Jay Posner was a professional Monday morning quarterback.
Until his recent retirement as sports editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Posner also called signals on his paper’s coverage the rest of the week.
But in a wide-ranging interview that touched on his L.A. Chargers coverage philosophy, his need to call family friend Elliott Gould and his 3 1/2-year exile to the U-T Arts Section, he revealed how he sought to exercise his free-agent rights.
In 2012, during the “U-T San Diego” ownership of real-estate tycoon “Papa” Doug Manchester with former radio executive John Lynch as the paper’s CEO, Posner looked for work in L.A.
“I interviewed for one job during that time …. not with a newspaper, [but] with a sports organization,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Posner, now 60, thought the interview went fairly well but didn’t get the job.
He would have been missed a decade earlier than he is now, especially by Nick Canepa, the veteran columnist who now writes mainly Sundays and grades the Chargers’ games (but calls the team “Judases/L.A. Lodgers.”)
In a Thanksgiving column, Canepa saluted Posner “for retiring under his own terms. Whatever that means, certainly not terms of endearment.”
Canepa later told Times of San Diego that Posner [pronounced POZE-ner] was a friend long before he was sports editor for close to nine of his nearly 34 years at the paper.
“I had worked alongside of him when he worked the Chargers for the Escondido Times-Advocate, and Clark Judge and I pushed him for an opening on the Tribune,” Canepa wrote. “We called him ‘Factman.’ Jay is precise, diligent, highly opinionated and doesn’t suffer fools.”
Canepa said that if you made a mistake, he caught it.
“Jay was the ideal sports editor because he listens and pays attention to everything. He is a fan of sports. The locker room dustup with Ryan Leaf, of course, made Jay national, although what he wrote to upset that guy was innocuous.” (And Chargers washout QB Leaf later apologized in a radio show.)
He concluded: “If Jay disagreed with me, he let me know, but he didn’t change anything, which was good, because I was right. One thing about Jay. He married well. Julie is great.”
Also asked for comment was Tim Sullivan, the recently pink-slipped Louisville Courier Journal sports columnist who left the U-T after a decade and his own dustup — over mandated downtown stadium boosterism.
“Long before he became the U-T’s sports editor, Jay wrote insightfully and demonstrated a remarkable breadth of knowledge on multiple beats of keen interest to San Diego readers: the Chargers, the Padres, horses, local radio and television, the NBA and more,” Sullivan said.
“He and Bill Center were two of the most versatile and prolific writers I have known. Both were cool under deadline pressure and great company. I used to tease Jay that the only reason he took me along on Lakers trips was so he could use the carpool lane, but it was time well spent.”
Sullivan said he learned a lot from Posner and was confident he would “resurface somewhere that allows him to continue informing and entertaining readers.”
Certainly, he won’t quit his Twitter perch, where he shares incisive takes on games.
In fact, Posner hopes to guest-opine on the Hot Lava podcast he did for four years with Padres beat writer Kevin Acee.
“We probably agreed more than we didn’t, but we definitely had our disagreements,” Posner said, “on certain players or certain managerial moves — that type of thing. … It’s one of the things I’ll miss going forward.”
Reasons for Retiring
What he won’t miss is the grind — 60 or 70 hours a week.
He said he seemed more on edge, more stressed and wasn’t sleeping very well before his exit.
“I would say that I almost never had a true day off,” he said during a chat at a bagel shop not far from the former Chargers practice facility in Murphy Canyon.
“You know, getting up in the morning and if anything happened, like on a Saturday morning or Sunday morning. I was responsible for that. Helping the desk on a Saturday or a Sunday night. Maybe even just posting a couple stories during the day.”
Amid a bare-bones staff, he had a lot of responsibilities and had to communicate with writers piecemeal via text, email and Slack messages.
“I’m not out there building highways or digging ditches,” he said. “I’m not trying to say that it was difficult physical work, but it was just — a lot. I didn’t like what it was doing to me personally.”
Having to import a work atmosphere into his Tierrasanta home was a drag.
“I was rarely able to totally disengage from it and I just felt like … I was thankfully in a position to be able to [retire] and I just felt like it was the right time,” he said.
Having signed no nondisparagement agreement, Posner spoke freely about his sometimes rocky relationship with ex-CEO Lynch.
Assistant sports editor Posner succeeded Doug Williams as sports editor in June 2010 — with Williams unwilling to take part in a major set of layoffs.
But after Manchester bought the paper from Platinum Equity in late 2011, Posner found one of his bosses was Lynch, a subject of sometimes critical sports-radio columns.
“John and I had a history based on my media columns, and I don’t think the history was always positive — at least that’s his perspective,” Posner said.
Lynch didn’t think Posner was the person for the job, “which is fine — that’s his prerogative as the boss. So he wanted to bring in somebody else.”
The role left for him in the Sports section “wasn’t very appealing,” he said, so he looked into a job in the Arts and Entertainment section previously held by Tim Sullivan’s wife, Lisa.
He asked editor-in-chief Jeff Light to be considered for that job, “and so that’s how I switched over.”
The section’s editor, Chris Cantore, welcomed him on the team, and fellow arts editor Michael Rocha “could not have been nicer.”
Posner was in charge of producing the Night & Day tabloid, and Weekend and Sunday Arts sections. He regained his sports editor job in March 2016 after the paper’s sale to Tribune Publishing.
Chargers’ Exit Hit Hard
Ten months later, crisis hit Sports — and the entire Union-Tribune. Chargers owner Dean Spanos told his decision to move the team to Los Angeles.
“The Chargers without question were the biggest driver of website traffic of any topic in our region, [even] for the entire San Diego Union-Tribune,” Posner said. “Nothing, nothing moved the needle more than the Chargers.”
Even now, five years later, interest in the Chargers prevails.
“If we could write a story every day that had a negative headline about Dean Spanos in it, we would own the internet,” Posner said. “That’s easy to do … [but] that’s not what we’re about.”
So now the resurgent Padres and ever-competitive men’s basketball team at San Diego State rule the roost.
Though “nothing moves the needle” like the Chargers, the Padres in recent years have made “steps in that direction. … I think our coverage has gotten better with the addition of Kevin’s newsletter.”
He also hails soccer coverage (including the new San Diego Wave women’s pro team) by former Padres beat writer Tom Krasovic and SDSU hoops work by Mark Zeigler, also a soccer expert who this year missed his first FIFA World Cup in decades.
(But Posner wishes Canepa would watch more soccer and hockey on his 75-inch television. “It has a beautiful picture.”)
Posner is especially proud of his team’s performance during the pandemic — all working from home.
“A lot of people thought it was going to be impossible to do,” he said. “How are we going to produce the paper when nobody’s in the same room? One of our copy editors who used to live in San Diego now lives in Northern California outside of Santa Rosa. .. It was a little more challenging because we weren’t all just sitting there. But I think we showed that it can be done.”
How did Posner rise to his final position?
Posner was a Padre
Born at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles (whose baby alumni include Liza Minnelli and children of many stars, including Beyoncé, Madonna and Michael Jackson), Posner lived in the San Fernando Valley until he was 9 and in the fifth grade.
At Christmas break 1971, his family moved to Del Mar Heights. He attended Del Mar Shores Elementary School, Earl Warren Junior High and was part of the first freshman class at Torrey Pines High School.
In March 1977, the family moved to Carmel on the Central Coast — from a home off Carmel Valley Road.
“It’s a beautiful spot,” he says, but was “not a fan. I am now a huge fan of that area. I love visiting there as an adult” including part of his honeymoon. “Yeah, the only good thing that came of it was I played a lot of golf.”
He graduated in 1979 from Carmel High School, whose mascot was the Padres (but whose colors were red and gray). Never played sports as a prep, though he tried out for the baseball team (after some experience in Little League). He also played Pop Warner football for a year.
The journalism bug tackled him first, though.
While still in high school, Posner wrote sports roundups for The Carmel Pine Cone, a weekly paper later owned by Clint Eastwood.
His senior year, he also worked at a radio station owned by a private Pebble Beach school called the Robert Louis Stevenson School.
“I can’t even remember how I got in there,” Posner said. “But they let me do a Sunday morning radio show and I went on and basically talked about sports for a couple hours. … I’m sure it was just horrible.”
His turn toward sportswriting was based on his calculation that radio was “too volatile and I was more of a guy that wanted something stable. Back then, newspapers were much more stable than they are now.”
He went to UCLA, and began writing for the Daily Bruin his freshman year, “one of the top college papers in the country back then.” There being no journalism major, he earned a degree in political science and graduated in 1983.
After leaving Westwood, he sent resumes and letters to all the daily papers in San Diego County — five at that time.
Catching on with T-A
John Maffei at the Escondido Times-Advocate was the only one who responded, saying: “We need someone on Friday nights to answer the phones and … take the scores for all the [high school] games we don’t cover.”
Maffei gave him other assignments, San Diego Clipper basketball games in the winter of 1984 among them.
“I remember being able to go to the Padre games and that sort of thing,” he said.
In February 1985, Escondido colleague Don Norcross was hired by the U-T and Posner took over the Chargers beat.
“I was 22 years old,” he said, “and the first big thing I covered was the ’85 NFL draft. … I was there in the room with guys like [the U-T’s] Jerry Magee, Clark judge, Nick Canepa.”
(In recent years, he was boss of full-time U-T preps writer Maffei and freelancer Norcross, among others who left the paper.)
“It was so long ago that … John and I’ve never even really talked about that and like how if it was odd or anything,” he said.
Posner met Julie, his bride-to-be, when she came over to their house a few times since she worked with his corporate-trainer mother. They went on their first date Dec. 9, 1987 — using tickets from a friend to see the movie “Wall Street.”
“Our first date was me taking her to a free movie,” he conceded. “But I did buy her a drink afterward.”
They wed July 14, 1990 — Bastille Day. They have no children, but care for a cat.
At the U-T, the sports section was his baby. But thankfully nobody pressured him on how to clothe it.
He said he’s never been told to do more Chargers coverage — or less.
“That was always left up to me,” he said, although he’s aware of rumors “floating around” that “the L.A. Times owns us and tells us what to do.” (They don’t.)
“Not in all the 6 1/2 [years] that we were part of the same group, there was never a single person in L.A. who contacted me,” he said. U-T editor Light didn’t micromanage either.
But if Posner had a choice between an L.A. Times story and an AP story,
“we should try to use the L.A. Times story. Well, that only makes sense. Why wouldn’t we?”
All decisions about Chargers coverage were “mine and I will happily own.”
He says that when Krasovic, who writes about the NFL, does stories about the Chargers, they “still get more response and more more readers than any other team that he writes about.”
Posner says he was aware of his paper’s aging print-reader demographic, but didn’t know the age breakdown of the U-T’s online readership.
“I know some papers run some stories on E-sports and a couple of other things that sort of trend toward the younger people … and we didn’t. We did some [X Games] stuff because there were some X Games people from San Diego … like Tony Hawk and and Shaun White.”
No Sacred Cows
Did U-T Sports have any sacred cows — stories they wouldn’t run?
“I don’t believe so,” he said.
He recalls reports about Tony “Mr. Padres” Gwynn’s bankruptcies,
“It becomes a story when it either crosses onto the field or it affects the player,” Posner said. “If a player’s having an affair or something like that — I don’t think that’s any of our business. Just like it wouldn’t be their business if someone on our staff was doing something like that outside.”
Some boundaries shouldn’t be crossed, he said, though “some of those lines are becoming a little more blurred these days.”
Posner fesses up to untold family lore, however.
“My dad’s best friend in Brooklyn was Elliott Gould,” he said. “They grew up playing basketball together.”
His late father, an accountant, also played basketball in the Big Apple with Sandy Koufax. “He went to the University of Cincinnati. Wasn’t that tall.”
“And then I remember my dad in the ’70s, in L.A., playing basketball with Elliott and Jim Brown (during his post-NFL Hollywood days).”
The week after Posner’s dad died, he talked “quite a bit” with the man his brother and him call “Uncle Elliott.”
“I definitely owe Elliott a phone call,” he said.
These days, the almost-6-foot-4 Posner looks forward to playing more golf, where he’s shot in the 80s. His playing buddies include former U-T golf writer Tod Leonard, retired photographer Jim Baird, copy editor Phil Lewis, publicist Rich Schloss and former colleague Norcross.
In his farewell column Dec. 2, Posner recalls some favorite stories and colleagues.
But he neglected to tell of his own 1980s athletic prowess.
He and other U-T staffers played pickup football games at the old Chargers practice field near the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.
“I was the quarterback and, verify this, I was actually halfway decent,” he said. “Yeah, I could throw the ball. Well enough. Right-handed. I did not have a John Elway-type arm. … [but] I was pretty accurate.”