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What’s new for NFL 2012: Another lineup switch for ESPN on MNF; how long before Gruden coaches again?

Since ESPN took over Monday Night Football in 2006, the only constant has been Mike Tirico in the play-by-play seat.

The first year saw Tirico work with Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser. The chemistry wasn’t right, and out went Theismann and in came Ron Jaworski for 2007.

That trio lasted two years until Kornheiser decided he had enough of MNF, or they had enough of him. Take your pick. Enter Jon Gruden in 2009.

Again, ESPN felt it wasn’t right. After a three-year run, the network sent Jaworski back to the sidelines last spring. Now ESPN is banking two is better than three with Tirico and Gruden on the call for 2012.

Why another change? On the eve of the 43rd season for Monday Night Football, I posed the question of Tirico and producer Jay Rothman:

Tirico: I would say the difference, simply, having more of a conversation with one person, as opposed to spreading it out back and forth. That’s where the dynamic of the broadcast changes. People were under the false impression that a three‑man booth led to more chatter. Like any other broadcast ‑‑ there are no plays that go by with complete silence so, there’s just as much real estate.

We’ll be able to take a conversation and develop it and follow‑up on things. I’ll give you a great example, there was a screen pass in the game that we had in the preseason and Jon talked about the perfect phasing of the offensive line. And I know that term only because I’ve been around Jon for last four years and he’s taught us that. I was able to follow up with him on the next play, as opposed to going somewhere else.

So I think we’ll be able to do more of that. Just the nature of ‑‑ a conversation with two people who like each other, love football, and are prepared for the entirety of what’s in front of us that week with the two teams. I think you’ll get more of that in the broadcast with two, as opposed to three.

Rothman: Well, the only thing I would say about that is Jon is a unique talent and has a lot to offer. I think it’s very difficult and you’ll see there’s really no three‑man booth out there in terms of football coverage, really in NFL or college football.

It’s very difficult in a game with a play clock and the short window in which you dissect the game and analyze the game, that sort of thing. It’s cluttered. That’s why you don’t really see it.

I think this allows for more space and it allows for us to be more precise and on point. It allows us to showcase Jon and Mike’s talents, and we think it’s the right move.

*******

However, will ESPN have to make another change in 2012? I think it’s an upset that Gruden, 49, is back for his fourth year.

I asked Tirico if he is surprised that the former coach hasn’t become a current coach again?

Tirico: I think that after all the stories I read that Jon was not going to be back after year one, here is what I’ve learned over time. The more energy you spend predicting the future is wasted energy. You have no idea what’s going to transpire and what’s going to go on.

The unfortunate thing with a three‑man booth because I know that if at some point, Jon leaves, it’s because he gets sick of me.

But hopefully Jon enjoys what he’s doing ‑‑ and he can speak for himself, he’s a big boy. But we love having him and every day, whether it’s for the next 20 years or the next 20 months, every day that I get to work with Jon has made me a better broadcaster and I look forward to it and I hope the run doesn’t end, I really don’t.

******

As for Mr. Gruden, this is what he has to say about his future:

Gruden: When I got fired from coaching, obviously I had a tremendous loss. I didn’t know what to do. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be on Monday Night Football and be on with Mike Tirico and have a chance to work with Ron Jaworski at ESPN that have helped train me, and I know that I have to get better.

But when you work at ESPN, they call it “the worldwide leader” for a reason; if you can see the tape that they send me to watch, that’s what has really quenched my thirst for coaching. I get plenty of video to evaluate. I get to go to different teams and spend days there and watch them practice and see their facilities, meet their players and coaches.

So it’s really been a tremendous growing opportunity for me professionally, trying something new, and also staying on top of what’s going on in football. I’ve really enjoyed it.

*****

Gruden hits 50 next year. That’s a sobering number and you start to hear the clock ticking a bit louder.

I can’t see him not coaching again. If the opportunity is right, Tirico will be in line for yet for another partner.

 

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