Barry Jackson

Examining the NFL overhaul at ESPN; Fox feud brewing; Miami Dolphins broadcast news

ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico speaks before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, Mass. on Sept. 14, 2009.
ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico speaks before an NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, Mass. on Sept. 14, 2009. AP File

Lots of media notes:

• For ESPN, this NFL season will mark a new beginning and also the beginning of the end.

It’s a new beginning for the Monday Night Football, which will feature someone other than Mike Tirico calling the games for the first time since the package migrated from ABC in 2006.

And this also likely will mark the end of an era – Chris Berman’s 30th and perhaps final year hosting ESPN’s NFL programming. It’s telling that ESPN has not denied multiple reports that Berman will leave his full-time post and NFL host chair early next year, though his agent has said he has no intention of retiring. Berman politely declined to discuss the issue.

Tirico, who joined NBC, will be missed on Monday Night Football, but Sean McDonough was a sensible successor – a polished, alert and accurate play-by-play man who doesn’t sugarcoat.

McDonough described his new gig as a job “that anyone would kill for.”

McDonough hasn’t had a chance to be a lead announcer on a major pro sport since calling the World Series for CBS in 1992 and 1993.

“You almost take for granted these things are going to keep coming to you,” he told me when I asked about that long gap, on a conference call. “I went a long time always feeling like I had a very nice level in our business, did a lot of great events, major bowl games, the British Open, the U.S. Open, but I always felt there was that one next level to climb back up to.

“I told [ESPN executive] John Wildhack I wasn’t sure I really wanted to stay if they didn’t believe I was capable of being a signature voice on a franchise of this type. He assured me they did view me that way…. I’m glad I persevered. What I’ve learned through the years is do not take anything for granted. You realize there are very few of these kinds of jobs, and when you have them, you are very fortunate to have them.”

McDonough was competent but somewhat bland in that CBS lead baseball role two decades ago. But McDonough has displayed an understated wit in recent years.

“If I bring a little more in the way of light touches, that’s what I would try to do,” he said.

McDonough, 54, has worked college football for ABC and ESPN since 2000 but hasn’t called NFL games since doing regional assignments for CBS in the 1990s.

McDonough choked up on an ESPN conference call this offseason when talking about his deceased father Will, the former NBC and Boston Globe legend who was television’s first NFL insider.

“Even though he’s gone 13 years, I try to remember all the lessons learned,” McDonough said. “I do get a little emotional from time to time. I’m one of those people who cries watching cartoons.”

Former ESPN executive John Wildhack, who had a major role in McDonough’s promotion this past May before leaving to become athletic director at Syracuse, said when Tirico left, “Sean was absolutely at the top of my list. He’s one of the exceptional talents in our industry.”

As for Berman, his contract expires next May. Berman, 61, told me in May of 2015 that he could envision working to 65 so he would be a “six-decade man” at ESPN.

“I was underpaid for 20 years, and I was overpaid for 20 years,” he told Sports Business Journal in June.

“[Next] May, we’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do next. If this is to be the last year, I promise to do it the way I did the year I came in. That would be with passion. And that would be trying to get it right.”

Nobody has narrated highlights with more flair and energy over the past two decades, but Berman also has been criticized by some viewers for sticking with largely the same shtick over three-plus decades.

If this is Berman’s final year, he will anchor the Sunday pre-game show, NFL Countdown, with an entirely new cast of studio analysts.

ESPN replaced Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter with Randy Moss, Charles Woodson, Matt Hasselbeck and Trent Dilfer. Jackson and Ditka left by choice; Carter and Johnson were bounced from the cast, but ESPN gave Johnson a job as a Los Angeles-based radio host and SportsCenter analyst.

ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman told Sports Business Journal that the analysts “we used to have were a great group, but after a while, because they don’t know the players as well personally, it became a little more X’s and O’s than we wanted it to be. With this group, I’ve stressed that we don’t want to X-and-O people to death. We want them to talk about the things that people in the league are talking about. We’ll do a little more on the opinion side and a little more speaking on personal knowledge.”

• ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, battling throat cancer, said he received some encouraging news recently and though there’s no definitive date on a return, he anticipates “being able to participate in NFL coverage on a limited basis.” ESPN will not fill his NFL Countdown seat next to Adam Schefter.

• CBS is sending Sunday’s Dolphins-Seahawks game to 29 percent of the country, with No. 2 team Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts assigned to the call…. Here’s the full Week 1 NFL map, including some additional markets added for the Dolphins game.

• CBS isn’t replacing officiating expert Mike Carey, who was dropped, but is open to adding one if it find a good fit.

• NFL Network on Thursday hired former Colts and UM receiver Reggie Wayne as an analyst.

• Fox lead NFL analyst Troy Aikman, who works Giants-Cowboys with Joe Buck on Sunday, isn’t happy with the network’s decision to hire Skip Bayless away from ESPN.

Aikman told SI’s Richard Deitsch in this piece that “To say I’m disappointed in the hiring of Bayless would be an enormous understatement. Clearly, [Fox Sports president of national networks] Jamie Horowitz and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to building a successful organization. I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals, none of which applies to Skip Bayless."

There’s history between the two. As Deitsch noted, Bayless’s 1990s book on the Cowboys “addressed unsubstantiated rumors —both in the book and on Dallas sports talk radio —that Aikman might be gay, but did not make a specific claim in his book.”

• ESPN’s First Take (with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman – who replaced Bayless) trounced Bayless’ Fox Sports 1 show in the ratings on Wednesday, .32 to .07 among major markets, Ourand reported.

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