ESPN’s Sean McDonough: It was ‘awkward’ working with Jon Gruden

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Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden lasted just two seasons alongside one another as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast team, and McDonough wishes the tenure would have gone differently. 

“It wasn’t great, but I’m glad I got the chance to do it,” McDonough said on the “SI Media Podcast” with Jimmy Traina. “Do 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 joined Gruden in the MNF booth ahead of the 2016 season, replacing Mike Tirico, who left the network for NBC. He conceded that the dynamics between him and Gruden were often “awkward.” 

“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?’” McDonough said. “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.” 

Following the 2017 season, McDonough returned to his niche as one of the network’s premier college football broadcasters, while Gruden became the new head coach of the Raiders, leaving the booth after nine years. 

McDonough noted that the show’s producers and directors often steered the broadcast towards Gruden’s forte — breakdowns and analysis. 

“I think, to be totally candid, Jon Gruden enjoyed the X-and-O part of it,” McDonough said. “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. 

“… 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.”

McDonough, 59, has long been a staple on ESPN’s college football and college basketball coverage. Last month, the network tabbed McDonough as the lead play-by-play voice for its NHL coverage, beginning next season.

In recent years, the MNF broadcast team has been a revolving door of both play-by-play announcers and color commentators. Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick comprise the current broadcast team.

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