Back in January, when asked about the future of recently fired head coach Rex Ryan, Bill Cowher said, “I don’t see him coaching again in the National Football League as a head coach.”
Turns out he was right.
A source has confirmed a report by New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta that Ryan, who was fired by the Buffalo Bills after just two seasons, has been hired by ESPN to a multi-year deal, even as the network grapples with budget cuts and looming layoffs that has some staffers on edge. His brother, Rob Ryan, who failed to land the job as Washington's defensive coordinator, won't be joining him.
Ryan will join the network’s Sunday NFL Countdown show, which saw its ratings decline last season (as did most NFL broadcasts) after replacing longtime hosts Tom Jackson, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter with Randy Moss, Matt Hasselbeck, Charles Woodson and Trent Dilfer.
Critics of the new crew say it lacked some of the personality Ditka and Carter brought to the show, something of a strength for the outspoken Ryan, whose boisterous and sometimes profane press conferences and speeches were often picked up by national news outlets. As viewers of the New York Jets’ season of HBO’s Hard Knocks can attest, Ryan on television is gold, which is why his services were highly sought by many sports networks, including Fox Sports.
In addition to Ryan, ESPN has reportedly offered the show’s main hosting job, vacated by the retirement of longtime fixture Chris Berman, to ESPN college football reporter Sam Ponder, though a deal has yet to be signed. Ponder could not be reached for comment.
Ponder, who is married to NFL quarterback Christian Ponder, joined the Worldwide Leader in 2011 and succeeded Erin Andrews on College GameDay when the former ESPN reporter jumped ship to rival Fox Sports. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch speculates the move is part of ESPN president John Skipper’s desire to place more women in prominent positions during the network’s NFL coverage.
Ryan performed well-enough during a guest spot as an analyst on ESPN’s pregame coverage of Super Bowl LI for the network to bring him on board, though Deitsch says he thought Ryan was “underwhelming”
“Ryan was certainly personable but he didn’t offer anything memorable as far as analysis,” Deitsch wrote.
The move to hire Ryan comes as ESPN faces budget cuts, with the network planning “significant” layoffs targeting its on-air talent to help relieve pressure caused by cord cutting and increasingly-costly contracts with professional sports leagues.
Disney reported disappointing first-quarter fiscal results last month, primarily because of weak performance by ESPN and the company's media networks. Advertising revenue declined 7 percent compared to the first quarter last year while programming costs increased, including a new NBA deal that costs the network 1.4 billion a year, a 143 percent increase over its previous contract with the league.
At the same time, the network lost over 11 million subscribers to cord cutting between February 2011 and December 2016, according to according to Nielsen (whose numbers ESPN disagrees with). ESPN earns $6.50 per subscriber per month.
Unlike a 2015 round of layoffs that claimed around 300 staffers, this round of layoffs will spare behind-the-scenes staff but include many hosts and reporters whom fans know and recognize. ESPN will also reportedly buy out the contracts of some well-known hosts.”
The layoffs will reportedly take place over the course of next four months.
"Everybody's calling their agent. Nobody is safe," one source told Sporting News reporter Mike McCarthy.