“Today” Show’s New Co-Anchor Remembers an Ole Miss Legend

Savannah Guthrie with Hoda Kotb
Hoda Kotb (right) has replaced Matt Lauer as the co-anchor, with Savannah Guthrie, of NBC’s “Today.”

Matt Lauer’s downfall has paved the way for Hoda Kotb, the new co-anchor of NBC’s “Today,” but she probably wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of a certain Ole Miss legend.

NBC announced Tuesday it was moving Kotb into Lauer’s old role after the latter resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Her co-host, Savannah Guthrie, said Tuesday it was “the most popular decision NBC News ever made.”

It’s also a historic move—this is the first time “Today” has been led entirely by female hosts.

But as Kobt explained in a Sirius XM interview about her career, she owes her start to Stan Sandroni, the beloved Ole Miss sideline reporter who passed away in September 2014.

Upon getting her journalism degree from Virginia Tech, Kotb said, she went from job interview to job interview, only to endure constant rejection.

After being turned down by TV news directors in Richmond and Roanoke, Virginia, for being “so not good” and “too green,” she jumped in her car and drove all night for an interview in Memphis, where she suffered yet another rejection.

“I was in that car, driving around for 10 days,” she said. “I got rejected everywhere. Anywhere you can think of in the Southeast, I got rejected … all the way down into the bottom of the (Florida) panhandle.

“I started to drive home, and I got lost … in Mississippi because I was listening to James Taylor and sad and driving aimlessly.”

Then she spotted a highway sign for CBS affiliate WXVT-TV in Greenville. “I said, I’m gonna go there and get rejected.”

Stan Sandroni at St. John's Drawdown
Hoda Kobt has never forgotten the role Stan Sandroni (right, pictured with John Mardis at the St. John’s Drawdown in 2013) played in her success.

She was greeted by “this little short guy” who introduced himself as the news director. Repeatedly calling her “Hilda,” Sandroni welcomed her with open arms and sat down to watch a tape of her work.

“He said, ‘Hilda, I like what I see,’” Kotb recalled. “I said, ‘You do?’ I was, like, crying, and the man hired me on the spot that day.”

Stan Sandroni interviews Chucky Mullins
Stan Sandroni interviews Chucky Mullins on the sidelines of an Ole Miss football game.

“It just reminded me,” Kotb continued, “that you just need one person to love you. You don’t need everybody. Sometimes you think you need every single person to think you’re good. You don’t. You need one. And Stan was my one.”

Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com. Email him at rick.hynum@hottytoddy.com.