With his wise-guy shtick and winning chemistry with partner Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser attracted critical praise and a wide following as a cohost of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. So when the network acquired the rights to Monday Night Football in 2006, he was an interesting choice to add a leavening touch to the three-man booth, alongside play-by-play man Mike Tirico and analyst Joe Theismann.
The experiment, which came to an end on Monday when Kornheiser stepped down—citing his longtime fear of flying as one reason—was a mixed bag. His comfort level rose significantly when Theismann, with whom he often collided on air, was replaced in 2007 by Ron Jaworski, a football wonk and far better foil (and broadcaster) than Theismann. But Kornheiser was never fully accepted by the football-viewing public, and even he seemed to realize that the outsider act on which he depended was impossible to sustain in a crowded booth for three hours. (Kornheiser once chastised himself in a newspaper column for not being subversive enough on MNF.)
Kornheiser's replacement is Jon Gruden, the former Raiders and Bucs coach. "I'm not going to be a negative barbwire with a growl on my face," Gruden says, though he said he would be critical when the situation called for it. His inclusion tilts the booth in a decidedly X's-and-O's direction. "Jaws practically lives at NFL Films and Coach Gruden was known for getting up at three in the morning and popping in film," says MNF producer Jay Rothman. But as a guest analyst on the NFL Network during this year's draft, Gruden was engaging, prepared and showed a refreshing ability to be self-deprecating. "On the surface they can be perceived as hard-core," says Rothman. "But we're going to have a lot of fun."