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It was both a dream matchup and a bit of a nightmare for Tim McVay. It was the NFC Championship game earlier this year, with San Francisco—the team his father, John, had helped guide to several Super Bowl wins as a 49ers exec—playing the Atlanta Falcons, representing the city where McVay has spent the bulk of his career and now manages a powerhouse TV station.
The winner was going to the Super Bowl, and McVay, general manager at WSB, was understandably torn. “I love the Falcons—I think they have a super organization and a real quality team,” he says. “And we live here. But I gotta tell you…I shouldn’t even say this, but it’s hard not to root for the 49ers. I have that long history of rooting for them in my blood.”
The Niners won—just as they had done so many times when Tim’s dad was the VP and director of football operations, teaming with coach Bill Walsh and later George Seifert for a shocking five Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and early ’90s. “I got to tag along during that unbelievable run of success and fun,” says the tireless GM, who learned a few things along the way.
Tagging along with his father many years before helped chart McVay’s career path. Well before he was the 49ers’ front-office mastermind, and before he was the New York Giants’ head coach (from 1976-78), John McVay was the young coach at the University of Dayton, and Tim—the youngest of three boys—would accompany him to his weekly coach’s program on Ohio’s WHIO.
“It was not a high-budget show,” John recalls. “I was the producer, the star, the director. Tim was my helper, and somewhere along the way, he got the [TV] bug.”
After playing safety and serving as team captain under coach (and now ESPN analyst) Lee Corso at Indiana University, Tim considered a coaching career, but chose to work at that same WHIO (which he describes as a “blowtorch” of a station) as an account executive. “What a blessing that was to get in with [owner] Cox in my first job out of college,” he says.
A Born Leader
Highly competitive and with limitless energy, McVay was a natural in sales, moving on to Cox-owned WSB as local sales manager in 1992, then general sales manager at WPXI Pittsburgh in 1994. His general manager in Pittsburgh, John Howell, recalls him being so intent on making the most of every waking minute that, many years before the term “multitasking” was hatched, McVay would drive to work with a giant bowl of cereal sloshing between his legs. “Tim developed great relationships with key clients, hired good people and motivated them,” says Howell. “He was one of those guys that people want to follow.”
After a second stint at WSB from 1996 to 2004, this time as general sales manager, McVay was given his first GM job—a dream assignment at KTVU Oakland in the Bay Area. Running his own shop for the first time, Tim leaned on the lessons learned from his dad, and his own experiences as a football leader, and helped make the Fox affiliate into a place where the market’s best and brightest wanted to work. “I loved observing [the 49ers’] system—the eye for talent, the development of talent, running the right system and the teamwork mentality that makes it all work,” he says. “I took a lot of lessons from how my dad operates.”
The Clear Choice
KTVU was a market leader in a DMA full of network-owned stations. And when Bill Hoffman, then the general manager at WSB, was promoted to an executive VP role at Atlanta- based Cox, there was little doubt who would take over the flagship station; McVay’s third stint at WSB began in 2011.
WSB is one of the truly monster local TV operations in the nation, and McVay’s challenge as GM is keeping the ABC affiliate (way) ahead. “You try not to let complacency get into the building,” says Hoffman. “People have to believe the ratings can get higher and the revenue share greater, and Tim is enormously well-suited to that.”
McVay quips that a “healthy degree of paranoia” keeps WSB fired up. “We’re always challenging ourselves to get better,” he says.
The ebullient GM unwinds by spending time with his family, including Cindy, his wife of 32 years; his two sons (Sean is on the Washington Redskins’ coaching staff and Ryan recently graduated from the University of Alabama); and his two golden retrievers, whether it’s hiking, golf or, of course, attending football games.
John, who will be inducted into the 49ers’ Hall of Fame on Oct. 13, is intensely proud of his son’s accomplishments, though he still wonders what might have happened if Tim had tried coaching. “If he’d gone into football, he would’ve won a couple Super Bowls by now,” says John. “Tim is one tough cookie.”
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