Prior to becoming head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden was a staple in the ESPN booth for Monday Night Football.
Gruden’s knowledge of the game and charismatic approach made him a fixture in the booth. Of course, it was his love for the game that ultimately drew him back to the Raiders.
While Gruden’s time as a broadcaster is remembered favorably, it seems that was not the case for everyone involved.
ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough shared the booth with Gruden leading up to his departure. He said during an appearance on the SI Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina that their different approaches to the job made it a difficult dynamic to work through:
“I think, to be totally candid, Jon Gruden enjoyed the X-and-O part of it,” McDonough told Traina. “He loved the telestrator. He told me when I first got the job, ‘I don’t like stories.’ So he didn’t want the stories and he didn’t want to engage in conversation. There were times when I would ask him a question or make a point and he didn’t respond, and I think it was just because he was so focused on, ‘I’m gonna dive into this play,’ and he just didn’t want to do it.”
McDonough felt that their contrasting styles even made it awkward at times.
“There were times it came across as being awkward, and it was awkward,” McDonough said. “It was awkward for me. You’re standing there next to somebody wondering, ‘If I ask him a question about this, is he gonna answer it or is he gonna be annoyed that I asked him?’ So it was uncomfortable. . . . The part of it that bothered me was the narrative of some people in your line of work, ‘Oh, well that was a little too big for McDonough.’ I did the World Series when I was 30. I don’t think anybody thought I was nervous or out of place.”
McDonough that there are no hard feelings about Gruden because it was a result of the direction ESPN wanted the broadcast to go.
“It was the direction [the producer and director] chose to go in most of the time, which I understand,” McDonough said. “Jon’s the analyst. TV is an analyst-driven medium. It was his strength. They played to his strength. It made sense. It just didn’t match with what I was there to do. . . . It wasn’t great, but I’m glad I got the chance to do it. Did I think we were bad? No. I thought it was fine. But it could’ve been great, in my opinion, and it wasn’t.”
McDonough’s comments indicate some of the intimate details of what needs to go into a broadcast to make it great. The pair were never on the same page since their partnership ultimately culminated with him prematurely revealing Gruden’s departure to join the Raiders.
Fortunately, the pair have since managed to find their niche. McDonough is now set to do play-by-play for ESPN’s NHL broadcasts while Gruden looks to lead the Silver and Black to the playoffs for the first time since his return.