Following last week’s announcement that Sean McDonough will no longer be in the booth for “Monday Night Football,” the analyst had some surprisingly candid comments to make about ESPN’s biggest sports property on Thursday.
McDonough told WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” that “MNF” was generally “one of the worst NFL games each week,” and said it was a challenge to make it sound “interesting and exciting.”
Jon Gruden’s former partner left the “MNF” booth after just two years, having replaced Mike Tirico in 2016. He has now signed a multi-year extension to his deal to rejoin ESPN’s college football team to call weekly games, as well as a College Football Playoff Semifinal and to assist with Masters coverage.
“If you go back and look at the schedule, generally we got one of the worst NFL games each week. You’re trying to make something sound interesting and exciting that isn’t,” he said.
McDonough explained that part of the issue “was just the way the booth was set up the last two years. It was really geared around Jon Gruden,” he told WEEI. “That’s not unusual, TV really is an analyst-driven medium. Jon had a particular set of skills that he did really well, and foremost among them was analyzing the play, breaking down the play, ‘here’s why they ran that play, here’s why it worked, here’s what this guy did or didn’t do.’
“It was really football heavy, X and O heavy, and I think most play-by-play guys, all play-by-play guys, would’ve felt like a bit of a bystander,” he added.
It was announced in January that Gruden was departing “MNF” to sign a 10-year deal worth nearly $100 million to return as coach of the Oakland Raiders. Gruden previously coached the Raiders from 1998-2001, before heading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 — where he ironically beat Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.
McDonough said Thursday that when Gruden first left “MNF,” he assumed that he would stay on, but it became clear that ESPN executives had other ideas. However, he stressed that wasn’t because he’d been critical of the National Football League, as previously reported.
“I know there are people within the NFL who probably wish I talked less about the officiating, or whatever it was that rankled them. I was assured by people at ESPN as they were considering a reboot that that wasn’t really an issue,” McDonough said. “I’d like to think ESPN would ignore that. When you pay the league $2 billion per year, you ought to be able to pick who your own announcers are.”
As for returning to his old gig on Saturdays, McDonough said: “I love college football. For me, it’s more fun, and that’s a personal taste.”
A spokesperson for ESPN declined TheWrap’s request to comment on McDonough’s interview with WEEI.