Breaking down Gruden's move to Monday Night Football
Still quite a buzz around town that former Bucs coach Jon Gruden was picked to replace Tony Kornheiser as analyst on Monday Night Football. Here's the news story I wrote for the Times, as well as a spot-on column by Times sports columnist Gary Shelton.
Here are some leftover thoughts and tidbits from the big announcement.
* Gruden and Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president of production, were on a conference call Monday with the national media and the one thing that stuck out was how neither would comment on just how long Gruden was committed to Monday Night Football. One would guess that ESPN would prefer Gruden to give a long-term commitment -- at least two years. Had Gruden given that kind of promise, either he or Williamson would have said so, or so one might think. But the fact that neither did and purposefully dodged at least a half-dozen questions on the subject leads one to believe that Gruden made no promises beyond the upcoming season.
One could surmise, too, that a one-year deal would give ESPN an out if Gruden is not quite as good as most think he will be.
Anyway, it should be noted that not long after he was fired in January by the Bucs, Gruden took up an office in the St. Pete Times Forum where he meets with other coaches and breaks down game film. Sounds like someone still interested in coaching, doesn't it? And that's no secret. Even as he was accepting a job with ESPN, Gruden admitted he missed coaching.
But here's a name to think about: Bill Cowher. When Cowher walked away from the Steelers after the 2006 season, most assumed he would be out of coaching for a season, two at the most. But he found out how enjoyable (and relaxing) broadcasting is and his perfect coaching job -- or one that is better than his gig at CBS -- hasn't come along just yet. Don't look now, but Cowher will be back at CBS for a third year come fall. Maybe Gruden will hang out in the MNF booth longer that we think. Then again, maybe he won't.
* If Gruden is a one-year wonder in the booth, as many think he will be, why would ESPN go through the trouble of breaking in Gruden this year and then having to break in another analyst next year? This is pure speculation, but a year from now -- maybe, finally -- Brett Favre will give up playing for good and will be looking for a job.
* As far as Gruden being wooed by another network, it doesn't sound as if that happened. Gruden said he wasn't considering any other offers. NBC, which appears to have a spot open in its studio, did not talk with Gruden and the guess is because Gruden couldn't give NBC a long-term commitment. Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports' chairman, doesn't seem like a guy who is willing to let his network become a pit stop for coaches between jobs.
* Many out there seem to think Tony Kornheiser didn't walk out the door, but was pushed. ESPN insists it was Kornheiser's decision to leave and, well, I believe them. I do believe it was Kornheiser's call. So why would Kornheiser leave a once-in-a-lifetime job for a sportswriter? For starters, Kornheiser, who lives in Washington D.C., does have a fear of flying and the MNF schedule in 2009 has just six games in the Eastern Time Zone. The other reason Kornheiser might have left is because he was tired of the criticism. Kornheiser took a beating from fans, bloggers and media critics for his performance and he might have become fed up with the whole thing.
* I actually thought Kornheiser did a good job on MNF. Many didn't like him because, I believe, they didn't understand the role he was supposed to play. He wasn't there to be another Dennis Miller, ripping off one-liners and obscure references. And he certainly wasn't there to be another ex-player or ex-coach breaking down X's and O's. The way I saw it, Kornheiser was there to represent the fan in the booth, to offer comments and ask questions that the average guy on the street might say or ask. Sure, he could be funny and if he noticed something, he could point it out. But when he fulfilled his central role and asked partner Ron Jaworski a question or said something that a fan would say, most accused him of simply not knowing the game. I believe Kornheiser was everything ESPN wanted and expected him to be. Diehard fans just didn't want that and that's too bad because at least Kornheiser was different than the standard ex-jock and he brought a perspective that no one else brings to any other college or pro game. Now it's doubtful that another network will try such an experiment in the near future, if ever again.