Feature: Daniels Knows and Does It All at UCF

When Marc Daniels for the first time handled radio play-by-play duties for a UCF football game in 1995, the Knights were still a year from joining the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
Daunte Culpepper was a freshman quarterback on that squad.
Maybe the team's most notable game that season proved to be a loss to top-rated Florida State in Tallahassee.
Now, in his 25th season behind the microphone and as he prepares for his 300th UCF football game Saturday when East Carolina comes to town, it's safe to say Daniels has seen almost everything when it comes to UCF athletics.
As veteran actor J.K. Simmons says in that familiar Farmers Insurance commercial, "We know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two."
That's Daniels in a nutshell.
Officially the UCF Director of Broadcasting since 2016, Daniels takes care of game descriptions on radio for Knights' contests in football, men's basketball and baseball. He'll also fill in every so often for soccer or other UCF sports when the Knights provide live digital streams of home events. He's just as well known in Orlando for the morning sports show "The Beat of Sports" he hosts on FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game.
Daniels is as well-established as anyone in the Orlando sports media market.
And he's earned it.
Consider that over these 25 years, the list of UCF football coaches includes Gene McDowell, Mike Kruczek, George O'Leary, Scott Frost and now Josh Heupel. There's a similar chart for basketball and baseball coaches and the Knights' athletic administration.
What it means is that, almost anywhere around the UCF program, if there's a sports question begging for an answer, the solution almost exclusively is, "Ask Marc Daniels."
Because there's no one else around with anything close to his longevity and institutional knowledge.
Daniels didn't just happen to attend all those athletic events. He prepared for them, memorized depth charts and pronunciations and interviewed the key participants. It's safe to say he has lived (and died) with UCF athletics as much as anyone around.
He's seen 0-11 and 0-12--and he's seen 13-0, 12-1 and multiple major bowl victories. He's seen UCF football go from a footnote to national headlines.
If there was a game to be broadcast—no matter the sport--the guy to make it happen was Daniels.
If an athletic luncheon or dinner required a master of ceremonies, Daniels was the man.
If there was a Hall of Fame event in need of a host, it had to be Daniels—there really was no other choice.
Anytime someone had to interview a coach or UCF athlete, the logical person to do it was Daniels.
He's got that smooth-as-silk voice that grabs your attention, and his level of professionalism in handling his craft is off the charts.
And, so, three years ago, after years of reaching out to Daniels on a day-to-day, event-by-event request basis, the Knights simply hired him.
Maybe Daniels' most noteworthy claim to fame is that, partly because he has seen it all at UCF, he is amazingly adept at handling any topic or interview subject with aplomb. He can be as engaging and fun-loving as any of his guests might expect.
Former UCF Associate AD for Communications Andy Seeley (now leading external events for the Mountain West Conference) worked with Daniels for years.
"Any time Mike (Bianchi) introduces Marc on the air, he calls him the 'consummate professional.' That's exactly what Marc is. He simply handles everything that comes his way with a cool, calm demeanor," says Seeley.
"Everyone knows him as the 'Voice of the Knights' and he is out front with virtually everything that happens at UCF. But, perhaps more importantly, there are so many ways that he helps advance the UCF brand behind the scenes that very few people will ever know about. Marc's intimate understanding of the department and wealth of institutional knowledge are invaluable to the school."
His creative Twitter offerings include many like this recent one noting UCF football players McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel: "What if I told you a town in Hawaii with a population just over 50,000 had a high school that sent, not one, but two record breaking quarterbacks over 4,700 miles to Orlando to play football . . . and play it really well. . . ."
Says Jerry O'Neill, the longtime UCF football radio sideline reporter who retired from that role after the 2018 season as well as from his own afternoon radio show on FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game: "I have the highest respect for Marc. Our first show together was when Orlando's first all-sports radio station debuted. We did it at the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 2, 1995. I go back that far in terms of knowing Marc and there's no one person more adept at knowing what has happened at UCF all these years than he is. He is so respected by his colleagues and his peers."
Adds Bianchi, "Years and years ago when I first started working with Marc we did a radio show at another station here in Orlando, and I used to have to do massive amounts of show prep just to host the show.
"And Marc could come in and in his head he had the entire show planned out. He does a lot of preparation, but it's as if he doesn't need to take notes because he seems to have a photographic memory."
Knowing Daniels' affinity for the New York Yankees, Bianchi once suggested to Daniels that he was good enough to do games for the Bronx Bombers.
"He loves the Yankees and so I asked him if he had ever thought about pursuing anything along those lines," Bianchi says. "He goes, 'No, this is the job (at UCF) I've always loved.'"
Born in New York City, Daniels and his family moved to South Florida when he was a young boy. His Piper High School basketball teammates in Sunrise, Florida, included Michael Irvin and Brian and Bennie Blades, all future National Football League stars.
He came to Orlando in 1989 as a radio personality and played a key role in creating the first all-sports radio station in the market, also serving as program director for a dozen years. A University of Florida graduate, Daniels had gained experience as a disc jockey in his high school days and went on to become sports director of the campus radio station in Gainesville during his college years.
Name any headliner on the UCF athletic scene over the last three decades. Daniels likely knew that individual well, interviewed him on multiple occasions, made road trips with him and likely broke bread with him more than once somewhere along the line.
O'Neill absolutely remembers those road trips.
"Between Marc, Gary Parris and (engineer) Frank Lovre, we traveled together all those years to UCF road games," says O'Neill. "We found ourselves on many a Friday night grabbing a bite to eat and then we'd go back to one of our rooms and play poker. There might have been a cigar or two involved and maybe a drink or two.
"We never exchanged money—we played for pride. Those Friday nights will go down as some of the most fun times I've had in my broadcasting career.
"If the game kicked at noon, we'd be at the stadium at 6 a.m., but we'd still stay up till midnight.  We'd put the Friday night college football game on and in October we're watching playoff baseball and Marc is a die-hard Yankee fan. As important as the football game was, we all have great stories from those Friday nights. We always had a blast wherever we went."
O'Neill recalls one longer-than-usual road trip to Hawaii.
"In that first season in 1995 we played at Hawaii in mid-October," he says. "We flew out there on Wednesday and the game was not until late Saturday night--so we had all day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and even most of Saturday.
"We played wiffleball all over Oahu. We found about 20 different places where we stopped and played nine innings. It was Marc and me against Gary and Frank. If you hit the ball into the ocean it was a home run.
"We had so much fun exploring the island. We were like 10-year-old kids. We did that for years, either playing football or wiffleball in the morning on game days. It was a part of that bonding process."
Parris, the former Florida State tight end who has served two tours of duty as Daniel's UCF analyst (after playing in the NFL with San Diego, Cleveland and St. Louis from 1973-80), remembers that 1995 Hawaii trip for another reason:
"The Hawaii team had a roster full of names that were very difficult to pronounce," says Parris. "I said, 'Marc, I'm going to have a hard time with these names. The pronunciation guide helps a little, but I don't know if that's enough.'
"He said, 'Just do the best you can and I'll see if I can follow you. I'll try to back you up a little bit.'
"So a Hawaii linebacker makes a big tackle for loss early in the game and I just butchered the last name. Marc looks at me and he just starts laughing. Now he can't stop laughing, and he says, 'There's no way I can really correct that. There's no way I can follow that and make it sound like it's supposed to be.'
"We're still on the air and we finally composed ourselves. I said, 'Okay, let's go on to the next play now.' So from that day on, Marc called me 'the butcher.' Any time I had a name a little bit out of line, he would say, 'The butcher is at work.'
"I was nervous about it, but he said, 'Gary, it's 8:30 p.m. here. What time do you think it is in Orlando? And so how many people do you think are listening to this game right now? Don't worry about it. Just have fun.'"  
Daniels' work ethic when it comes to broadcasts has earned him undying praise from his colleagues. 
"Game days are very important to Marc," says O'Neill. "If you're going to do a radio talk show you better be prepared or people will know you to be a fraud. So Marc works feverishly during the week to be prepared on Saturday. When it's time to go on the air, he's sharp and committed and ready to roll out a top-flight broadcast. The work that he does in preparation does not get lost on those of us who were around him."
And O'Neill hasn't forgotten those Saturday game day memories their radio crew shared.
"There were all the highs and the lows," he says. "The UCF fan that's been around for a long time knows those last-second losses, those nail-biters against some of these power schools. The almost-wins at Mississippi and Mississippi State (both in 1997) during Culpepper's days. The win at Alabama (2000), the loss at Georgia (1999) on a tough call, the time we played Purdue up there (1998) and let it get away from us.
"All those major close games and then you have the evolution these past few years to becoming one of the darlings of college football. Looking back, we were not equal to some of those or we'd let one get away--and now look at the storylines that have been following this team. It's all pretty special to Marc and all of us.
"Marc is a good team player. He wants to involve all aspects of the broadcast, and we added some elements to the games thanks to him, including some other ways to bring attention to the University and the football program and the other sports."
Former UCF basketball point guard (2005-08) Mike O'Donnell grabbed the seat next to Daniels as the color man on Knights' men's basketball broadcasts after he finished playing (he now does television analysis for ESPN and others).
"My first encounter with Marc was my first year as a player at UCF," says O'Donnell. "Our first road game was early in the season and back then whenever we got off the plane we would immediately stop at Wendy's.
"Marc just happened to be two people in front of me in line. I'm talking to Troy Lindbeck, one of my teammates, and all the sudden I hear Marc. His radio voice just reverberates through the entire Wendy's as he orders a double cheeseburger, fries and a Frosty.
"I looked over and thought, 'This has to be a joke. I have never heard a radio voice that consistent, even off-air.' I was 19 years old and I looked over at Troy, and he goes, 'Yeah, Marc's got the greatest voice ever.'
"I said, 'Hey, Marc, that was a heck of an order.' And he looked at me and said, 'Well, you just gotta get it done when you're at Wendy's.'
"His voice makes for a great mixture and a great broadcast."
President of Harbinger Capital Management in Orlando, O'Donnell quickly came to appreciate the manner in which Daniels went about his job.
"The intelligence he has across all sports—I've always thought he was smart enough to be a coach. His memory is absurd in a good way," he says.
"While he's calling the game, he also keeps real-time stats—field goals, free throws and fouls. Twice each year for three straight years he had corrections for the scorer's table. He knows our team and the opposing team and he's still keeping score. It's all about his willingness to be completely engaged in a broadcast, and it's completely unrivaled in my mind.
"His preparation for each game--he knows pronunciations, he knows stats, he knows stories, he knows the history of individual players, coaches and programs of the teams UCF is playing. The best way I can describe him is to say he's a sports almanac. He's the voice, the brain and the heart of the broadcast. He's got those three aspects rolled into one. He knows the schemes and he knows the stories behind the teams."
O'Donnell always laughed when he watched Daniels' reaction as the game officials skipped right by to explain a call to the television crew.
"He cannot stand it when there is a situation on the court where the referees go to the monitor and then they only walk over to TV to explain what happened--they never walk over to the radio crews," O'Donnell says. "Just to hear his frustration is amazing. I can hear it through the microphone. He feels like he is constantly disrespected by the officials and it's a darn shame."
Anyone who spends any time around Daniels quickly recognizes his interest and knowledge of food, restaurants and the culinary scene in general. Mention a city and Daniels will know where the best spots are for dinner—and he might recite a few favorite menu items if pressed.
Says Seeley, "I was fortunate enough to make one trip to New Orleans with Marc. He had developed a relationship with the general manager of Emeril's at Universal. That same individual later went on to manage the original New Orleans location.
"So, the night before we're scheduled to play football at Tulane, Marc gets us seats at the restaurant. When we get there, we find out he actually secured the chef's table in the kitchen. It was one of the most amazing culinary experiences I've ever had. And Marc loves nights like those." 
Adds O'Donnell, "If you go to lunch with him it's a real experience. He likes to do a lap around the restaurant to see who is there, like (former Los Angeles Laker coach and current Miami Heat executive) Pat Riley.
"He's an absolute food connoisseur. I used to love to see how frustrated he would get at the deli counter in a grocery store. He would say, 'I just want three slices of turkey.' And the person behind the counter would say, 'How many pounds do you want?' and Marc would say, 'I don't know, I just want three slices.' This would go on for 10 minutes and it would just be magical to watch."
At the end of the day, Parris is convinced Daniels has become an institution at UCF.
"Marc is the ultimate professional," he says. "As (longtime Seminole radio voice) Gene Deckerhoff is to Florida State and Mick Hubert (for decades the voice of Gator athletics) is to Florida, Marc is to UCF. He makes everybody around him work hard and makes everybody around him better.
"He'll be doing football, basketball and baseball games and then he'll be doing women's soccer somewhere in there, too. And he just does all of it so well. I catch myself sometimes being a fan instead of being an analyst because he does such a good job.
"On a big UCF run, I've learned over the years--just shut up, sit back and let him make that call."
Bianchi recalls writing a column for the Orlando Sentinel (in 2011 on the occasion of Daniels' 200th UCF football radio broadcast) suggesting Daniels could and probably should be considered a candidate to be the athletic director at UCF.
"Everybody connected with UCF knows who Marc Daniels is," says Bianchi, "and Marc knows everybody connected with UCF. He has the institutional knowledge of the program, he knows the ins and outs, he knows the strengths and weaknesses of the place. I was serious about it.
"After (current UCF athletics director) Danny White took over, we had lunch one day and he was tapping my brain about UCF, and one of the things I said was, 'If you want to be successful here, you need to use Marc Daniels more. He's more than just a radio play-by play-guy.'
"I said, 'He's a treasure for this school. Use his knowledge and insight—he has a lot to say.'"
Adds O'Neill, "You think of all the coaches and athletics directors and other people at UCF.
"And the one that still shines is Marc Daniels."