At first glance, being moved from the Monday Night Football booth to calling college football games might appear to be a demotion, but Sean McDonough saying he prefers the lower level league is not a smokescreen.
“Ultimately, what is the most important thing in life is to be happy,” McDonough said in an interview with Kirk & Callahan on WEEI in Boston.
“As much as it was a great honor to be the voice of Monday Night Football — and you guys know me well enough, and certainly a lot of my friends and family do — it wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun the last two years. When I took my ego out of it, when the conversation about a reboot of MNF came up, when I took the ego part of it out, and rationalized it, I really could be fine with not being the voice of MNF, then it became easy.”
McDonough appeared to have a good relationship with former MNF analyst Jon Gruden, and says he continues a friendship with the new Raider head coach, but there were times he felt the broadcast centered on the popular ESPN personality.
“If you go back and look at the schedule, generally we got one of the worst NFL games each week. You’re trying to make something sound interesting and exciting that isn’t,” McDonough said. “For me, part of it was just the way the booth was set up the last two years. It was really geared around Jon Gruden. That’s not unusual, TV really is an analyst-driven medium. Jon had a particular set of skills that he did really well, and foremost among them was analyzing the play, breaking down the play, ‘Here’s why they ran that play, here’s why it worked, here’s what this guy did or didn’t do.’ It was really football-heavy, X-and-O-heavy, and I think most play-by-play guys, all play-by-play guys, would’ve felt like a bit of a bystander.”
McDonough did at first expect to stay in the MNF booth after Gruden left, but it was apparent early on ESPN was interested in exploring other options. McDonough was an honest and at times critical broadcaster, leading some to think the NFL may have been behind McDonough’s departure.
“If we’re looking for reasons why TV ratings for the NFL are down all over the place, this doesn’t help. The way this game has been officiated is not something anybody wants to watch,” McDonough said during a 2016 matchup between the Jets and Cardinals.
McDonough, however, told Kirk & Callahan that his honesty was not the cause of him no long being an NFL play-by-play announcer, “I know there are people within the NFL who probably wish I talked less about the officiating, or whatever it was that rankled them. I was assured by people at ESPN as they were considering a reboot that that wasn’t really an issue.”
McDonough will remain with ESPN, signing a multi-year contract extension last week. He will essentially swap play-by-play roles with Joe Tessitore who moves into the MNF booth, while McDonough will go back to college football, a sport he prefers. “I love college football,” McDonough said on WEEI. “For me, it’s more fun, and that’s a personal taste.”