
“I feel very, very prepared,” she told me. “In retrospect, I feel I’m very qualified. I love this game, and I look forward to really showcasing it through this medium.”