With the stunning news that Mike Tirico will reportedly be leaving ESPN this summer, the sports media industry has quickly turned to the multiple holes Tirico’s departure will leave at the WorldWide Leader. Tirico has always been underrated not just for his excellence, but for his versatility. Tirico’s most visible role at ESPN has been as the voice of Monday Night Football since 2006. However, Tirico is also synonymous with ESPN’s golf (and tennis to a lesser extent) coverage, Big Ten basketball, the NBA, and has called the College Football National Championship Game for ESPN Radio. Surely there is nobody at ESPN who is as talented and versatile as Tirico who could fill these roles. In fact, there might need to be a different person to tackle each of the assignments Tirico filled as one of the hardest working men in sports media. Here’s our best guess at some internal candidates who could move up the ranks.
(1) Monday Night Football – Play-by-Play
Tirico’s most high-profile gig is perhaps the hardest to fill as there is no ready-made successor readily available. ESPN certainly has a deep bench from their college football coverage, but with only one NFL game per week, there is no apprentice handy for the pro game. The reported name already surfacing is Sean McDonough, who would certainly be a worthy choice for such a high-profile assignment.
For years, McDonough has rivaled Tirico as one of the most underappreciated personalities at ESPN with his ability to do multiple sports. But, many younger fans may not even remember the days when McDonough called the World Series for CBS in the early 90’s.
The one question mark with McDonough would be the chemistry with Jon Gruden, although McDonough certainly has experience with analysts ranging from Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery to current partner Chris Spielman.
Should ESPN look outside the family, some names who could be natural fits could be Kevin Harlan (versatile, experience with primetime NFL on radio) and Kevin Burkhardt (young, up and coming announcer at FOX, but blocked for the next three decades by Joe Buck), but that’s purely speculative. Just kidding… ESPN already has a young apprentice ready who has called MNF games recently…
(2) ESPN Tennis Coverage – Studio Host and Play-by-Play
This is probably the place where ESPN can fill Tirico’s shoes with the least amount of resistance. ESPN’s roster of tennis commentators is stacked and Tirico was really only a presence during some of their major telecasts as another network heavyweight joining in with Chris Fowler. ESPN has a litany of announcers that can use more time in the booth (McEnroes, Cahill, etc.) and with anchor Chris McKendry focusing on tennis entirely now, everything should keep moving forward smoothly.
(3) ESPN Golf Coverage – Studio Host
ESPN doesn’t do many golf tournaments as NBC, CBS, and now FOX have gobbled up most of the major tournaments. However, the one high profile tournament that ESPN does have a piece of is Thursday and Friday of The Masters. Tirico had yielded announcing duties to the CBS crew led by Jim Nantz, however as the host of the coverage from the esteemed Butler Cabin, Tirico led viewers through the first two rounds of coverage. Thankfully for ESPN, there is a natural successor to Tirico in this role in Scott Van Pelt.
SVP has already become a bigger presence at the network over the last year with his solo SC @ Night run, but Van Pelt’s roots have always been in golf. While SVP’s opinionated nature may have to be toned down to fit in with the hushed seriousness of Augusta, there’s no doubt that Van Pelt is the surefire, logical fit for this role in Tirico’s absence. Which means only one thing…more Chris Berman!
(4) ESPN Big Ten Basketball – Play-by-Play
Most announcers, after a full NFL slate, would be ready for a well-earned vacation. But, Tirico has stayed busy during and after MNF with both college and pro basketball assignments. In the college ranks, Tirico has made a popular partnership with Dan Dakich. The chemistry between Tirico, Dakich, and their entire crew has made for an entertaining listen for Big Ten fans for the last couple of seasons. In fact, we were able to witness this chemistry first hand back in 2014.
Where the crew goes from here is a big question, as ESPN has always marketed their midweek college basketball. However, the recent news of FOX’s buy-in to a substantial Big Ten package leaves this assignment somewhat up in the air. If ESPN does keep a marquee midweek Big Ten game, Bob Wischusen makes a lot of sense as someone who called Saturday Big Ten games with Dakich in 2015-2016.
(5) ESPN NBA Basketball – Play-by-Play
Similarly to ESPN’s college basketball coverage, there is a deep bench for the WWL to turn to for a replacement with Tirico to sit alongside Hubie Brown. Credit ESPN for bringing in some new faces to their NBA coverage over the past few seasons. Two names that immediately come to mind are Dave Pasch and Ryan Ruocco. Pasch may be the more familiar name to ESPN viewers as he has been a mainstay on both college football and the NBA for many seasons, in addition to his incredibly popular pairing with Bill Walton calling Pac-12 college basketball.
Ruocco may not be as familiar, but his star has been steadily rising at the WWL from assignments with ESPN Radio to a now blossoming career with play-by-play on NBA games. Ruocco has also gotten extra reps with the Brooklyn Nets, and drawn decent reviews from our readers. It’s hard to split these two, and maybe this is another example of where multiple personalities are needed to replace just one of Tirico’s roles.
(6) College Football National Championship on ESPN Radio – Play-by-Play
More so than any other assignment on our list, this role is tied to who replaces Tirico on MNF. Despite not being involved with the college football regular season, Tirico has parachuted in to broadcast the National Championship Game on ESPN Radio. ESPN could go back to what they have done in years past and bring their new MNF team to radio, as Jon Gruden has experience doing the national title game earlier in his ESPN career. What makes most sense though, is bringing in Brad Nessler to work alongside his normal TV partner, Todd Blackledge, who called the game with Tirico last year. Then again, someone else may be lurking around the corner….
It’s going to be Berman for all of these, isn’t it?