ESPN on MNF: Fans Want Football
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Everyone here at ESPN headquarters is taking pains to say that replacing Tony Kornheiser with Jon Gruden in the Monday Night Football booth is not an indictment of Kornheiser's work as an announcer. But in the next breath, everyone then talks about how great they expect Monday Night Football to be now that Gruden is a part of it.
Jay Rothman, senior coordinating producer for Monday Night Football, said Friday that he has no regrets about having Kornheiser in the booth, but he also thinks Gruden is one of the few people anywhere who can match Ron Jaworski in breaking down game tape -- and he thinks with play-by-play man Mike Tirico setting them up, Gruden and Jaworski will give hardcore football fans an education in the game, 17 Mondays a year.
"The fans want football," Rothman said. "That's what we're going to do."
Rothman pointed to Kornheiser's work when Monday Night Football went to New Orleans for the first Saints game after Hurricane Katrina as an example of the perspective he wanted Kornheiser to give the Monday Night booth.
"Tony brought a different wrinkle to it," Rothman said. "He elevated the game in the biggest moments."
But with Kornheiser gone, it's clear that ESPN is thrilled about the potential for Gruden and Jaworski to work together. During the preseason, ESPN officials say, Gruden and Jaworski have developed chemistry and learned from each other while breaking down film together, and some folks at ESPN are already suggesting that Gruden could become the next John Madden -- a coach who leaves the sidelines at a young age and then becomes even better known for his work on television than he was for his work in coaching.
Of course, that would mean Gruden never returns to coaching. It's equally possible that at the end of the 2009 season, as coaching vacancies begin to open up, Gruden will tell ESPN that he wants to get back in the game, and in 2010 Gruden will be on the sidelines and ESPN will be shuffling its Monday Night Football lineup once again.
Rothman says he hasn't even thought about that.
"I'm not worried about Jon," Rothman said. "Jon wants to be great. He wants to be awesome at this. He wants to, as he says, 'Choke it to death.' I honestly am not concerned about it. I think Jon is really loving the experience."
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