If Laura Rutledge had any doubts she had found her place at ESPN, they were erased on Dec. 4.
That’s the morning the word leaked out that Urban Meyer was abruptly leaving Ohio State, and 20 minutes before “Get Up!” was set to air, the entire show had to be torn up and re-imagined in real time.
“And it was Greeny [Mike Greenberg] and I looking at each other saying, ‘Hey, do you want the next question?’ ” Rutledge said.
“Almost non-verbal communication as we flew by the seats of our pants. There are so many things like that happen in live television and I love that. That’s the thrill that keeps me coming back for more every single day.”
Rutledge has become the success story of ESPN’s morning show, one that initially appeared to be cursed when it launched two summers ago under intense scrutiny and underwhelming ratings. Rutledge, who also is a host on the SEC Network, was among several anchors chosen to sit next to Greenberg and Jalen Rose after Michelle Beadle’s highly publicized exit.
In the time since, the 31-year-old Rutledge has received two contract extensions from ESPN, with one this week giving her permanent status on “Get Up!” as the show has experienced audience growth over the past eight months. Rutledge’s chemistry with Greenberg and college football background has made her a natural fit on a show that focuses on football and basketball.
“I learned how to host on the fly,” said Rutledge, who worked at CNN and HLN before coming to ESPN in 2014. “I feel like I personally have a long way to go. I am constantly trying to find ways to incorporate personality and authenticity. I think people like that from where they are sitting at home.
“Learning from Greeny is what’s allowed me to get to this point, and having those opportunities. I am the first one to tell you that I don’t have all of this figured out. What really matters is being as genuine as you possibly can be. … I never thought I’d be anything more than a fill-in, [and] honestly there is something great about that, too. I was just grateful for any chance that I got.”
Now, comes the next challenge. Rutledge has been off “Get Up!” since September as she went on maternity leave. She gave birth to her daughter Reese in early October, returned to her hosting duties at “SEC Nation” several weeks after that and will be back to her role at “Get Up!” in the first week of December, just in time for bowl season and the lead up to the College Football Playoff.
“I got pregnant and I realized that I’d be having my baby right in the middle of football season. I thought, ‘Wow, I really did not plan this really well.’ It’s weird because now that she’s here and I know her, I am thinking how could I have ever been so selfish to think about my career at that time,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge and her family live in Alabama and are still figuring out the logistics of how to split time between Birmingham and New York, near the show’s Manhattan studio. Some will depend on Reese’s affinity for flying.
“I will say during my time off I was very frustrated cause I wanted to be working and I never really had a time where I couldn’t work,” Rutledge said. “I’ve always kind of been grinding it out, so to not be able to do that was kind of making me crazy. but also really good at the same time. It was good to get that perspective and I got to watch a lot of sports too, which is a lot of fun.”