ESPN on Monday named Sean McDonough its new play-by-play man for “Monday Night Football,” an hour after NBC said Mike Tirico will start there July 1 after 25 years at ESPN – the last 10 calling its Monday night NFL games.
Calling the job “the dream of a lifetime,” McDonough grew emotional during a conference call to announce his new assignment, especially when he spoke of his late father, Will, a famed football writer and a pioneer for writers appearing on TV.
McDonough said that calling it a job he “would ‘welcome’ isn’t a strong enough word.” Rather it is one he “would just about kill for.”
The opportunity came when Tirico bowed out, making McDonough only the fifth man to hold that job in 47 seasons of “Monday Night Football.”
Keith Jackson did it for only the first season in 1970, meaning that for the past 45 seasons only Frank Gifford, Al Michaels and Tirico have filled that role.
McDonough, 53, and Tirico, 49, both are alumni of Syracuse and share an agent in Sandy Montag. They spoke highly of one another on their respective conference calls, part of what ESPN vice president Jay Rothman called a “seamless transition.”
NBC did not reveal details of Tirico’s role, but he widely is assumed to be ticketed for play-by-play duties on “Thursday Night Football” as well as roles in NBC’s golf and Olympics coverage.
Tirico is viewed as an eventual successor to Michaels on “Sunday Night Football” and to another Syracuse alum, Bob Costas, as NBC’s Olympics host.
Tirico said working on the Olympics, which he will do in some capacity in Rio de Janeiro in August, was “at the top of the list” among the attractions of NBC’s rights portfolio.
He said another factor was a desire to somewhat reduce his travel and work schedule, which he said has had him on the road 150 to 175 nights a year since 1997.
Still, Tirico said, his departure from ESPN is anything but acrimonious. He said the responses he has gotten from ESPN colleagues since word leaked that he was on his way out have been “overwhelming.”
“People have been beyond nice,” he said. “I will continue to remain an ESPN fan for life.”
Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ executive producer, said he has received “an outpouring” of emails from Tirico’s ESPN colleagues expressing their admiration.
Tirico will have to give up some assignments, notably the NBA, to which NBC does not have rights. But he acknowledged that NBC’s NFL package “is a big deal.”
“There are opportunities that are going to be there, hopefully, for a very long stay at NBC,” he said. “So the entire portfolio is what helped make me decide.”
Regarding giving up the Monday night games, he said, “It was a very unique and special ride. That chair is a special one, made so by Al Michaels, who is the gold standard for calling football games.”
McDonough began his call by warning reporters he might cry.
“I’m an emotional guy and this has been a very emotional experience for me,” he said. “I’m one of those guys who cries watching cartoons.”
He recalled being allowed to stay up late to watch Monday night games in the 1970s.
McDonough has relatively little NFL experience on his play-by-play resume, but he has done extensive work calling college football.
He is known for a biting sense of humor as well as a willingness to express sharp opinions. He said Rothman has told him that is the sort of thing they want from him and his partner, Jon Gruden.
“They wanted a sense of humor and some personality,” he said, but he emphasized it must come naturally within the flow of a telecast. “The game is the most important thing and there isn’t anybody who’s done a better job of presenting the game than this group I’m joining.”
McDonough said he wondered whether his career had plateaued and whether ESPN still viewed him as a candidate to be the lead voice of a major property. He was assured he was. “I’m glad I persevered,” he said.
Said Rothman: “He has a great sense of humor, very quick-witted. He will give Jon Gruden a run for his money in the busting-of-chops category.”
McDonough said his brother, Terry, the Cardinals’ vice president of player personnel, had to take a break before the start of the NFL draft to gather himself after Sean called with the news he was getting the Monday night job.
Both were thinking of their father. “My dad, I think, was one of the most important people in terms of the media in the history of the league,” Sean said.
The transition in the Monday night booth comes amid ongoing changes in ESPN’s NFL studio personnel. The Big Lead reported Monday that Cris Carter and Ray Lewis were on their way out and Randy Moss on his way in.