After 25 years at ESPN, Mike Tirico, the voice of Monday Night Football, is leaving for NBC.
Tirico is beyond excited for his new role – for which he will cover Thursday Night Football, the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and everything in between – but the last few weeks, marked by countless texts, emails and phone calls from friends and current and former co-workers, have been remarkably bittersweet.
“The people at ESPN made the place really special,” Tirico said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “You still feel that. You experienced that. There are things to be critical about with any behemoth that is on the air constantly. You’re never going to please everyone. That’s the nature of sports. That’s the nature of society in 2016. But man, there are some great people who are awesome sports fans, and the times spent around them was just wonderful and the chance to work with a variety of people and a variety of sports would not have happened anywhere else. I have nothing bad to say about ESPN. If this was not a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I’d still be there and working with (Jon) Gruden and (Dan) Dakich and Hubie Brown and all the tennis folks and all that good stuff. But new opportunity, new chapter in my life, and a good point after 25 great years there. So let’s start over, get a new page and let’s see what we can do.”
Tirico, 49, has done booth work with Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Tony Kornheiser, Greg Anthony, Ian Baker-Finch, Nick Faldo and countless other sports personalities.
But no one was quite like Gruden.
“You come away with a couple of things,” Tirico said of his first encounter with Gruden. “He’s a great guy, he is all football coach, and (you wonder) is it going to be too much football? And then as you spent more time around him, you realized, ‘You know what? He’s an awesome guy. He’s a funny guy.’ He’s one of the best storytellers I’ve ever – ever – been around. So right away, I would say the first few days after we all got together, I kind of thought, ‘This can work. This can be good.’ We had Jaws (Ron Jaworski) with us for the first few years and that was perfect – perfect for Jon, perfect for me. It was like Jon was a No. 1 draft pick sitting next to a veteran who had done it for 10, 12 years, and just by seeing how Jaws operated and how he went about it, Jon was able to see how you can become a lead analyst – just like Troy Aikman did when he came in with Cris Collinsworth. People might forget they were with Joe Buck in a great three-person booth for Fox.
“That whole transition (with Jon) play out really well,” Tirico continued. “Jon, he is so good about understanding how people think philosophically in football – what’s coming, where it’s coming from, the plays or people that are going to give a certain team trouble. There was a stretch we went through (in 2014) where almost every week on our conference call, Jon would nail what the storyline of the game was going to be. I mean, nail it. If you went back and watched the first segment of our games where we previewed what was going to happen, Jon nailed what was coming in the game every single week. He had such a great feel for it. I thought I knew a bunch about football. I learned so much in the seven years with Jon. I’m forever indebted and forever a friend.”
After covering Monday Night Football, the Olympics, the World Cup, and basically every major sporting event ever, Tirico has learned a thing or two. About his job, about sports and about people.
“My job is not about me calling the game,” he said. “That’s a standard and needs to be very solid, but the most important thing I can do is work with the analyst. And the hardest challenge of that is Jon Gruden is different from Hubie Brown, who is different from Dan Dakich, who is different from anybody you’re going to sit next to. So you’ve got to make sure that you are doing the best to maximize them and that’s match their preparation – or at least be able to help them show their preparation on the air. Jon made me prepare differently, and he coached our team for Monday Night the last seven years to be ready for the game and its eventualities. You can ask anybody who’s been on that production team the last few years. They walk out of there knowing much more about football and why football happens on a game day the way it does now.”