Former Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden is joining ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The dynamic, outspoken and often fiery Gruden will join commentators Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski in the booth when sports television’s signature series kicks off its 40th season this fall. Gruden will also contribute analysis throughout the year on ESPN Radio and other platforms, in addition to being a part of ESPN’s 2010 Pro Bowl telecast and Super Bowl and NFL Draft coverage.
Gruden replaces Tony Kornheiser, who has decided to step down after three years in the Monday Night Football booth.
“I would like to thank Tony Kornheiser for his many contributions to Monday Night Football the past three years,” said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “He has been a big reason for the show’s success on ESPN. Pardon the Interruption is one of ESPN’s most important franchises and fans will continue to see Tony on the show and involved in other future ESPN projects for many years to come.”
Kornheiser added: “I am totally grateful for the MNF opportunity that I truly enjoyed the last three seasons. I feel we got better each year. My fear of planes is legendary and sadly true. When I looked at the upcoming schedule it was the perfect storm that would’ve frequently moved me from the bus to the air. I kept looking at the schedule the past month and wanted to find a way to quietly extricate myself. If I could handpick a replacement of a football guy, I would cast a net and drag in Jon Gruden. He is the two things you most want — smart and funny — and has the two things I don’t — good hair and a tan. I love PTI and am looking forward to continuing to yammer and yodel with Wilbon until the end of time.”
Gruden served as an NFL head coach the past 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and most recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08). He compiled a career record of 100-85 and led his teams to five division titles. Gruden’s best season was 2002 when the Buccaneers finished the regular season 12-4 and captured the Super Bowl XXXVII title with a 48-21 victory over the Raiders, the team Gruden had coached just one season earlier. At the time, the championship made then 38-year-old Gruden the youngest head coach ever to win a Super Bowl.
“Jon is one of the best football minds in the game, he has a natural ability to communicate that knowledge and he brings great enthusiasm everything you want in an analyst,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president, production. “Combining Mike, one of the top play-by-play commentators in TV and radio, and Jaws, arguably the NFL’s best X’s and O’s analyst, with Jon, a Super Bowl-winning head coach, will create a must-watch Monday Night Football booth during the 40th season and in the years ahead.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity and I am very excited to be associated with ESPN and Monday Night Football,” said Gruden. “I grew up a fan of Monday Night Football, and whether I’ve coached on Monday night or watched, I’ve hardly missed a game all these years. To join Mike and Jaws in the booth and to work alongside this top-notch team is going to be a real thrill.”
Gruden began his NFL coaching career in 1990 when Mike Holmgren, then offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, hired him as an assistant in charge of quality control. Gruden quickly ascended through the ranks by learning the famed West Coast offense pioneered by longtime 49ers coach Bill Walsh. When Holmgren left the 49ers to become head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1992, he named Gruden the Packers’ wide receivers coach. After three seasons in Green Bay, Gruden moved on to become the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator under head coach Ray Rhodes. In 1998, Gruden was chosen by Oakland owner and general manager Al Davis to be the Raiders’ new head coach at the age of 34.
A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Gruden grew up in a football family. His father, Jim, served as an assistant at Notre Dame in the late 1970s and later with the Buccaneers. Gruden graduated from the University of Dayton, where he was a back-up quarterback. After graduation, he started his career as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee in 1986. He also served as the quarterback coach at Southeast Missouri State (1987-88), and the wide receivers coach at both Pacific (1989) and Pittsburgh (1991) in the college ranks.
Gruden worked as a guest analyst earlier this year with the NFL Network during the NFL Draft and Scouting Combine. He will make his Monday Night Football debut when ESPN kicks off its 2009 preseason schedule with a Super Bowl rematch between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, August 13 at 8 p.m. ET. Following four preseason games, Tirico, Jaworski and Gruden will call the Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots on September 14 at 7 p.m. in the opening game of the doubleheader that will kick off the 40th season of Monday Night Football. Reporters Suzy Kolber and Michele Tafoya will also continue to travel to each week’s MNF game, providing team updates throughout the day on Monday Night Countdown and other ESPN studio shows.
Quotes from ESPN’s Monday Night Football commentators:
Mike Tirico: “I can’t express how much I enjoyed working with Tony the past three years. It was a professional experience that I enjoyed and a lasting friendship that I will treasure. I think all of us on the show are better for the time we spent working with Tony.
“Looking ahead to this season, I am excited to welcome Jon to Monday Night Football. Every time you are in his company, you come away so impressed by his energy and passion for the game. He will be a perfect fit with our group. I was fortunate to be there at Super Bowl XXXVII when he reached the pinnacle of coaching success and I look forward to being next to him when he achieves greatness in this new chapter of his career.”
Ron Jaworski: “I’ve enjoyed working with Tony. He’s a class act and a brilliant man. He sees the game from the outside in and I see the game from the inside out. He brought me a new perspective and helped me grow in my role as an analyst. I also thank him for his friendship.
“I first got to know Jon when he was a coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was young, bright and energetic. He has a tremendous football mind and his career speaks for itself. He will bring a unique perspective to Monday Night Football and I am excited to work with him.”
ESPN’S MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
ESPN’s Monday Night Football is the most-watched series in cable television history and the only NFL series nominated for a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Live Sports Series category the past three years (2006-08). In three seasons on ESPN, Monday Night Football has registered seven of the top 10 all-time biggest household audiences in cable history, led by the Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys telecast (9/15/08), which attracted cable’s largest household audience ever (an average of 12,953,000 million homes and 18,608,000 P2+). For the 2008 season, MNF averaged an 8.9 rating and 8,679,000 homes (11,962,000 P2+); the accompanying MNF “game around the game” content on ESPN.com sparked an increase of Monday traffic to the site of 51% over the previous season with an average 68.1 million page views per week.