In the fall of 2020, Monday Night Football will have a new broadcast crew for the fourth straight season. But instead of just minor tweaks around the edges, MNF will be starting fresh, with neither Joe Tessitore nor Booger McFarland returning to the booth. ESPN reportedly decided to replace the pair internally, which somewhat limits the pool of potential candidates, but there are still plenty of options in-house. Our staff had their say about who should (rather than who would) call MNF this fall (without the in-house caveat, just to make things more interesting), and here’s who we all chose.
Matt Clapp: I’ll keep saying it (just like in last year’s roundtable about replacing Jason Witten) – just put Louis Riddick in the booth already.
Riddick has an excellent football mind (and has interviewed for NFL GM positions), and breaks the game down exceptionally well for any level of football fan to appreciate. He’s well-spoken, and brings enough personality where he won’t bore the viewer. He’s the safest pick, which should mean a lot to ESPN after how many times they’ve bungled this hire. And he’d likely end up being the best pick, especially if ESPN is going with internal options only.
As for the play-by-play choice, that’s a much more difficult call. If I could pick anybody for the job, it would be Ian Eagle (who’s at CBS). But sticking to the “internal choice” thinking, I think Dave Pasch is the best choice.
Anybody who has watched Pasch’s basketball broadcasts with Bill Walton knows he has a terrific sense of humor and brings witty remarks, but he’s really a great play-by-play man. He brings intelligence, an entertaining personality, and an appealing voice to the broadcast. He’s a longtime college football play-by-play man for ESPN, and has been the Arizona Cardinals play-by-play man since 2002. Like Riddick, Pasch is a safe choice, and again, ESPN should really value that this time around.
Ben Koo: I’ve got 18:1 odds on Steve Levy, so I’ll stick with him, especially since I picked him back in January. Levy is a bit more of a breezy conversational point guard and will help round out a bit of a stiff and awkward MNF booth since Mike Tirico left for NBC. With him at in place, I think the best idea is to have Levy do some test games with a few different combinations of people who are currently in the running. I know a lot of people feel that Louis Riddick, Dan Orlovsky, Brian Griese, and Pat McAfee have the inside track, but I’ll offer up a three man booth of Steve Levy, Kurt Warner, and Ryan Clark as my solution. Warner is not the lightning in the bottle that Tony Romo has been (and some think Drew Brees will be), but Troy Aikman is of the same ilk and has been steadily okay to good for nearly two decades at Fox. That’s what you’re getting with Warner, and it will work just fine which is an upgrade to the past few years. Nothing wrong with above average stability!
As for Clark over a guy like Riddick, I find Riddick to be more of a fit as a studio personality who excels at getting deep in the weeds on player personnel, scouting, and front office maneuvering. He also may not be a good fit because similar to Gruden, he could at some point bolt back to the NFL. I’m not as convinced as others that his prowess will translate as well to the booth, and see Clark as more of a natural at making in-game observations. I think he essentially rounds out a booth that has lacked a confident, comedic, and smooth presence on the analyst side since Jon Gruden left, and imagine he would play well with Levy and Warner. So there you go. I fixed it. You’re welcome.
Joe Lucia: I feel like I need to spell this out in large block letters for ESPN: you don’t need to hire or promote loud, famous people to call your premiere properties. We’ve seen it with both MNF and Sunday Night Baseball in recent years, and while the big names got the properties attention, it wasn’t good attention. In my opinion, it makes way more sense to promote competent, well-liked individuals from within, because while they might not be as attention-grabbing as say, Jason Witten or Alex Rodriguez, their competence won’t be questioned.
I’m also not going with a three-person booth because they’re the bane of my existence and often create a much more cluttered broadcast, no matter the sport (see: that short-lived, disastrous trio of Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds, and Tom Verducci at the MLB on Fox. Yeesh). With that being said, my choice for the new booth is a somewhat out there one: Tom Hart and Louis Riddick.
Hart has worked his way up the ladder at ESPN since joining the network a few years back, and is currently the lead voice for the SEC Network. It seems like it’s a huge leap to go from SECN to MNF, but recent developments in ESPN’s stable of college football broadcasters (Adam Amin leaving for Fox, Tessitore seemingly jumping back into the CFB fold, one of the college broadcasters getting the call for MNF) means that there’s going to be changes to existing pairings anyway. Promoting someone who is more than qualified, even if he’s working on a lower visibility package than MNF, just makes sense. Hart is also young enough that ESPN wouldn’t need to worry about making a change due to retirement just a couple of years down the line, like they would have in the absurd rumor floated about them trying to trade for Al Michaels from NBC.
And while Hart doesn’t have NFL experience, Riddick does, so the network wouldn’t be going into the season blind like ESPN did two years ago with an ex-player with zero game-calling experience, a college studio analyst, and a college play by play broadcaster. Hart’s lack of NFL experience would be more than balanced by Riddick’s proficiency in the sport, and Riddick’s lack of time in a broadcast booth would be balanced out by Hart’s experience in a variety of sports. To me, it just seems like a good match overall, but I’m more than prepared to be called a stupid idiot that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Ian Casselberry: I’ll speak up for Dan Orlovsky, who I think can convey the same sort of enthusiasm that fans enjoy from Tony Romo. But that’s not the only reason ESPN should choose him for the MNF booth. Orlovsky knows his stuff, which he shows on Twitter and NFL Live, and can break things down with detail quickly. I know some worry that he maybe tries too hard to be a personality on TV and gets too “hot take-y,” but I think that’s from being on shows like Get Up where you have to shout and dance to stand out. I believe he’d dial that down in the broadcast booth.
And though I’m not typically a fan of three-man booths, I’ll jump on the Louis Riddick train. He’d be a nice complement to Orlovsky, not just in terms of approach but also outlook. Riddick is often praised for adding perspective from the scouting and front office sides of football, but he also played defense in the NFL. I don’t think enough analysis comes from that side of the ball in game coverage. (Charles Davis, Chris Spielman, and Ronde Barber disagree, I’m sure.)
For play-by-play, I like Matt’s choice of Dave Pasch, who I’ve been a fan of going back to his days at Detroit’s WDFN. Yet I lean toward Steve Levy because I can “hear” him doing Monday Night Football more easily. Sure, that’s probably because I can recall Levy calling college football with Brian Griese so it’s familiar to me. And that feels more comfortable.
Andrew Bucholtz: I think a three-person booth can work with the right people involved, and especially with the right production decisions (no two-and-a-half-men Boogermobile, and a production staff that finds ways to work everyone in without it feeling crowded). It’s crucial to have three people with good chemistry who can take their turns and find their spots to contribute without constantly trying to force their analysis in. But when a three-person booth works, it can be a real asset, providing two different analyst perspectives. And Monday Night Football has had success with that in the past, especially with Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Don Meredith.
I also think a three-person booth’s important at the moment as a way to work someone with a defensive background in. As Ian mentions, while there are some notable defensive analysts, the three top booths at the other networks all feature analysts with offensive backgrounds (former quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Tony Romo and former receiver Cris Collinsworth). It seems likely that ESPN’s going to go back to offense here after moving on from Booger McFarland, but a three-man booth could let them showcase perspective from both sides of the ball. So with that in mind, my pick is Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Ryan Clark.
Why those three in particular? Well, Levy and Griese already have good chemistry from their work as a college football pairing and on Broncos’ preseason games, and they called last year’s MNF doubleheader game with Louis Riddick. I think both of them bring a lot to the table. Levy’s a solid play-by-play presence, and I also think his SportsCenter experience would be particularly helpful for the MNF role; his interviewing and traffic-directing time there would help him make a three-man booth shine. He also has a good sense of humor, which could be a nice addition in the appropriate spots (it’s something he’s worked in well during his college football and XFL broadcasts). Griese’s a reliable and interesting analyst, and someone who doesn’t seem to need to constantly interject, which would be valuable in a three-man booth. And Clark always impresses me during the studio show appearances he gets on ESPN; he’s refreshing as someone who often seems to provide some nuance and detail rather than hot takes, and I agree with Ben’s perspective that he’d do well at making quick in-game observations. I feel Levy, Griese and Clark would provide a booth with strong chemistry and a variety of perspectives, and it’s one I’d want to listen to.