Sean Kelley steps into his role as the fourth play-by-play announcer for the University of Florida.
Sean Kelley was relaxed and seemed to be at home sitting in a Gainesville coffee shop. As a new resident, he was proud he found the place – and arrived on time.
Casually dressed in a plain button-up camp shirt, no one took notice of the new ‘Voice of the Gators,” the man chosen to replace Mick Hubert, who retired after 33 years behind the mic. Kelley hadn’t yet called his first University of Florida Gator game and was just fine with blending in.
Heck, his truck still had Louisiana tags.
Affable with a self-deprecating sense of humor, Kelley has a full grasp of his new status. “You know, it’s quite an honor to be the fourth ‘Voice of the Gators,’” he said. “It’s one of those opportunities that just don’t come up very often.” Prior to Kelley, only Otis Boggs (1940-82), David Steele (1982- 89) and Hubert (1989-2022) were called the “Voice of the Gators.”
“Mick is a Hall of Fame legend and had a great 33-year run – that’s unheard of. Toss in all the national championship games and it’s going to be hard to follow,” Kelley said.
Kelley grew up in St. Louis listening to the quintessential voices of Jack Buck and Bob Costas on KMOX. Those men, the way they went about their work, represented a community that would inspire Kelley to get into broadcasting.
A graduate of Southern Illinois University- Carbondale, his first play-by-play job was calling a Saluki women’s basketball game, which started his journey on the road that led him to Gainesville.
First stop was in Columbia, Missouri, starting as a part-time announcer, doing whatever came his way to gain experience. It was then on to New Orleans and Tulane University in 2002 as the “Voice of the Green Wave,” calling football, men’s basketball and baseball and “washing golf carts at a local club to make ends meet.”
That put him in position when the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (now called the Pelicans) needed a radio voice. Sean was there from 2002-19, during which time he also covered the NFL’s New Orleans Saints as the off-season and pre-season TV host for the Saints and the host for their digital offerings during the season.
With an already full and impressive resume, Kelley jumped to ESPN in 2019 as the lead play-by-play voice for college football. As a matter of fact, he will continue to call games for ESPN as his busy Gator schedule allows.
“I’ve always been a side hustle guy,” he said. “I don’t really know any other way. I’m adjusting to the new position, getting to know the coaches and getting ready for my first game (Sept. 3). Right now, all I want to do is get out on the practice field with a roster in my hand and get to know this team.”
That type of hustle and determination has always paid off for Kelley. From washing golf carts in his time at Tulane, to volunteering to host pre-game, halftime and post-game shows for the New Orleans Saints, Kelley was focused on his goals.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be among the elite of the elite. Once I made the decision to go for it, the doors blew open.”
“You have to gamble on yourself and then be in position to build the next thing,” he said. “Once we made that decision, I hired an agent and things happened.”
The “we” he often talks about is his wife of a quarter century, Kim, whom he met while attending Southern Illinois, and their two daughters, Keighley, 24, and Colin, 22. “No way I could do this without them,” he said. “It is humbling to know that, as I say this, everything we own is on wheels being shipped to Gainesville.”
After making the decision to gamble on himself, Kelley signed on with ESPN as the lead radio play-by-play host for College Football and also called NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball games for the sports network.
When Hubert decided to retire, Kelley got calls asking him who he thought would be a good fit in for the Gators.
“I had not even thought about me, until someone asked if I would be interested,” said Kelley. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be among the elite of the elite. Once I made the decision to go for it, the doors blew open.”
The first time he stepped foot in Gainesville was for an interview.
“Kim and I thought to ourselves, ‘How come we’ve never been to Gainesville?’,” he said. “But it’s true. And we are loving the people and getting to know the community. Everyone has been very welcoming.”
It’s been a busy year for UF Athletic Director Scott Strickland, who hired new football coach Billy Napier, new men’s basketball coach Todd Golden and new women’s basketball coach Kelly Rae Finley. And then Stricklin had to find someone to replace the living legend of Mick Hubert.
“Scott and I joked about that when we met,” Kelley said. “Replacing one of those positions in a year is hard, but to fill three head coach roles for programs is unheard of. Then, oh, by the way, your ‘Voice of Gators’ is retiring and we need a new one. Scott had his hands full and has done an amazing job.”
Kelley knows the men’s basketball and baseball seasons are around the corner. But right now, he’s focused – as he should be – on football and verbally painting each game’s picture for the listening Gator Nation.
“It has been a crazy run to get here,” said Kelley, kind of settling into his seat. “But this is where we’re supposed to be. All the Gators have been great – and I know that can turn very quickly – but we are enjoying ourselves and are very thankful.”
As he walked to his truck with Louisiana tags, wearing a shirt with no logo and not a hint of orange or blue, he stopped.
“Hey,” he said, standing near his truck. “Go Gators!”