Former Denver Bronco Mark Schlereth tees off on life, business, family and golf
Mark Schlereth has transitioned from an anonymous offensive lineman into a popular TV and radio personality who counts green chile and golf among his many talents.
Mark Schlereth remembers the first time he ever drove the green. He was a 23-year-old, 290-pound rookie offensive lineman with the Washington Redskins. The Alaska native never had picked up a club, and was playing golf for the first time ever during a team outing.
“I think it was a Par 5, and one of the guys in our group got on in two. So I go, ‘I got it guys. I’ll putt it,’” Schlereth recalls.
“I’ve never been on a golf course before and I drive my cart onto the green. These guys are screaming ‘Noooooooo’ and I’m like, ‘I got it fellas.’ I hopped out with my putter. Like, I had zero golf etiquette. “That was my indoctrination.”
It was an innocent rookie mistake by Schlereth in 1989, one worthy of a penalty flag and a huge laugh. Ever since, his life has been one long, winding cart ride down the path of success. He raised three children with his wife, Lisa, while playing 12 seasons in the NFL—a career that included 29 surgeries and three Super Bowl championships: one with Washington and back-to-back titles with the Denver Broncos.
There’s the multimillion-dollar business venture—Mark Schlereth’s Stinkin’ Good Green Chile—and his recurring role as Detective Roc Hoover on the Guiding Light soap opera series. The man nicknamed “Stink” in honor of his home state’s fermented fish “delicacy” called “stinkhead” and his tendency to soil himself during games has also sold television shows—two to CBS, one to Lifetime and one to E!.
And then there’s the television thing Schlereth has going. This is his 14th season as one of the most popular NFL analysts on ESPN. For a guy who joined his former offensive line mates in a vow not to give quotes to the media during the season, Schlereth is as talkative—and knowledgeable—as they come in front of the television cameras.
“People get on me, saying I’m a hypocrite because now all I do is talk,” Schlereth says. “There was this misconception that it was a contentious relationship between the linemen and the media. I’d tell them, you have no idea what’s going on. We’re friends with everybody. We just didn’t give you quotes because it was a game.
“When I first retired I thought I’d take a couple of years off after football—just take a couple of years to hang at home. Literally, after two weeks my wife said, ‘If you don’t find something to do, we will get divorced. You’re driving me nuts.’
“I am the world’s neediest person. I just am. I’m creative, always thinking what I can do, I’ve always got ideas I want to work on. . . and I need outlets. So initially, I signed a one-year deal (with ESPN) with a one-year option. I was just trying to hang on.” After Schlereth’s first year the network wanted to sign him to a long-term deal.
“What I’ve learned is, just like anything else in life, if you’re efficient, you grind, you work hard and you are passionate and care about it, you’re going to find a way to be employed for a long time—especially in this business. In the broadcasting business, I think the majority of the athletes who come in as analysts think that it’s easy. It’s not.
“I would probably consider myself a middle-innings, long relief guy. A guy who can come in, on any topic and in any situation and give you the innings you need on television. And there’s not a lot of us that can talk about quarterback play, linebacker play, d-line play…that study the game enough to have an educated opinion.”
With all he has going on in his life, it’s mildly amazing that Schlereth can find time to play golf. But he does, usually when he’s closest to work at ESPN in Connecticut.
Those rounds usually take place with Trey Wingo, his good friend and host of ESPN’s NFL Live. “I call him my work wife,” Wingo says. “Put it this way, I know no matter what we’re talking about, I can turn to him with a question and he’ll give an honest, thoughtful and opinionated answer. That’s all you can ask from anybody doing this job.
“A lot of times, when guys are playing, they see the media at best as a necessary evil—or sometimes the enemy. Then, when they come to work here they realize we’re not all threelegged, four-horned devils. Maybe we work hard at what we do. I think they take a much greater appreciation for it.”
That is Wingo’s assessment of Schlereth the football analyst. As for Schlereth the golfer…“We are, I would say, the exact opposite of competitive,” Wingo says. “Neither one of us is getting our Senior Tour card any time soon. I would argue that there might be more putts conceded in every round than maybe other people concede in their entire lives. The other thing is, we try to play before we come into work. So we play a little speed golf, basically; we fly around as fast as we can.”
Wingo recalls playing with Schlereth in Denver in 2012. “I believe we played Arrowhead. The day before it was 70 degrees and beautiful. In classic Denver fashion, the next day it snowed. But it was a dry snow and it was above freezing. So we played and were the only two on the course. The guys in the pro shop were looking at us thinking, ‘What is your major malfunction?’ We’re the only ones out there, in ear muffs and gloves.”
Schlereth labels himself an “accurate ball striker.” Wingo takes some issue with that selfassessment. “I’m not sure I’m buying that one,” he says. “I would say that Mark has a really good game off the tee and is really long with the irons. Around the greens he struggles a bit simply because so many things hurt sometimes from all the years in the trenches. But I tell you, when he hits it, it goes a long, long, long way.”
Schlereth had put his clubs away for several years before his celebrity status helped lure him back to the fairways. “I was playing a bunch and got to the point to where I was playing really well,” Schlereth says. “But then I was traveling a lot, year-round, and I essentially put the sticks away for about six years.
“My thought process is, I’m always gone and a recipe for divorce is to come home for the two days I’m home and say, ‘Hey honey, I’m going to spend five hours at the golf course.’
“But I started picking it up because I was being invited to a lot of celebrity tournaments. I was on a good little circuit for a while. But I only play in Connecticut or on the road. I don’t really play in Colorado that much any more—maybe a couple times at Lone Tree Golf Club. I rarely play in Denver, but hey—I’m rarely in Denver.”
For eight years at the Inverness Golf Club in Englewood, he and his former line mate co-hosted the Dave Diaz-Infante & Mark Schlereth Celebrity Golf Classic to benefit Hunter’s Dream for a Cure, a charity that has raised more than $2 million for children with neurological diseases and programs for special-needs children. “That tournament was the cornerstone of our foundation,” says Founding Director Robb Nelson, whose five-year-old son, Hunter, died of Sturge Weber syndrome. “Mark is a far better person than he was a football player—and I was a huge fan of his playing. He and Dave were the only non-family members to give eulogies at my son’s funeral.”
One thing about Schlereth is certain—when he does something, he wants to put in the work to be good at it. He might not have the available time, but he makes the most of what he does have. When it comes to golf, he’s no different. And Schlereth, who recalls his best round as 76, can honestly size up his golf deficiencies as if he were analyzing the shortcomings of the Broncos’ defense.”
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a normal prototypical golf addict guy,” Schlereth said. “Most golfers will say, ‘Hey, remember 17, it was that dogleg right?’ Look, I’m just out there, man. But I have grown to enjoy the process of striking the ball well, and the feeling that you have—and the frustration.”
“The thing about what I did for a living compared to golf is that it’s completely counter-intuitive to the way I live my life— which says, if things aren’t going well, apply more pressure. That was the NFL.”
“The mental challenge, as well as the physical challenge because my body is fairly broken down, but the mental challenge of golf is what I find intriguing. This game, in my world, makes zero sense. You don’t feel like you swing hard and you pound it. Then you apply more force and it goes nowhere. The game constantly tells you to put on the brakes.”
“The problem with me and golf sometimes is my back and my body. Twenty-nine surgeries will take a toll on you. One day I can consistently be 315 off the tee. The next day, if my back locks up, it’s 235 off the tee. (Those numbers also roughly reflect Schlereth’s playing weight and current poundage.)”
“I can go out and shoot mid-to-high 70s, or I can shoot 90. That’s my golf game. When I’m striking it well, I do hit it pretty well. The more swing thoughts I have in my head, the worse I am. I’m an athlete. I know I played on the offensive line, but I’m an athlete. I just rely on athleticism.”
Schlereth has done so much in his life since being an NFL rookie in ’89. He’s always made the time to help raise his children, never letting the duties of fatherhood get away from him.
His eldest daughter, Alex, is a 29-year-old actress and rising sportscaster. His youngest child, Avery, is a 21-year-old aspiring model. Son Daniel, 28, has pitched in the major leagues since 2009.
“They’re trying to hustle, but it’s not like they picked easy things. I tell them overnight success takes about seven to fifteen years,” Schlereth says. “I make it a point to get to everything I can get to. Just because your kids are grown doesn’t stop you from being a parent. They still need you.”
There’s still more to come for Schlereth. He’ll continue his work, both on television and radio, for ESPN. There’s expansion ahead for Stink Inc. and the green chile business. Schlereth would like to fit in corporate speaking engagements too. He gets his eight hours sleep every night, and plenty of caffeine—maybe too much—into his bloodstream on a daily basis.
When he decides to put more time into his golf game, Schlereth very well could break 70. Or come close.
“I can ham-and-egg an 87 every day of the week,” he says. “Breaking 70? That, for me, would be work. Like, I would have to put away TV, radio, business—and golf would have to become my business.”
At least he knows the first rule of that business: Keep the cart off of the green.