When we surveyed PFT Planet shortly after ESPN announced that Ron Jaworski would be moved off the Monday Night Football broadcast, a clear majority of you said that was the wrong move. But ESPN continues to believe that Jon Gruden is the commentator the fans want to hear.
ESPN president John Skipper says the decision to pull Jaworski from the booth wasn’t a reflection of his work, but was a result of ESPN going all-in on Gruden.
“Jaws is great,” Skipper said, via Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated. “What we are mostly trying to do is we want to ride Gruden. Gruden is a star. You have seen his QB show. He has a lot of personality. He has a lot to say. There was some concern that he and Jaws sounded a little bit the same in the booth. We just thought it would help viewers sort of understand who was there. Our sense is we ride Mr. Gruden a little bit. I think he can be a big star.”
The reality, however, is that the best broadcasters are the ones who recognize that the players on the field are the stars. John Madden was the biggest star there’s ever been in an NFL broadcast booth, and one of the traits that made Madden great is that relished using his role to elevate otherwise overlooked players, especially offensive linemen. Gruden can come across like he’s too interested in hearing himself talk, and when he does talk he can focus too much on telling viewers how wonderful the quarterbacks are.
It’s also fair to ask whether ESPN is wise to go all-in on Gruden when he could choose at any time to get back into coaching. Gruden is only 48, and if he gets the itch to coach again, he could leave ESPN with a big hole to fill in its Monday Night Football booth.
But ESPN knows what it’s getting with Gruden, and it’s moving forward with him as its most prominent voice.