Sean McDonough discusses “awkward” on-air partnership with Jon Gruden

After Sean McDonough exited the Monday Night Football booth, he explained that it wasn’t fun. He made waves at the time by attributing his views to the quality of the games. Recently, McDonough pointed toward the preferred topics of his on-air partner.

Appearing on the SI Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina, McDonough addressed the dynamics of his relationship with Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who served as MNF analyst for nine years between getting fired by the Bucs and hired by the Raiders.

“I think, to be totally candid, Jon Gruden enjoyed the X-and-O part of it,” McDonough told Traina. “He loved the telestrator. He told me when I first got the job, ‘I don’t like stories.’ So he didn’t want the stories and he didn’t want to engage in conversation. There were times when I would ask him a question or make a point and he didn’t respond, and I think it was just because he was so focused on, ‘I’m gonna dive into this play,’ and he just didn’t want to do it.”

So how did that go?

“There were times it came across as being awkward, and it was awkward,” McDonough said. “It was awkward for me. You’re standing there next to somebody wondering, ‘If I ask him a question about this, is he gonna answer it or is he gonna be annoyed that I asked him?’ So it was uncomfortable. . . . The part of it that bothered me was the narrative of some people in your line of work, ‘Oh, well that was a little too big for McDonough.’ I did the World Series when I was 30. I don’t think anybody thought I was nervous or out of place.”

McDonough emphasized that he’s not criticizing Gruden.

“It was the direction [the producer and director] chose to go in most of the time, which I understand,” McDonough said. “Jon’s the analyst. TV is an analyst-driven medium. It was his strength. They played to his strength. It made sense. It just didn’t match with what I was there to do. . . . It wasn’t great, but I’m glad I got the chance to do it. Did I think we were bad? No. I thought it was fine. But it could’ve been great, in my opinion, and it wasn’t.”

Their final game together became the most memorable, with McDonough needling Gruden about the open secret that he’d be taking the Raiders job and Gruden undoubtedly biting through his tongue while restraining himself from hurling McDonough out of the broadcast booth.

In his next assignment, McDonough won’t have to worry about Gruden or anyone else from the football world. Starting next season, he’ll become ESPN’s primary play-by-play voice for its NHL broadcasts.