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Inside ESPN’s Search to Replace Skip Bayless on ‘First Take’

”We looked at a lot of people and we’re close to making a decision,“ an ESPN exec tells TheWrap

ESPN plans to name Skip Bayless’ replacement as “First Take” co-host “very shortly,” according to the network’s vice president of production, Marcia Keegan.

“We looked at a lot of people and we’re close to making a decision,” ESPN vice president of production Marcia Keegan told TheWrap.

Whoever lands Bayless’ former gig will battle Stephen A. Smith on a daily basis on the sports conversation show that encourages heated debate.

Smith is in the midst of a three-week vacation and “First Take” will not air next week as ESPN 2 is scheduled to broadcast Wimbledon. The following week, a variety of ESPN Radio personalities will co-host the show.

TheWrap asked Keegan if the new host will be in place when Smith returns, however she replied, “we will announce the new host when it’s finalized.”

One fan favorite who isn’t getting the gig is Jon “Stugotz” Weiner, who has publicly lobbied for the job on ESPN Radio’s “The Dan Le Batard Show,” although it’s unclear if his desire to replace Bayless is shtick or genuine.

“All I can say about Stugotz is … I was intimately involved in talking with everyone who was seriously interested, and I had never heard from Stugotz,” Keegan said.

On Tuesday, former ESPN employee Colin Cowherd hinted that Max Kellerman is close to landing the gig. During a Periscope session, Cowherd was asked about “SportsNation,” the show he used to co-host with Michelle Beadle but is now hosted by Beadle, Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley.

“Michelle Beadle’s a friend,” Cowherd said. “Max Kellerman’s leaving that show, he’s gonna be on ‘First Take.’ Yeah, it’s a done deal. Well, pretty much.”

“Beadle likes Kellerman. That’s not gonna play well for Beadle. She’ll be upset,” he continued, dishing on the expected impact of the departure. “These blogs don’t know what’s going on. This stuff’s all done … They’re like $100,000 apart in negotiations. He’s leaving ‘SportsNation’ and Michelle Beadle’s p—ed off.”

Connecting the dots would indicate that the person Keegan is close to hiring is Kellerman, and he would start on the week of July 18 after Wimbledon and Smith’s vacation.

Bayless left ESPN’s “First Take” to take a gig at Fox Sports. Smith promised at ESPN’s Upfront presentation last month that the show will be “even better” without his longtime co-host.

The schedule is set for the remainder of the week, with Thursday’s episode scheduled to feature Kate Fagan, Jane McManus and Sarah Spain alongside Cary Chow. Friday’s show will include Anita Marks, Ohm Youngmisuk and Freddie Coleman.

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