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Possible replacements for Jon Gruden on 'MNF'

Jon Gruden's decision to return to coaching immediately creates the biggest off-season NFL media story: Who will fill his large role at ESPN?

Gruden's ESPN legacy is considerable. He was on the call for 144 games, ranking seventh all time among announcers and analysts for a Monday Night Football series that just completed its 48th year.

Beginning in 2010, his popular QB Camp series saw him mentor 57 quarterbacks; 17 starting NFL quarterbacks in 2017 were part of his program. He also was a main analyst for ESPN's NFL Draft coverage.

Tuesday, 'MNF' producer Jay Rothman called Gruden, "a once-in-a-generation talent whose passion for football and knowledge of the game is unrivaled. His innovative, creative mind, energy and sense of humor made Monday Night Football.

Gruden's considerable personality also made him a huge presence behind the scenes. He never stopped being a coach after joining ESPN in 2009. Instead of players, he coached up the entire production team to get them ready for that week's game. They always were ready to play for him.

Little wonder why the pregame production meeting for Saturday's Tennessee-Kansas City telecast featured members of the crew expressing their heart-felt feelings to Gruden. Sean McDonough got emotional in bidding him farewell at the end of the game telecast.

"Good luck with your Oakland Raiders," McDonough said. "It will be tough for a lot of us on this crew to be impartial when we go into those production meetings and see you next year."

Now ESPN has to find his replacement for Monday Night Football, arguably the network's most important property. Given the prime-time nature of the series, that analyst -- or analysts if ESPN goes to a three-person set-up -- needs to possess a healthy mix of big-name persona, charisma, keen football insight, and more.

Peyton Manning has all of those attributes, and is No. 1 on every network's wish list. The future Hall of Famer has not expressed a desire to get a regular broadcast gig, but perhaps the magnitude of Monday Night Football could sway him to take the leap. It would be quite a coup for ESPN to have No. 18 in the booth to open the 2018 season.

Another Hall of Famer, Kurt Warner, has popped up on speculations lists. The NFL Network analyst filled in for Cris Collinsworth, working with Mike Tirico on some late-season NBC/NFL Network games in December. He also has called 'MNF' games on radio for Westwood One.

ESPN has some intriguing in-house options. Randy Moss, a future Hall of Famer, has distinguished himself as an outspoken analyst on Sunday NFL Countdown. Fellow Countdown analyst Matt Hasselbeck also is expected to get some consideration.

Former Jets and Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, who has a big name and the personality, worked as an analyst for the Chargers-Denver game, the second game of ESPN's Week 1 Monday doubleheader. While he displayed some rookie inexperience during the telecast, that could be smoothed out with more reps. Still, it is expected Ryan will remain with the studio show.

Steve Young already is at Monday night games, working as an analyst for ESPN's pregame show. The Hall of Famer checks a lot of boxes.

Louis Riddick, the former Philadelphia director of pro personnel, could be an interesting wildcard. Much like FOX's Charles Davis, Riddick is rising through the TV ranks despite not being a former star player. Riddick probably doesn't have a big enough name to be a solo analyst, but he could be part of a three-person booth.

The bottom line is that ESPN will have no shortage of options. The network could pull off its own surprise selection, much like CBS did in hiring Tony Romo to be its No. 1 analyst this fall.

ESPN likely has been maintaining a fluctuating list of candidates, given the annual rumors that Gruden might jump back into coaching. Now the day finally has come, leaving ESPN to make a crucial decision about the future of Monday Night Football.

Streaming: Yahoo Sports will be livestreaming all four games of the playoff this weekend. Yahoo Sports also will livestream the Conference Championship games on Jan. 21 and the Pro Bowl on January 28th.

Viewers simply need to download the Yahoo Sports app on iOS or Google Play and enable location services on their phone. They can watch all the games on app regardless of their mobile network.

DVR alert: ESPN's new 30 for 30, The Two Bills, a documentary on the complicated relationship between Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, will air Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. The two Bills sit together for an interview in the film.

Announcer lineup


NBC, 4:35 p.m. ET

Atlanta at Philadelphia: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

CBS, 8:15 p.m. ET

Tennessee at New England: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo


CBS, 1:05 p.m. ET

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

FOX Sports, 4:40 p.m. ET

New Orleans at Minnesota: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman

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