May 19, 2009

ESPN Misses Boat With Gruden on MNF

Jon Gruden, former coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was named as Tony Kornheiser's replacement on ESPN's flagship Monday Night Football broadcasts. Gruden is, obviously, very knowledgable and also very charismatic, but his selection fails to add anything to the booth already featuring play-by-play man Mike Tirico and x's-and-o's commentator Ron Jaworski.

Gruden will not disagree with Jaworski, and both men bring the same knowledge to the table. Also, both are unquestionably enthusiastic about football. I fear we will have the straight man Tirico surrounded by two cheerleaders who never disagree and never add anything to the other's comments. Plus, if Gruden ever wants to work again he has to watch what he says. ESPN either needs to drop the entertainment angle Kornheiser was supposed to bring, or they need to feature the third aspect of the sport and bring in a player personnel man.

Here are the groups I'd have liked to see.

1) Tirico-Jaworski-Millen - Matt Millen, while a disastrous head man for an organization, proved last postseason that he does know what he's talking about. Sure, execution is a problem but that hasn't stopped other former players and coaches from becoming good broadcasters. While Millen and Jaworski wouldn't necessary go at each other, it would be a nice third perspective.

2) Tirico-Jaworski-Dennis Green - If you want a former coach in the booth, and one with charisma, Dennis Green was the way to go. Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden are too similar, and both are harnessed by their desire to some day coach again. Billick and Jaworski have the same knowledge, except Jaworski is more commanding. Mike Ditka would just be out of his element surrounded by a pair of 120+ IQs. Dennis Green is the logical choice since he isn't likely to be a head coach again and offers a great likelihood of straying from the talking points.

3) Tirico-Jaworski-Joe Thiesmann - Yeah, I said it. Jaworski and Thiesmann would be at each other constantly. Nobody likes Joe, that's for sure, and I doubt his exile has humbled him enough to make the old "Joe is the smartest guy in the room, just ask him," adage any less true. Still, that would an entertaining booth.

4) Tirico-Jaworski-Wilbon - This is how it always should have been. Wilbon brings the same pop culture saavy to the booth that Kornheiser purportedly brought, and Wilbon actually follows sports. Wilbon would not express awe over Jaworski knowing how many officials are on the field. He follows golf, hockey, basketball and baseball. He can hold his own with Katherine Heigl. The plain truth is that they cannot offend Kornheiser by putting his old knockaround pal in the booth as his replacement, but that's how it always should have been.

5) Tirico-Jaworski-Former NFL Referee - This has been a long time coming. The NFL would not like having a former member of the flock in the booth to accurately criticize poor judgment and blatant misinterpretation of the rules, but it's the next logical step in building a lifelong fanbase. Plus, ESPN is broadcast overseas and Europeans need to understand the rules if the NFL is actually going to expand to a worldwide presence. Also do not forget that the game is played on Monday Night, so in the event of a snoozer, the official can explain weird and questionable happenings from the other 12 to 15 games from the weekend. Ideas like this are why I should be in charge of something.

And finally, the dream team.

6) Mike Patrick-Paul Maguire-Ron Jaworski - Patrick and Al Michaels are the gold standard in professional play-by-play men. They both infuse the perfect blend of enthusiasm and hyperbole without going a little Gus Johnson in a meaningless game. Many disliked Paul Maguire in the former configuration with Patrick and Thiesmann, but I give him the benefit of the doubt because he always had to correct and rein in Thiesmann. With Jaworski, I think you'd get two enlightening color commentators with a stellar play-by-play man. ESPN has all three men already, and I think this booth would make MNF an event again instead of a sideshow.

Tirico is very good himself, but I think he lends himself better to the college game. With the elder statesmen in that arena nearing the sunset, he could have positioned himself as THE big-game guy on ABC/ESPN. He has shown himself to be both opinionated and insightful regarding the BCS, and his growth would have been unlimited.

Honorable Mention: Bill Simmons, J.A. Adande, Gregg Easterbrook (TMQ)

Dishonorable Mention: Rush Limbaugh, Condi Rice, Dennis Miller

Any other ideas or suggestions? What other feasible pairings would you have liked to see?

17 Responses:

Grant said...

Oh God, Greggggg Easterbrook? Perish the thought. Also, Simmons has a voice for the silents.

I like the ex-ref idea, though. And the Wilbon one.

Nikhil Verma said...

The other issue with a Gruden is it doesn't give you stability. In other words, ESPN is likely looking for someone in another year.

How about Steve Young? I look at him as the "Jay Bilas" of the NFL. Intelligent, has concise analysis, and strikes the right balance.

Anonymous said...

yeah because gruden knows absolutely nothing about player personel

J-Red said...

He does, based on his draft performance, but i'd still like more distance from jaws' energy.

J-Red said...

Plus I still worry about how much Gruden will withhold because he wants to work again. I can't think of a single coach who went to the booth or pre-game and then got back into coaching. There's a reason for that.

michael said...

I see Gruden as a big step down. I liked the humor added as the third guy. I was a fan of Kornheiser in the booth, as well as Dennis Miller way back when. I agree that Wilbon would be the perfect third guy with this crew. Maybe he will be in there the following year after Gruden goes back to coaching in 2010.

Brien said...

I love the ex-ref idea. Jaws and Tirico are personable and funny enough to bring plenty of humor to the booth.

Steve Young is great in the studio, I'd like to see how he'd do in the booth.

I think Gruden is going to be the next in a long line of MNF 3rd guy disasters.

"ben" said...

Is there something wrong with a two man booth?

J-Red said...

The only problem with a two-man booth is that MNF has traditionally had three, with the exception of Michaels-Madden.

The three-man booth works in theory if the two color men include a joker and a straight man. Jaws is kind of a weird hybrid between the two, like Paul Maguire is, so I think both together would work nicely, along with Mike Patrick or Tirico.

Nikhil Verma said...

J-Red, Jimmy Johnson went to the Fox pre-game booth in '94 and '95, after he left Dallas. He then went to the Dolphins.

Stephen Finley said...

The ex-ref idea is brilliant. I'd love to see that.

And on a side note, am I the only one in the whole country who actually liked Miller in the booth? I guess so.

W said...

Wilbon would be a great fit.

gpb said...

The ref idea would be awesome. However, baseball has so many more quirky rules than football. Did you know that there are at least 5 ways to get on base without a hit?

Where's Russell with the summer baseball blog posts? The wind tunnel can't have sucked up all his free time to post here... I know there's other fans on the blog but Baltimore and Washington are already 10 games behind.

But we should see Wieters soon for the Os. As a multiple Tech alum, I can't wait. And maybe the Nats can get their pitching staff together. I could use Hanrahan in a closer situation.

"ben" said...

Okay, let's see:

1) walk
2) error
3) hpb
4) dropped third strike
5) fielder's choice
6) pinch run (if you want to count that)

Anything else? I guess even without the pinch run, that's five.

gpb said...

Catcher interference also counts.

There's a yahoo answers question that counts wild pitch and passed ball as uncaught third strike separately.

And there's the rumors of the 23 ways but the yahoo answers post says it doesn't count.

J-Red said...

I've always heard there are seven ways, so I think we got them all.

Thanks Nikhil on Jimmy Johnson. I remembered him but didn't think he had done TV between the Cowboys and Dolphins. I also can't remember if Vermeil was ever a pre-game guy prior to returning to the Rams/Chiefs.

Nikhil Verma said...

I think Bill Parcells went to NBC after he left the Giants. He was there in '91 and '92, and then went to the Patriots. Also, he was at ESPN before he went to Dallas.

Joe Gibbs was at NBC for a few years in the mid-90's. He then left NBC for the racing thing. I don't know if you mean coming directly from the broadcast booth to coaching.

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