In dumping Ron Jaworski from Monday Night Football, ESPN’s message couldn’t be any clearer:
Jon Gruden is our star and he doesn’t need to be sharing analyst duties with anybody, not even a highly qualified and capable employee in Jaworski.
In three years as an announcer, Gruden has demonstrated that he’s a dynamic TV presence. But as an analyst, Gruden sometimes fell short last season, his work not necessarily warranting the larger role he inherits with Jaworski’s demotion to the studio.
In his first two years in the Monday Night booth, Gruden’s biggest failing was a glaring imbalance between praise and criticism. He recklessly threw around the word “great,” and tossed plaudits at players and coaches far more than justified.
He struck a somewhat better balance last season but didn’t progress from being a decent analyst to an excellent one because of other shortcomings. Gruden loves to predict play calls, but he was wrong more often than right in 2011.
His timing was off in other ways. Such as: After telling viewers how opposing runners cannot turn the corner against the Steelers’ outside linebackers, Frank Gore turned the corner for an 11-yard burst on the next play.
What’s most troubling is several of his comments weren’t supported by replay or fact. He credited a defensive lineman with a great pass rush move when the offensive lineman merely slipped.
With the 49ers leading the Steelers 20-3 late in a December game, he announced, “It’s Frank Gore time” seconds before viewers saw Gore standing on the sideline, wearing a coat.
He asserted that San Diego’s overtime defeat in Kansas City was “the worst day” in Chargers coach Norv Turner’s “life” — ridiculous, considering Turner has lost an AFC Championship game to New England and two second-round playoff games. And that doesn’t even include non-football events in Turner’s life.
Perhaps Gruden will thrive with the increased freedom of a two-man booth. His analysis on this year’s NFL Draft was very good — concise, cogent and critical when appropriate. Hopefully, that will translate to the booth, and Gruden will validate ESPN’s faith in him.
A quick look at some of the other broadcast changes of note:
• The NFL Network’s Thursday night package, which started in November in past years, will expand to 15 weeks and begin Sept. 13 with Bears-Packers. The network also has one Saturday game: Falcons-Lions on Dec. 22. But NBC has the Thanksgiving night game (Patriots-Jets).
• CBS dropped information man Charley Casserly and replaced him with Jason LaCanfora, who handled the same role for NFL Network.
• Fox dumped former Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington and replaced him with ex-Dolphins fullback Heath Evans on one of its lower-tiered broadcast teams. Former Rams coach Mike Martz replaces Jim Mora on another of Fox’s broadcast teams; Mora left to coach UCLA.
• ESPN added former Dolphins star Jason Taylor, ex-Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light and former Colts general manager Bill Polian as studio analysts. Kordell Stewart and Jon Ritchie were dropped.
• Erin Andrews left ESPN for a multi-platform role on Fox, including features on the pregame show and a few sideline reporting assignments. Comedian Frank Caliendo left Fox’s pre-game show to pursue other opportunities.
• For the network airing the double-header on a particular Sunday, the NFL pushed back the start of the second game from 4:15 to 4:25p.m., reducing the chance of games overlapping.
The NFL discovered that between 2009 and 2011, there were 44 instances when viewers were switched away from an in-progress 1 p.m. game so they could see their home team’s game, in its entirety, at 4:15. (That is required, by league rule.)
But that number would have plunged from 44 to 15 if the second games started at 4:25 p.m.