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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.