There’s a new voice coming to ESPN’s Monday Night Football coverage, and his selection is reportedly thanks to a push from the NFL. Football Zebras’ Cameron Felipe broke the news Wednesday that ESPN has hired former referee Jeff Triplette (seen above during a 2016 Dallas Cowboys-Cleveland Browns game), who retired from officiating at the end of last season, to replace former rules analyst Gerry Austin (who left last week to take a consulting role with the Oakland Raiders, now coached by former MNF boothmate Jon Gruden). And Felipe adds that the NFL was involved in Triplette’s selection:
Nearly six months off his retirement, Jeff Triplette is slated to join ESPN as a rules analyst along with newcomers Joe Tessitore and Jason Witten in the Monday Night Football booth, according to officiating and network sources. Football Zebras has also learned that the NFL specifically steered ESPN to hire Triplette. He will be replacing former referee Gerald Austin, who has served on the MNF team since 2012.
So that’s interesting, especially considering the tensions that have arisen between ESPN and the NFL over time. Of course, that relationship reportedly saw particular strain near the end of former ESPN president John Skipper’s tenure, and has reportedly gotten better under interim replacement George Bodenheimer and eventual full-time replacement Jimmy Pitaro. Even the playoff game that many thought would be moving to Fox is still with ESPN for now. Maybe agreeing to hire the particular former referee the NFL wanted is another way for ESPN to appease the league.
But it’s notable that Triplette has been oft-criticized by football fans and media, and that many lit this move up on Twitter. Both the Football Zebras story and Pro Football Talk’s story got ratioed. Here are some of the replies:
I would rather be shot in the face. He’s not even a good ref.
— Mean Keen (@MeanKeen13) June 20, 2018
Um, shouldn’t he know the rules? Asking for a million football friends.
— Joe Manniello (@joe_manniello) June 21, 2018
— Dave Singleton (@dfsingleton) June 21, 2018
Literally the worse ref over the last 20 years.
— Jared (@LakeShowTime32) June 20, 2018
Hopefully he’s joining to learn the rules
— Joe for short (@Slide_Piece37) June 21, 2018
Ya he is gonna make Mike Carey look like a genius in the booth lol
— Craig (@hoef_C) June 21, 2018
Cool. The worst referee of the past 10 years just won’t go away.
— B Hansen (@BryanRHansen) June 21, 2018
As a high school official, I have always been the guy sticking up for other refs. But this guy is really hard to defend.
— Scott Reilly (@SReilly1212) June 21, 2018
— Pick (@RPickert25) June 21, 2018
That last one is from Triplette’s final game, the Titans-Chiefs playoff game this past season, which took criticism from Fox rules guru Mike Pereira:
Horrible way to start the playoffs. I hate to say it but this was not a good performance by the crew. Teams and fans deserve better.
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) January 7, 2018
Further criticism came from ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, who penned a piece titled “Officiating in Titans-Chiefs was ‘horrible,’ but it didn’t decide the game.” And there are plenty of other pieces bashing Triplette’s work in Titans-Chiefs. So yeah, those are not exactly glowing reviews. Of course, hires of almost any referee would have taken some criticism, but it seems unlikely it would have caused this much. And if ESPN had just looked through former officials and decided to hire Triplette, they’d deserve a lot of criticism themselves.
But the reported NFL push here makes this particularly interesting. If the NFL wanted a specific guy, it’s understandable why ESPN went along with that, given how important that relationship is to them. But it’s worth wondering just why the NFL wanted Triplette, and it will be interesting to see how he does in the booth.