Stephen A. Smith: Why I forced Max Kellerman off ‘First Take’

Stephen A. Smith set the record straight about co-host Max Kellerman’s exit from ESPN’s “First Take” in a revealing interview on Hot 97. 

When asked, “What’s the truth?” about Kellerman’s departure after five years on the show together, Smith confirmed what The Post’s Andrew Marchand had initially reported — that he wanted Kellerman off the program.

“The rumors are accurate in terms of me wanting him off the show. Let’s get that out the way. Yes, I did [want him off the show],” Smith told radio hosts Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg.

“It wasn’t really about asking him to be off the show, it was about the fact that I knew that we, together, as far as I was concerned, was not a great partnership anymore and that was something that needed to change.

“The reason why I’m unapologetic about my position, No. 1, is that it’s no knock against him professionally, his work ethic, and all of that other stuff, his talent. It’s not like I wanted the guy to be fired. I knew there were landing spots for him available at this network that would generate just as much, if not more revenue for him and all of that other stuff.”

Smith went on to confirm that the decision was more about “keeping things fresh” on “First Take” by implementing change than removing Kellerman, specifically.

“It also wasn’t my decision,” Smith said. “I gave my recommendation [to ESPN]. They ask it, I tell it. Every single year when the NBA season comes to an end, the bosses ask me where I stand… And I also told Max that.”

When asked about Kellerman’s reaction to the network approaching Smith about show decisions – Smith replied, “He disagreed with me, and he disagreed with me three years ago, he disagreed two years ago and he disagreed this time. We’ve always understood where we stand with each other. He also knew that it was nothing personal and it was nothing against him as a talent.

“… I just didn’t feel that moving forward he and I together was the right call and I said that the bosses. They disagree with me a few times in the past. Evidently this time, they understood and they made the move.

“We don’t have a bad relationship. I think he’s a real good guy. I appreciate what he did for the show. We were number one for five years. We stayed number one, and I appreciate that.”

Earlier on, Smith explained that him and Kellerman tape “15 segments a day, 75 segments a week, [and] over 3,000 takes a year” — and he said he believed the audience apparently noticed their chemistry had fizzled.

“The fact that it’s a chemistry you have and sometimes it just stalls, and the audience lets you know that it is what it is and you feel the need for something fresh, you feel the need to retool,” Smith said.

Stephen A. Smith opened up on Max Kellerman's departure from "First Take."

Following weeks of reports, ESPN announced Kellerman’s departure from “First Take” on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

Since then, Smith and the show’s host, Molly Qerim Rose, have been advertising the “new era” of the popular sports program — which will include a rotating panel of guests, featuring analysts, entertainers and sports figures, that will debate Smith on a variety of topics.

Michael Irvin made his energetic debut for a weekly spot on Monday and Tim Tebow will join Smith on Fridays.

As for Kellerman’s next move?

The host is getting his own hour-long show on ESPN, “This Just In,” which premieres on Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. ET. The show will provide news, opinion and analysis on the day’s trending topics and other headlines.

Kellerman also joined ESPN’s morning radio circuit, having replaced Zubin Mehenti on “Keyshawn, J-Will and Zubin.”

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