There are three things in life that we can all count on: death, taxes, and Jon Gruden’s name being mentioned in connection with every job opening — or potential job opening — in the Southeastern Conference.
Well, we must be nearing October because the Gruden talk is heating up once again. By November, he’ll be spotted golfing with boosters, searching for houses with realtors, and visiting potential schools for his kids. From one end of the conference to the other, too.
Last week, word started to percolate out of Knoxville that Gruden — who is famously married to an ex-Tennessee cheerleader and who reportedly owns land in East Tennessee — had let it be known that this time he would really be interested in chatting with the Volunteers… should Derek Dooley not earn himself a fourth season. Check the messageboards and you’ll see the details. “Gruden talks to boosters,” etc, etc.
This week, we’ve also received two long, detailed emails from the Natural State suggesting that Gruden has let Arkansas AD Jeff Long know that he’s interested in the Razorbacks’ job. I just got off the phone about 30 minutes ago with an Arkansas-based radio host wanting to know what I’d heard on the Gruden front. I told him what I’m about to tell you:
Gruden’s agent, Bob LaMonte, must be floating his client’s name again.
Since January of 2009 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired the coach known as Chucky, Gruden’s name has been connected to one job opening after another. Tennessee has come up before. In fact, our sources say UT officials have twice reached out to Gruden to see if he had any interest in returning to the school where he served as a grad assistant back in the mid-80s. The answer was “thanks, but no thanks.”
And when Georgia’s Mark Richt entered last season on a hot seat, who was rumored to be interested in the job? Gruden.
As soon as Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle and his career in Fayetteville, Gruden’s name became a hot topic. Arkansas had an opening. Gruden was available. Bada-boom, bada-bing, Gruden would become a Razorback.
And it’s not just SEC schools. When the University of Miami was searching for a coach in late-2010, Gruden reportedly said no, then showed some interest, and then said no again. Gruden’s name has been tied to Louisville (where his brother played quarterback), Ohio State and Oregon as well.
But every time he’s rumored to have talked to a college or pro team — he reportedly spoke with the Cleveland Browns in 2011 — he’s wound up staying put in the ESPN broadcast booth. Last October he inked a new deal with the network designed to keep him on “Monday Night Football” through the 2016 season.
Funny, Gruden’s name comes up and his salary at ESPN goes up. Some reports say he makes in excess of $4 million per season. No wonder Gruden or his agent keep floating his name out there. Heck, in December The San Diego Union Tribune reported that the Super Bowl-winning coach planned to get back into coaching in 2012, before ever calling game under his new pact.
Now, might Gruden some day return to the sidelines? Sure. It’s possible. No one expected him to spend three years in broadcasting. No one expected him to make broadcasting a career. But he’s had so many opportunities to take the reins of a college or pro team over those three years that we’re going to take it real slow with any reports that Chucky might be coming to an SEC stadium near you.
Even if Gruden did want to get back into coaching, it’s likely that he’d want to do it at the highest level. He’s had success in the NFL. He’s been involved with the NFL in one way or another since 1992. You can also make more money at the NFL level (without having to spend half your time recruiting teenagers and their parents).
Now, for those in Tennessee who are certain that Gruden has had contact with Volunteer boosters, we will do a little bit of speculating just for you. It’s possible that Gruden has indeed talked about coaching a team that wears orange with Jim or Jimmy Haslam, the biggest boosters at the University of Tennessee. The Haslams did just buy the NFL’s orange-clad Cleveland Browns and Gruden is an Ohio native who supposedly grew up a fan of the Browns. Current coach Pat Shurmur is just 4-15 since taking over the rebuilding job by Lake Erie. But the previous owners hired Shurmur and GM Mike Holmgren, the Haslams didn’t.
If we had to put money on Gruden getting back into coaching, we wouldn’t bet much. And we’d put most of what we did bet on him taking over an NFL franchise as a coach/GM rather than going the college route.
Anything’s possible, yes. But we’ve heard too many people in too many places cry about this particular wolf way too many times to believe the current scuttlebutt coming from Fayetteville and Knoxville.