Report: Stephen A. Smith Had ESPN Take Max Kellerman Off of “First Take”

ESPN has yet to announce who will be taking over as Smith's new co-host

Max Kellerman in July in NYC
Max Kellerman attends the 2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards.
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

In order to appease its most recognizable and highest-paid talking head, ESPN has removed one of his co-hosts from one of the network’s flagship shows, according to The New York Post.

Per The Post, Stephen A. Smith has wanted longtime co-host Max Kellerman removed from their popular debate show First Take for years because of the latter’s “smartest guy in the room” attitude and a desire for “more of a debating challenger.”

In a release yesterday, ESPN confirmed Kellerman’s role had shifted.

“Kellerman will host a new ESPN television series (more details to follow), after serving on ESPN’s popular First Take program alongside Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim Rose since July 2016,” per ESPN. “More information on the new Kellerman show and on First Take’s updated format will be announced soon. Kellerman will also continue to host his weekly boxing show, Max on Boxing on ESPN2.”

If there was indeed a power struggle within ESPN, it appears 53-year-old Smith, who has four years left on his five-year, $60 million contract, has emerged victorious.

“Love him or hate him, Stephen A. Smith works. And for that, ESPN has awarded him a lot of airtime, money and power,” according to The Post. “So First Take will be even more Smith’s show going forward. In the eyes of ESPN’s executives, he has earned that. Whatever you think of the hot-take shows, they live on sparks, and Smith and Kellerman never had the flair of Smith and Skip Bayless. Smith has told everyone who needs to know, including Kellerman, that it didn’t work well enough, according to sources.”

So who will meet Smith’s standards for a debate partner? Front Office Sports has one potential candidate.

Per FOS,  ESPN is considering bringing on former NFL player Michael Irvin to debate Smith on First Take.

Irvin, who works as an NFL Network analyst and also appears on Showtime’s Inside The NFL, has argued with Smith in the past about the Dallas Cowboys and the pair would certainly make for an explosive, and loud, mix.

In addition to Irvin, ESPN talents like Marcus Spears, Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams are also possible debate opponents for Smith, who just hosted Jimmy Kimmel Live earlier this week. Although Kellerman’s departure now official, a deal to bring Irvin, or anyone else, aboard as a guest commentator is not finalized.

“It’s going to be Stephen A. vs. the world,” a source told FOS.

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