The news that Jon Gruden is coming out of the booth to coach the Oakland Raiders has an obvious impact on the NFL landscape. Gruden immediately becomes one of the biggest names among NFL coaches.
It also has another big impact for fans: There will be a new color commentator for “Monday Night Football.”
Gruden has been the color commentator on Monday nights since 2009. It’s a position that is among the most visible in sports and creates headlines, whether it’s Howard Cosell, Dennis Miller or Gruden.
This is an important hire for ESPN, and here are the top names we’d like to see considered:
Peyton Manning: This is going to be everyone’s pick, right? Manning has a quick wit, and he obviously knows the game. It’s easy to see him having a Tony Romo-type impact in the ESPN booth. Manning has no regular experience in the broadcast booth, but neither did Romo and he is the most popular new announcer in sports broadcasting in many years.
We don’t know if Manning wants to be in the booth. Since his retirement, he has been surprisingly quiet about what his next job will be. He could go a number of routes, and if he’s going to do broadcasting there’s no better gig than “MNF.” He could even seamlessly take over Gruden’s commercials.
Rex Ryan: When ESPN needed a second color commentator for its “Monday Night Football” doubleheader in Week 1, it picked Ryan to team with Beth Mowins. Ryan was mostly panned for his performance that night, but we know why Ryan would be considered. He’s loud, boisterous and unafraid to criticize players and coaches. We saw that on “Sunday NFL Countdown.” He’d need some work in the booth, but the appeal is obvious.
However, one of Ryan’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” teammates would be a much bigger splash …
Randy Moss: This would be fantastic. Moss is still somewhat raw on television, but entertaining. He knows the game and is also willing to speak his mind. He’s funny on ESPN’s pregame shows. He’d be a huge hire.
Even though everyone thinks they can do the job of a color analyst, it’s not an easy one. Being able to offer instant, unique analysis on plays that just happened is a tough skill to master. I’m not sure if Moss (or Ryan, or Manning) could do that. But it would be really fun to find out.
Louis Riddick: If Riddick doesn’t get a general manager job, he’d be a perfect fit for the “Monday Night Football” job. If you’ve watched Riddick on ESPN, and especially on the network’s “NFL Matchup” show, he’s incredibly insightful on Xs and Os and explains it in a way that’s perfect for casual or hardcore fans. Also, as Gruden showed, being on TV every week offering analysis can be a plus for future NFL employment. Riddick could take the job and still end up running someone’s front office in a year or two. It’s possible being on “MNF” makes him even more attractive to teams (look at how Gruden’s legend has grown through the years). Riddick would be a phenomenal choice for fans who want to learn the game as they watch.
Bruce Arians: ESPN’s layoffs have to be a part of this story. The network will invest in “MNF” because it’s probably the most important entity the network has, but if they go get someone from the outside it’s going to cost them. Someone like Ryan, Moss, Riddick or Matt Hasselbeck is already on the payroll. But if ESPN is willing to go outside of its current employees, Arians seems like a great fit. Arians was the NFL’s most entertaining coach, then he retired at the end of the season. Arians had no problem offering sharp criticism of players, and he obviously knows the game well. He’d be a fun fit, and whoever is in charge of the mute button for accidental swear words would need to be on high alert.
Bill Belichick: Imagine this: ESPN outlines how Belichick might be nearing the end of his stay, then in a few weeks ESPN hires him to do “Monday Night Football.” Just joking with you, Patriots fans. Well, kind of. Belichick would be a must-see in the booth (his Xs and Os analysis on the Patriots’ web site during the season are phenomenal). Even hiring Manning wouldn’t generate as much buzz as Belichick would. Moving on …
Ronde Barber, Dan Fouts, Trent Green, Charles Davis: Let’s lump a few of the analysts from Fox and CBS together. It’s pretty clear No. 1 analysts Tony Romo and Troy Aikman aren’t going anywhere. CBS and Fox might not let some of their other talented analysts leave either. I’m not sure there’s a superstar in this group who ESPN would alter its plans for, but they should at least review their tapes.
Jay Cutler: Hey, Cutler might be going back into retirement again! Fox was set to have him as a third man on their No. 2 broadcasting team, and it sounds like Cutler wasn’t exactly practicing hard for that gig. It would be a crazy hire and I think there’s no chance it happens. Still, if ESPN hired him, you’d watch.
ESPN will have a lot of names to consider. In some ways, the color analyst on “Monday Night Football” is arguably the most visible employee the network has or at least on a short list. Luckily, there will be some intriguing candidates to fill Gruden’s role.
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