Ron Jaworski has signed a five-year extension with ESPN for what the network touted in a press release this afternoon as an "expanded multi-platform analyst role." But the announcement undersold the biggest news:
Jaworski will no longer be part of the "Monday Night Football'' broadcast team.
ESPN will go with a booth of holdovers Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden next year, just the sixth time in the program's 42-year history in which it has had a two-person booth.
The move is surprising since Jaworski's Xs-and-Os acumen -- he has the ability to make what he learns during extensive film study accessible to casual fans and diehards alike -- proved a nice balance to Gruden's outsized and occasionally over-the-top personality.
Jaworski will be prominent on studio programs such as "Monday Night Countdown,'' "Sunday NFL Countdown,'' and "NFL Matchup.'' ESPN said the move is not a demotion for Jaworski, citing his "greater year-round presence,'' but the list of sports broadcasting jobs as prominent as being part of the "Monday Night Football'' team is short, and the program is ESPN's crown jewel.
“I am grateful for having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of working on Monday Night Football the past five seasons with Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and so many other talented people behind the scenes who make the show so great, and I look forward to bringing my passion and knowledge of the game to more fans in more places than ever before on any and all football topics,” said Jaworski in ESPN's press release.
He told Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch that he was told about the move on Monday. "“It’s bittersweet,'' he said, ''but I’m excited and thrilled with some of the projects moving forward.”
It will be interesting to see whether Gruden, an enthusiastic, entertaining, but rarely critical analyst, suffers or thrives without Jaworski offsetting him. Gruden signed a five-year contract with ESPN in October, but the former Bucs and Raiders coach's name is often rumored whenever there is a prominent NFL coaching opening.
Should he eventually leave, ESPN, which struggled to find the right "MNF'' mix before Tirico-Jaworski-Gruden, will have a vacancy with no obvious heir apparent.
“I thank Ron for the great contributions he has made to Monday Night Football,” said ESPN president John Skipper. “With two strong analysts in Ron and Jon, these moves will better utilize their strengths and benefit our entire NFL presentation.”
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.