Last night I spent the start of the NFL Draft flipping back and forth between ESPN and the NFL Network before finally settling in to NFLN coverage for most of the night.
(Dude on the left? A-hole, which is why I like him)
Why? Because ESPN left its big NFL Draft guns Mel Kiper and Todd McShay on the bench in favor of offhand analysis by Jon Gruden. Inexplicable when considering that ESPN singlehandedly built the NFL Draft into the popular, pop culture event that it is today by the non-stop propping up of prognostication by Kiper and now McShay.
Once I realized that Kiper and McShay were being shoved aside by ESPN to placate Gruden’s ego, I turned to NFL Network, which spent most of the night giving viewers what they wanted, astute analysis from draft expert Mike Mayock.
So why did ESPN flip the script? The network is doing all it can to keep Gruden from returning to the NFL, so it showcased the coach on what has become perhaps ESPN’s signature NFL property. But in the process of doing so, Bristol betrayed what it has built into an astonishingly popular property.
I’m flummoxed by ESPN’s naivete about Gruden. Bristol execs somehow think that he wouldn’t break his current contract with the network if the right coaching deal came along. A deal that would probably include an NFL team buying out a portion of Gruden’s remaining ESPN contract.
So on what should be a triumphant night for a property ESPN basically invented, the network sent NFL Draftniks scurrying to the NFL Network as Kiper and McShay were mostly idle throughout the night.
While I know there are probably plenty of you who despise Kiper and McShay, ESPN has turned them into undeniable celebrities. So ESPN spends all this time building up the pair’s predictions, then shoves them aside during the actual NFL Draft coverage just to make Gruden happy? Though the coach could leave the network at any moment and is somewhat reticent about giving strong opinions for fear of alienating a future employer?
I’m not defending Kiper and McShay, more making a comment about ESPN’s inability to see how its being played by Gruden.
I have to admit that the one thing I was looking forward to last night was to see what happened to Jimmy Clausen and the reaction from Kiper and McShay. Kiper had Clausen going #8 to the Raiders and the much-maligned McShay had Clausen at #30 to the Vikings. We did get this heated exchange on the subject from the two before the draft:
McShay, who won that high-profile battle, is probably the most-hated ESPN personality by viewers (and media?) at the moment. In other words, he’s the person viewers remember the most and are compelled to watch, so he should take all that vitriol as affirmation of his ability.
McShay reminds me of Kirk Herbstreit. I co-hosted Herbstreit’s daily afternoon drive radio show in Columbus for a couple of years, just as his career was taking off at ESPN. Now Herbstreit is above the fray, but back then he was on the receiving end of ESPN viewer disdain every single week. I experienced it personally and witnessed how it affected Herbstreit. It bothered him, but to his credit, he never backed down from what he believed he should be doing.
Herbstreit is now the dignified, unquestioned leader of ESPN’s college football coverage, but back then he was an oft-despised pretty boy. Same criticism I hear directed at McShay.
Wonder if Bristol execs will figure that out by the time Gruden inevitably exits.