ESPN announced on Monday that it has agreed to a contract extension with Jon Gruden that will keep him on TV for the next five years.
The biggest news to come of the announcement is that it likely means Gruden won't be snarling on NFL sidelines any time soon. That's probably good news, considering Gruden's name is tossed around like tomatoes at La Tomatina when it comes to every head coaching position that becomes available. The extension should suppress such rumors for at least the time being.
But as much alleviation as we'll get from that headache, we'll be faced with even more bewilderment with Gruden remaining up in the booth for Monday Night Football telecasts. Yet while he's a commentator you either love or hate, America should embrace his unique presence on Monday nights.
Because of his intensity, which contributed to his Chucky-like persona, Gruden was a polarizing figure as an NFL head coach. And since entering the broadcast booth in 2009, he's been every bit as polarizing as an ESPN analyst.
Gruden knows the game of football, and he knows it well. His knowledge helped him begin his professional coaching career as one of the NFL's first quality control coaches under Mike Holmgren when he was just 27. It later helped him guide the Tampa Bay Buccanneers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII — although many attribute that success more to what Tony Dungy helped create before his departure.
And now we get to see that knowledge on national TV on a weekly basis, as long as we're able to wade through the countless Gruden-isms that are sure to infiltrate every telecast.
Gruden consistently uses wild idioms, dishes out bizarre nicknames and alter egos, and makes bold proclamations that sometimes leave you scratching your head until your scalp bleeds, Other times, he'll simply let you know that a certain player is "a football player" or "here to play football" — both of which you know simply by watching the game itself.
But all in all, here's a guy — pun very much itended — who is clearly filled with such fervor for the game of football that he needs to be involved in some way. And he brings that passion and energy to his position at ESPN.
"Maybe at some point in time I will come back to coaching," Gruden said on Monday. "But I stay close to the game and this [broadcasting] scratches that itch, so to speak."
And just as broadcasting scratches that itch for Gruden, the former NFL head coach scratches America's itch for a "what the hell is this guy talking about/this guy is nuts" personality on Monday nights.
Dating back to the days of Monday Night Football on ABC, which concluded in 2005, we've seen an attempt to infuse some personality into the broadcast.
Dennis Miller assumed the role in 2000, beating out Rush Limbaugh and Tony Kornheiser, among others. But simply put: Miller stunk up the joint, turning the broadcast into a sideshow with his overall lack of knowledge and jokes that appealed to maybe four or five people, tops. I guess that's why his stint was shortlived.
Kornheiser later got his chance from 2006-2008, bringing with him more sports credibility, as well as a more relatable personality. But it was clear that he's more suited for the back-and-forth debate nature of PTI rather than the live game action of Monday Night Football.
Gruden, meanwhile, strikes the balance that we've longed for — whether people are willing to admit it or not.
Some of what Gruden says leaves you with that "huh?" feeling, while some of his other comments leave you thinking to yourself, "no kidding." It's that unpredictability that makes him great. Not only do you never know what he's going to say, but the unpredictability often rubs off on play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Ron Jaworski, whom Gruden called his "team."
But even amidst the colorful nature, boldness and bluntness, Gruden still has the head coach in him, which is intriguing when breaking down X's and O's. While that's typically Jaworski's department, as I'm pretty confident Jaws watches more film than Ebert & Roeper, Gruden is just as involved, frequently sparking some back-and-forth between the two.
Then, when it comes to broadcasts on ESPN outside of Monday Night Football, Gruden is again a guy who causes you to watch to see what he's got up his sleeve. His "QB Camp" this past offseason, during which he drilled prospective NFL quarterbacks with questions while making them feel uncomfortable was great television — great, ruthless, entertaining television.
For true football junkies, Gruden's a guy you might get annoyed with from time to time. For football novices, he might make your head spin. But for most of America, he's a guy that you can't wait to hear what he has to say — because you'll either come away from it more informed or you'll be texting your buddy to see if he caught Gruden's most recent comment.
This guy, is our guy.