It’s become a running joke over the years how many coaching jobs ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden has been linked to in the rumor mill. In fact, pretty much every major job opening that takes place in college or pro football has been required to mention Gruden’s name as a possible replacement ever since he got to Bristol.

After all those years of rumors, reports, sources, and speculation, it’s finally happening. Gruden appears to finally be going back to coaching with the Las Vegas Raiders of Oakland, almost a decade after he last coached in the NFL in the 2008 season.

Surely with all of the rumblings about Gruden’s future, ESPN is well prepared to move quickly to replace him. Gruden had become a major presence at the network — both in terms of television airtime and in terms of salary. Chucky was reportedly ESPN’s highest-paid employee with a multi-million dollar contract to be the face of their NFL coverage.

ESPN has a big decision to make with where they turn to next. Will they try to make another Gruden-sized splash with a new hire that can fill his shoes across a variety of platforms? Will they try to take the conservative approach and promote from within? Or will they throw everyone a curveball with a surprise?

Here’s our list of five possible moves for ESPN to replace Jon Gruden that could fit any one of those potential answers.

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Whenever a major television job opens, Peyton Manning’s name is going to be on the list of potential replacements, much like Jon Gruden’s name was on every single coaching list in the world. And like Gruden, Manning’s name is going to come up every time there’s a television opening until he takes one. In fact, it would be a shock if ESPN hasn’t already put in a call to Manning’s people.

Manning could come into ESPN and have a Tony Romo-like impact for the network. And with ESPN’s variety of platforms, they could give Manning a ton of exposure and opportunities beyond just Monday Night Football. If he goes all-in with ESPN, you can easily imagine Manning filling most of Gruden’s roles with MNF, the NFL Draft, and even various QB Camp specials and other specials too.

The question hangs on whether or not Manning wants it, though. It’s been a couple years out of football now for the all-time great quarterback and he still hasn’t made his next big move yet. If he doesn’t take the ESPN job, maybe we won’t ever see him in an analyst role.

Chuck Pagano

If ESPN wants to go with the former coach route and try to find the next Gruden, the former Colts coach may be the best pick among the lot of recently fired signal-callers. Pagano has an inspirational story with every football fan remembering his emotional battle with leukemia back in 2012. He found some success in Indy before falling on hard times the last couple years and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that it coincided with Andrew Luck’s injury woes.

Pagano has the energy, the likability, and the communication skills that seem like they would translate well to television. It’s always a guessing game to project who might do well in front of the cameras, but Pagano would seem to check most of the prospective boxes.

Brock Huard

Here’s a dark horse name for you. Huard is currently an ESPN college football analyst and hosts a radio show in Seattle. Over the last few years, Huard has risen through the ranks where he now routinely calls some of the biggest games of the week for ESPN.

The former Washington quarterback is secretly one of the top analysts calling football on a weekly basis as he always brings solid insight and a great attitude to the broadcast booth. While he didn’t have the greatest professional career (four career TDs and 689 yards in five seasons), he does bring some experience that could be helpful. It would be a bold move, and he may not be the biggest name, but Huard could step in and do the job right away.

Tim Tebow

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Speaking of bold moves… if ESPN wants to go in the opposite direction and make a splash with one of their own who has the biggest celebrity “it” factor, then why not give the job to Tim Tebow? Sure, he would probably have to finally call it a career and hang up the minor league baseball cleats, but maybe he would consider it for the chance to call Monday Night Football.

ESPN loves nobody more than Tim Tebow as evidenced by the fact that they’ve kept him on the payroll while he attempts a baseball career and that whole TebowMania thing.

Here’s the thing you may not realize, though: Tebow is really good on television as an analyst both in the broadcast booth and the studio. The only issue might be that he seems to be a much better fit personality-wise and from his playing days for the college game than the pro game. Nevertheless, you wouldn’t put it past ESPN to try this, right?

Ron Jaworski

Ron Jaworski ESPN

It’s fair to say that ESPN didn’t really do right by Ron Jaworski, who for many years was one of their best and most popular NFL analysts. Jaws, of course, was once part of the Monday Night Football broadcast booth and former partners with Jon Gruden, Tony Kornheiser, and Mike Tirico.

However, he was pushed out of the booth in 2012 in a decision to make it a two-man team with Gruden and Tirico. Jaworski’s ESPN career never quite recovered from there as he slowly drifted towards the margins.

Then last year in the midst of mass ESPN layoffs, Jaworski disappeared from sight. In a bizarre twist, it was reported that Jaworski was, in fact, part of the layoffs after weeks of speculation and that ESPN wanted to undo their decision and bring him back. However, that move was blocked by Disney.

Jaworski has said his ESPN contract runs until 2022. For a company that is having so much money trouble, how much sense does it make to replace someone who was your highest-paid employee with someone who you’re paying just to sit at home? When you consider that same someone has also been your best pure Xs and Os football analyst, it becomes a no-brainer. Whatever legal wrangling that needs to take place to get this done shouldn’t be an obstacle for ESPN and Disney to make it work.

If ESPN wants to make things right and gain some good karma for 2018, this is the man that should get the job.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • stim

    Pagano has great communication skills? One good speech when he’s about to be fired does not undo 6 years of the most riddiculous, cliche-laden nonsense filled press conferences ever. Do you guys even listen to LeBatard’s Useless Sound Montages? Talk about a way to drive football ratings even lower!

  • bmfc1

    Given all of the firings at ESPN, it would be irresponsible to pay Manning, a novice, “Gruden-money” as no one turns on MNF specifically to hear Gruden nor would anyone put it on to hear Manning (after possibly a game or two). ESPN can pay any of these suggested choices and then use the balance of Gruden’s salary to rehire board ops, researchers and technicians.

  • newdog301

    Whether it is the best move or not, I expect a 3 man booth if Gruden leaves. I don’t think ESPN wants to go with one guy off the bat and if it fails, move onto another team in 2019. It is much smoother to try a three man booth, and if it works great, if one guy is better than the other you could potentially overshadow him as the season progresses and maybe remove him altogether the following year.

    Some color commentator pairs I could see:

    Randy Moss/Matt Hasselbeck
    Randy Moss/Ron Jaworski
    Tim Tebow/Tedy Bruschi

    I wouldn’t be shocked if they pulled someone who is currently employed elsewhere either, like a Phil Simms (as bad as it would be) or Kurt Warner.

    • StoJa

      Tedy!!!

      I could also see them bringing in someone else from another network. Brandon Marshall maybe? He does a good job on Inside The NFL.

      • Dale Moog

        He will comeback to play next season with the Giants So he is out.

    • Dale Moog

      I think you could try the Hasselback brother together. That might be fun. No really they will promote one of the Hasselbeck brother in a three man both with another current analyst like Moss or Riddick

      • Son of Rusty Shackleford

        How about the Hasselback bros with Elizabeth H. to take care of the hot chick demographic?

    • DrewShervin

      Randy Moss and his three catch phrases. For me, I’ll tell you what and guess what. Also repeats every phrase twice in 10 seconds. No way!!

    • 66pugs99

      Good call on Moss, definitely has the right personality for it. And I do think he needs someone else, but definitely not Hassleback. I wonder what Moss and Pagano would sound like?

  • Maybe they bring back Dennis Miller, or Tony Kornheiser, or Rush Limbaugh, or the ghost of Howard Cosell?

    • Son of Rusty Shackleford

      Rush Limbaugh and Stephen A. Smith, a match made in heaven!

  • Bill Gordon

    Ryan Clark and Louis Riddick

  • Bill Grieser

    RG3 + Mike Golic Jr

  • QED – quod erat demonstrandum

    Stick a chick in with progressive views to which we can listen all night long.

    Wait one. I don’t watch MNF since 1995.

    • StoJa

      Cool story.

    • Super Mateo

      Katie Nolan fits that description, except I wouldn’t be able to listen to her all night, or even one quarter of the game.

      • QED – quod erat demonstrandum

        Take 20 years off and see if she gets better like I did.

        Funny thing. Fox couldn’t find a spot for her schtick but ESPN seems enthralled with her. This from the organization that thinks the new Sports Center duo is progress.

      • The Man

        Katie Nolan would be an excellent option. She’s intelligent, has a good sense of humor and has excellent taste in football teams.

  • Paul Fortner

    Interesting, assumed Matt Hasselbeck would at least make this list. Brock is great but would hate to lose him locally here in Seattle.

    • CarolinaHurricanesFan

      Brock is solid, but not MNF material. Go with Randy Moss and Rex Ryan for a 3 man booth. Also ditch McDonaugh as pxp man….very boring. And here’s a wildcard, Stephen A Smith….he can basically be African American version of Howard Cosell.

      • Walt_Gekko

        Stephen A. as a third person in the booth on MNF would definitely draw ratings.

        I would myself first look at Kirk Herbstreit.

      • Dale Moog

        They have tried this kind of thing before with Kornhiser it did not work. I think Smith would be TERRIBLE

    • StoJa

      Either Hasselbeck would be a solid choice, IMO.

      • Dale Moog

        I think Matt would be a better fit than TIm I could see ESPN using the Pro Bowl as an audition that will tell you who they are leaning toward.

  • souvien

    drive all the tiki-torchers absolutely nuts…Sarah Spain!

    • inku palios

      Or Kate Fagan & Mina Kimes. In reality, get Kurt Warner.

  • Daniel Ormsby

    I think everyone is forgetting about Bill Polian. Polian has been the #1 analyst for NFL on ESPN Radio the past 4 years. He worked with Sean McDonough on select games during that time. He was also moved over to tv for the draft this past season.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Polian is a possibility for sure, but I would first see if Kirk Herbsteit wants to move from college to the NFL.

      • Daniel Ormsby

        I wouldn’t rule out Herbstreit, but he seems much more profound on college analysis because he gives you inside knowledge of the teams thoughts. Polian has been doing the same thing on the NFL, and it’s more his specialty than Herbstreit’s because of the amount of management he has done.

      • StoJa

        No..no…no….keep Herbie on college. That’s not a slight in any way either. He’s the face/voice of college football/GameDay. To me he’s the John Madden of college football.

        Polian is awful. Keep him on the radio.

        • Walt_Gekko

          Personally, I think it’s time to for Herbsreit to move to the NFL.

          A compromise could be, ESPN gets their Monday Night doubleheader in Week 2 instead of Week 1 and Chris Fowler and Herbstreit get the second game of that doubleheader (would have to be week 2 since Fowler is busy with US Open Tennis during the NFL’s opening weekend).

    • 66pugs99

      Polian/Moss would be awesome. We might actually see a fight in the booth. This needs to be tried, if only for sake of watching it teeter on greatness/total disaster.

    • The Man

      Everyone should forget Bill Polian, he’s terrible and an asshole.

  • OOS

    Jamelle Hill on play by play with Kap providing expert commentary!

    • Devhog

      Mean!

  • John Vicari

    Did Rex Ryan blow his shot or could he be in the running?

    • newdog301

      It doesn’t seem like he’s the right fit for it. I think ESPN expected to get a Charles Barkley, Mike Ditka, explosive personality when they hired him for Countdown, and so far they haven’t gotten that. I don’t think he has the X’s and O’s knowledge to break down the plays during the game people would expect based on the popularity of Tony Romo, and what guys like Jon Gruden and Cris Collinsworth can do.

  • Walt_Gekko

    One name noticeably missing from this list: Kirk Herbstreit. He’s been ESPN’s top College Football analyst for over a decade and it would be a matter of would he be willing to switch from College to the NFL, especially the biggest sports stage Disney has.

  • Sting Rey

    espn like to hire very recent retirees with accolades.
    so it will either be heisman trophy winner and national champ carson palmer or eventual pro football hall of famer larry fitzgerald.

  • MrBull

    Bring back Jaws!…but, if Disney blocked the move to bring him back once, I doubt they would allow it to happen this time…
    Just shows how clueless Disney and Iger are – paying a person form 2017 – 2022 to do nothing!…Disney should use Jaws – Espn can really use him – or cut a buyout so Jaws can go elsewhere to work…

  • Dale Moog

    How about an ALL Woman both Beth Mowins, Suzy Kolhber and Mina Kimes LOL

    • Son of Rusty Shackleford

      I can see the Especially Stupid People Network going with a Sarah Spain/Jemele Hill duo to make sure they cover all the people of color and Suzy Kolber will be on hand as the grizzled old vet who can cover the sexually-abused demographic as well.

  • Jake Snakobson

    Some sort of robot should do.

    • 66pugs99

      You mean Manning or Tebow. They’re already on the list.

  • Pingback: ESPN's turnover among its NFL personalities is unprecedented()

  • Muphrid

    They can’t possibly do Peyton Manning. He has his own sexual misconduct case that is well documented; it would just be a time bomb for ESPN that would put egg on its face when it inevitably catches people’s attention again.

  • Eric Evans

    How about a replacement for Sean McDonough? I really didn’t watch any MNF games this season because he is so boring. I think a clean swipe is in order.

    • The Man

      I agree. He’s great for Baseball, but terrible for Football. I thank God my Patriots only had one MNF game this year.

  • DrewShervin

    Tim Tebow???? He barely speaks in complete sentences. Absolutely horrible. Zero chance of this happening.

  • 66pugs99

    Peyton Manning is terrible unscripted. Have you ever heard him in full length interviews? Tim Tebow??? LOL, How amateur can you get? Love Jaws as an analyst, but he’s already failed as a color man on MNF. Pagano has the most natural personality and resume for it, but can he actually call a full game and be interesting?

  • Respected Citizen

    Players Only (but not a Manning or Tebow).

  • Pingback: Jon Gruden reportedly gets 10-year $100 million contract from Oakland Raiders()

  • The Man

    Peyton Manning would be terrible. I say bring back the old Sunday Night crew of Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann and
    Paul Maguire. They were the most entertaining crew I’ve ever heard.

  • Ray Horcajo

    jaws, yes. The others- chuckle city

  • Chris Grogan

    When in doubt………go with Bill Walton. He was great doing commentary for last years ncaa title game.

  • Son of Rusty Shackleford

    Cross Peyton Manning off the list; the way the NFL is fading away, the owners will be begging him to take over from Roger The Enforcer before Super Bowl LIII.

  • Pingback: Matt Hasselbeck will call Pro Bowl with Sean McDonough in apparent 'Monday Night Football' tryout()

  • Paul Lindemann

    Are you serious????? Who needs color commentary??? I watch the game no need for someone to tell me what I just saw. Should be no pre of halftime shows what a waste of money

  • TampaD

    Jaws is the best pick, but anyone of them would be an improvement over Gruden

  • Rick Cole

    Bruce Arians