In recent years, First Take has moved away from two main debate partners and towards Stephen A. Smith going back-and-forth with a rotating cast of characters. Before that, the show featured Smith and Max Kellerman going head-to-head, but back in 2021, Kellerman was moved off the show and into other capacities on the network before he was let go earlier this year.
Smith has made clear in the past that he wanted Kellerman off the show, expressing his belief that something needed to change with First Take. But on the most recent episode of The Joe Budden Podcast, Smith took things a step further in explaining why the breakup happened.
“I heard some of it, I would take full responsibility for that,” Smith said after he was asked about people noticing tension between the two prior to Kellerman leaving the show at the 2:15:09 mark of the above video. “That’s totally my fault, and the reason it was my fault is because I didn’t like working with him, man. It’s just that damn simple. I didn’t like it. I thought the show was stale. I thought that we had flatlined when it came to the public at large.”
As Smith explained, he’s long been concerned that the show could fall from No. 1 in the ratings after Skip Bayless’ departure, and “that sh*t was not gonna happen.” And while he made clear that the ratings weren’t falling off enough at the time, he felt like something was just off.
“To me, it did, not just creatively, but just the consistency of the numbers,” he said. “In other words, it wasn’t going [up], it was just [flat]. And not only that, it’s like us being in this room right now. Come on, y’all, you know the difference between something that’s stale and something that you’re pumped up for.”
Smith was quick to express that he has plenty of respect for Kellerman, but despite that, he thought the fact that Kellerman’s background didn’t include an athlete or a journalist “left people wondering why should we listen to you.”