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As The Gruden Turns: Hogs Swing And Miss, Vols On Deck (And Sources Say They’re In Good Shape)

On Sunday, CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora claimed Arkansas and Tennessee were both targeting ex-NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden for their coaching vacancies.  Two nights ago, KTHV -TV in Little Rock reported that Arkansas had officially offered Gruden its head coaching job.

Rumors of a Gruden hire have swirled at both schools for more than a month with various fans and friends of friends of friends claiming that both Gruden-to-Arkansas and Gruden-to-Tennessee were done deals, depending, of course, on which said of the Arkansas/Tennessee border you stood.

Numerous sources from the Natural State have indicated elsewhere — and specifically to MrSEC.com last night — that Gruden politely turned down the advance from the Razorbacks.  Ron Higgins of The Memphis Commercial-Appeal — a city that straddles said border — reported the following on Twitter last night:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Tennessee in the on-deck circle at this point, MrSEC.com was told by an industry source this morning that it might not take a “mind-blowing” offer to land Gruden.

As everyone knows by now, the Super Bowl-winning coach began his career as a grad assistant at Tennessee in the mid-80s and married an ex-UT cheerleader who still has family in the Knoxville area.  Those ties could be causing Gruden — who’s spoken with Tennessee during previous searches — to lean more in the Vols’ direction this time around.

According to the source we spoke with today, Gruden and his agent are no longer asking for $50 million in guaranteed money over 10 years as had been widely speculated/reported in East Tennessee over the past few weeks.  If true, perhaps Gruden is willing to give UT a “hometown” discount on account of his wife and in-laws.  It’s also possible that the coach believes he could use his national celebrity to earn a good deal of cash over-and-above his Vol salary through national advertisements (he’s currently a pitch man for Hooters).

Various ex-Volunteer players — most from the 1990s and the Peyton Manning era — are claiming that Gruden is now a lock for the Tennessee job.  One of the sources we spoke with this morning wouldn’t go that far, but he did say that the ex-Buccaneers coach appears to be “intrigued” by the idea of trying his hand at the college game.  According to the industry source, the coach is so interested in Tennessee that it might only take an offer in the area of $4 million per season to land him.  “Only $4 million” is still ridiculous money and such a deal would still place Gruden behind only Urban Meyer ($4.3m at Ohio State), Bob Stoops ($4.5 m at Oklahoma), Mack Brown ($5.3m at Texas), and Nick Saban ($5.4m at Alabama) in terms of college football coaching salaries.

Multiple outlets have reported that Gruden has already spoken with a number of potential assistant coaches regarding a possible move to Tennessee.  Popular rumors in the Volunteer State have tied him to current Duke defensive coordinator and D-line coach Marion Hobby as well as current Southern Cal receivers coach Tee Martin, both former Vol players.

Our industry source indicated that Gruden has spoken with at least one ex-head coach about joining his staff.  That would make sense seeing as how the coach hasn’t been in the college ranks himself since an assistant coaching gig at Pittsburgh way back in 1991.

If you do the math on what ex-head coach might be on Gruden’s wish list, you’ll likely arrive at Ron Zook who was on the same Tennessee staff with Gruden under Johnny Majors in 1986.

The 58-year-old Zook has been a head coach at Florida and Illinois.  He’s served as a defensive coordinator with Cincinnati, Kansas, Florida, and the New Orleans Saints.  He also has a reputation for being a solid recruiter.

But before Tennessee fans start counting their Grudens before they hatch, there are still three potential snags that could nix the deal:

 

1.  Gruden could decide to stay at ESPN where the livin’s easy rather than going all-in with a college coaching job.

2.  Gruden could decide — even though he’s “intrigued” with the idea of coaching college ball — to wait for an NFL job to come open.  Several probably will.  And most of those owners will probably have some interest in Gruden.  But would Gruden wait for a possible NFL situation rather than take on the role of hero at Tennessee.  A bird in the hand, as they say.

3.  Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart might not want to go down the Gruden road.

 

Hart is the wild card in this equation.  Despite rumors that the Gruden is already hired by the Vols and Hart had no say in the matter, we’ve heard from multiple sources at UT and in the industry that he is indeed calling the shots on this one.  And he’s keeping his cards clutched tightly to his chest.

Have Tennessee’s biggest boosters talked to Gruden, gauged his interest, and reported back to Hart?  Yes.  But Hart still has to a) decide to close the deal and b) actually close the deal if/when he decides to do so.

From what we at MrSEC.com have been told, there’s a feeling Hart would resign and throw Tennessee’s athletic department into even more of a mess should someone try to force his hand.  He’s been hired to do a job and he wants to be allowed to do it.  Makes sense.

But if Gruden is truly “intrigued” and — as one source told us today — “can be had, if UT wants him,” then Hart had better think long and hard before going in any other direction.  In reality, a proven college coach might be a safer and more successful long-term hire than a pro coach.  Especially a pro coach with a reputation for not liking NFL rookies and youngsters.  But Volunteer fans have tabbed Gruden as their savior-to-be.  Only Bob Stoops would trump Gruden in most fans’ eyes.

So Arkansas has taken its swing and missed.  The ball is now reportedly sitting on a tee for Tennessee and waiting to be hit.  If Hart chooses to walk away from Gruden Field and take a swing elsewhere, he’d better be sure he hits a home run.  Otherwise, Tennessee’s biggest boosters will be looking for a new coach and a new AD the next time around.

 

SIDENOTE — If you’re growing tired of all the Gruden talk, he was spotted in Fayetteville recently.  Enjoy the link.

 


20 comments
sojourner
sojourner

i don't know whether gruden is the ticket for the vols, but he comes with something more than a last name.  if he's hired, my first reaction won't be 'what in hell were they thinking?'  that's a big change from the last hire.

SevierVol
SevierVol

I would love for UT  ro hire Gruden. Eventhough the hire could possibly be a mistake in the long run, the excitement and anticipation would alone be worht the gamble, at keast in my humble opinion. The possible upside is simply to much to ignore. With that said, I think Vol fans are about to be left standing at the altar while being doused with a bucket of ice-cold water. I think Gruden feeds off of "being wanted" and being relevent and loves the attention he gets each year at this time. I hope the hire materializes but I will believe it when it happens. This would be the most exciting hire in UT athletics since Johnny Majors came home in the mid-seventies. Anyone who is hired will have a percentage of  detractors but I am sure Gruden would have fewer than anyone else, He would unite the fan base and would certainly put butts in the seats.

FightingIrishFan
FightingIrishFan

I know the name says Fighting Irish but I live in Tennessee and grew up watching UT football with my dad. Here is what we know to be fact. Gruden has enrolled his kids at Knoxville Webb. He has been playing golf with Jim Haslam. He stated that he would be having dinner with Johnny Majors in a a week or so. Yes, we all know where he started his coaching career and his wife is an ex-cheerleader.

 

Here are the questions you have to ask yourself. Is he familiar with the college landscape? Absolutely! Is he familiar with UT? Yes. Why is he playing golf with Jim Haslam (One of the biggest donors to UT)? He has played a lot of golf with Haslam; Does this mean Haslam was courting him on this last golf outing? Probably so. He has talked to another ex-vol coach...who was it? I would imagine he talked to Fulmer. I have heard from incredibly credible source that Gruden is almost a done deal, even to the point that it will be decided, finalized and announced on November 30th. To all the people out there giving their two cents worth...How much money have you donated to the University of Tennessee? If the answer is zero, then please don't think that someone that is on the inside is gonna say that (ex. not a real person I hope) volsfanfor1973 on some message board is gonna sway a decision one way or the other. I understand that you support UT by buying their shirts, hats, stickers and game tickets but you are not "supporting" UT.

 

Finally, if what I have heard is true, then UT will have a fantastic coach with the credentials to back it up. I agree with person, who posted earlier on Fulmer, that firing Fulmer was a huge mistake. You fire the guy that made you relevant and didn't think twice. Fans put up websites like, firefulmer.com and bad mouth the guy that brought the first NC you have had in over 40 years. A guy that bleeds orange and loves UT like no other.

 

By the way, where the hell is Mike Hamilton now? He isn't an AD.

 

If Haslam is doing the interviewing for this position, by means of a golf outing, you better believe that some serious money is being thrown around. You think Haslam is the only big money guy throwing money in the hat? I am sure there are plenty of people that are pledging huge sums of money to make this happen.

 

 

louisianavolsfan
louisianavolsfan

I think if Gruden came to Tennessee Bray, Hunter, and Patterson would stay even become third to fifth year seniors. The recruits would be amazing, and the staff even better. We could actually win the sec or even another national champioship, the dicipline would be there and so would the respect from the league. You would not have TENNESSEE TO KICK AROUND ANYMORE. (DERRICK DOOLEY) I am from louisiana and cannot stand LSU, would love to see Gruden come in and play LSU and whoop that tail. the question stands is Gruden the right fit? what about trying to get Jimbo Fischer, Bob Stoops, Jeff Fisher, Jim Mora from UCLA. We need to back on the stage that Alabama is in, we need someone who can recruit and isnt scared to go out west, up north, and get these recruits that these other schools are getting.....

IAMSTILLAVOLSFANFORLIFE
IAMSTILLAVOLSFANFORLIFE

          I AM STILL A VOLS FAN FOR LIFE

 

 

 

I like Chris Peterson but if I am not mistaken we tried to hire him before Dooley. He did not want the job then a will not want it now and I don't blame him. I am not sold on Gruden either. I would not be upset if he stayed where he is or coached in the NFL. I don't think he would be a good fit because I do not believe he would stick around for the long haul.  At this point I do not know who the Vols should hire but Phil Fulmer should still be the coach in my belief. He had a hell of a record. Look at GA. They almost fired there coach and look where they will be come the end of the year. They could be in the National Champ. game and the fans wanted that coach out of there just a couple of years ago. If people would not have been so critical of Fulmer and given him the time to correct a few things we would not be having this problem now. Be careful what you wish for it just may happen and we just may not like it. O! for the days when Fulmer always gave us 8,9,10 wins seasons. I did not want them to fire him and it looks like they really missed up bad.  Way to go boys. Keep hiring and firing these lame coaches and while you are at it fire you own dumb asses. 

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

I for one would love to see a proven college coach (Art Briles, Dantoni, Golden, Fisher) hired instead of Gruden. However if there is a chance to hire Gruden you have to take it. He can hire the assistants and recruiters. At a program like TN or Bama or OSU, or TX, or any other top level program, the Head coach is a manager - CEO. You hire the assistants and develop assistants. You cherry pick the few recruits you get involved in recruiting and then manage your people from there. How often to you think Spurrier gets off the links to recruit. The 2-3 kids he has to have. Other than that he is managing his assistants and meeting with boosters raising money. I think that was Dooley's biggest downfall. He tried to run UT like LaTech. That is like saying the manager of your local Jiffy Mart would be able to oversee all of the gas stations for Shell Oil just because he was good at running the Jiffy Mart.

RonnieG
RonnieG

I like Chris Peterson and the guy from TCU as well....need some defense here thats probably the priority, it would be in my mind anyway. Games and championships are won with a good defense

Lupin
Lupin

Arkansas is in an awkward position thanks to Bobby Petrino but is in overall good shape throughout their athletic department and has an AD that has shown that he's loyal to a fault with his people and not meddlesome.

 

Tennessee on the other hand has a long history of backstabbing their head coaches (Majors, Fulmer, Summitt), meddling in their head coaches staffs (how long has the current football staff been there?) and has been a general dumpster fire for several years (that WHOOOSH you heard was Lane Kiffen).

 

Jon Gruden may in fact wind up at Tennessee but why on earth would a man that can write his own ticket want to go to work under those conditions?  In-laws?  oreally.  Wife is from there?  Have you ever seen Tampa, you can't be serious if you think that she's pining to move back.  Because he spent some time there 20 years ago?

 

If Jon really want's to coach in college Tennessee seems to be quite a stretch. 

RAB83
RAB83

HC success in the pros does not always translate to the college game, and vice versa.  UT's taking a big risk.  I would rather hire a proven HC from the Sunbelt, C-USA or MAC than a former NFL coach, especially since he's been out of coaching for a while.

VolTN
VolTN

Cannot for the life of me figure out what everyone sees in him as a college head coach.  Won at Tampa Bay with Dungy's players for the most part.  Got fired there.  Hasn't coached or recruited in college in over 20 years.  What is with this madness?

Statesman
Statesman

Gruden may be the most over-rated coach of all time.  He should know that unlike Tampa Bay there is not a ready-made team in place.

hoglin
hoglin

I am glad the Hogs are swinging for the fences but, if this report is true, I can't help but feel we dodged a little bit of a bullet.  I wanna pay the big bucks and get the big guys, but anyone wanting to "try their hand" at this scares me.  Gruden is flashy but I doubt he'd ever really be all in with college football in general and the Hogs in particular.  Not to mention he might not actually be the boots-on-the-ground answer we really need in Fayetteville.  This is not sour grapes; I just don't think he hung the moon like some people do.

PearlTimeline
PearlTimeline

@mrsec Too many people on message boards "in the know" are reporting its a done deal for it to be a hoax. He's been hired, not announced.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator

 @Lupin 

 

Uh, was this aimed at this site?  We're just reporting what we were told by more than one source and those sources have been right about many Tennessee and Arkansas issues over the past five years for us.

 

No one said it's a done deal, in fact, we listed three potential issues that could still pop up.  But more and more people are thinking Gruden -- if he goes back to college coaching -- will land at Tennessee and that he's gaining more and more interest.

 

Whether that would be a smart move by Gruden or by Tennessee remains to be seen.  Ditto whether it actually comes to pass.

 

Thanks for reading the site,John 

westainandseal
westainandseal

 @Lupin Neither of those three got back stabbed?????? You don't have a clue what happened.

TravisChumley
TravisChumley

 @VolTN I love this argument, whether or not he coaches at Tennessee. It's funny how his development of the Raiders is never mentioned by people ripping him, or the fact that Dungy's players never won a Superbowl at Tampa until Gruden took over. He won with a terrible team millions of dollars under the salary cap. I don't get it, he was a good NFL coach, no matter where he goes or what he does. He will be up for every coaching position available, college and pro's. An above .500 percentage, Superbowl win, well known person? You have to hire the guy if you can, maybe you can't, but nobody should question his coaching ability at all.

VolTN
VolTN

 @TravisChumley I don't question his on the field abilities. Yes, he had success at Oakland.   Yes, he got TB over the hump in the playoffs where Dungy couldn't.  But this isn't the NFL.  You can hire all the recruiters you want but you are going to have to do some of that yourself.  You're gonna have to go into kids houses and talk to their parents about why your program is the best fit for them.  Can he or does he want to do that?  Who knows at this point.  I'm saying there are plenty of good proven college coaches out there that Tennessee can take a look at.  Acting like Gruden is a sure fire proven championship winning COLLEGE coach is ridiculous.  He's as much a question mark as any small college head coach at this point (i.e. Derek Dooley). 

TravisChumley
TravisChumley

 @Wesg1975  @VolTN  @TravisChumley I think there's only 4 or 5 teams in college football who wouldn't be happy with Gruden as their coach. I am losing faith and coming back to reality, I'm still full on Gruden but I think we need to realize there are other good coaches on our list. I do love the Arky fans saying he wouldn't have been right after he turned them down, I guess I would do the same. I still think we have to look at Petersen and Patterson, Mora Jr., Jimbo Fisher, and dare I say-Petrino. Maybe you call Stoops even though he's building a 12,000 square foot castle in Norman. I think if we only want Gruden, it won't be fair to who we hire. Everyone who has Gruden at #1 needs to have a short list besides him they can get behind.

Wesg1975
Wesg1975

@VolTN @TravisChumley Gruden is one of two including Stoops but possibly the only coach that could walk into the UT job tomorrow and rival Saban in a recruits eyes. He can get in any home of any player he wants. He is a rock star and would recruit that way. In case you haven't noticed recruiting is the key to winning. Yes you have to coach them up but if you take a 3* and a 5* and equally improve each the 5* wins out 90% of the time. The teams that recruit at the top finish at the top in most cases. Gruden would instantly turn UT into a top 3-5 ranked class this year and with the instate talent and legacy players in the '14 class possibly a top ranked class next year. He would bring in a dream team of assistants that are proven recruiters. They would have the soon to be completed $40,000,000 state of the art best in the industry football complex to sale. It is a recruiter in itself with the latest bells and whistles to go with a state of the art weight room, medical center with MRI machine, 2 mini swimming lanes for no-stress rehab, a pharmacy, meeting rooms with latest audio video, and locker room with iPod docks for every locker etc... Just to highlight a few things. No expense was spared and for the next year or two nothing compares. If you don't think Gruden would be a monster of a closer you haven't watched his quarterback series with the top QB's coming out. The FFCA member (lol) is a very charismatic guy he walks into the living room and mom is charmed while Dad instantly is impressed. He says we have the VFL program, state of the art facilities, play in the SEC in front of 100,000+ every week. Every NFL general manager has me on speed dial because they all wanted to hire me the last few years. I will turn your son into a NFL player but we also have the support staff to get that diploma in the process. Ohh and yeah there is this little ring I wear sometimes that says SuperBowl Champion on it. If you don't believe I'm enough on my own I also have the highest paid most over qualified staff of assistants in the free world. (That's one demand he's making which is insanely smart IMO not just a top 5 possibly new top salary for himself but another $4 million or so for assistants.). We have X number of former NFL and College head coaches on staff along with the best group of position coaches that was out there. UT spared no expense in bringing everything and everyone your son needs to help your son reach his dreams. If anyone doubts that Gruden wouldn't be successful at UT they are insane. If you don't think his wife doesn't push for him to take her closer to her parents and back home then you have never gazed out and looked at the Great Smokey Mountains. Kenny Chesney made a fortune with the song back where I come from for a reason its everyone's dream to grow up in that environment. Cindy will be a part of why he chooses UT. So lets see great X and O's coach possibly greatest offensive mind in game and every great offensive recruit in the nation would drool to learn from him. Tireless worker who would put every bit of effort and energy into being the best. Wife happy wile he works because she and kids have her family as a support system and kids are growing up where she did while being close to her family. Assistant coaches best in business some of the names rumored are Raheem Morris, Ron Zook, Marion Hobby on defense. Rich Biacosso who UT has tried and came so close to closing the deal but unsuccessfully hired for what seems like the last 5 years and is considered one of if not the top special teams coaches out there. Jay Graham already on staff a proven recruiter and RB coach. Tee Martin who recruited well at Ky and continues to succeed after being hired by USC and Kiffen last year would run home to coach on Rocky Top if given a call. He pretty much has his pick of offensive assistants for obvious reasons. The University has given him complete authority with only Hart to answer to no middle men to go through for needs, only yes sir Mr Gruden ill go get it employees. He has the entire football budget to spend how he wants with only Hart allowed to ask questions or say no to a request. He will have every resource at the University including as many support staff, academic aids, etc... That he deems necessary. No excuses and he is probably the only coach besides Saban that could even get an administration to consider let alone give him that much control and resources. So you have a cant miss recruiter, who is also a tireless worker, knows what it takes to be a successful head coach, the staff he wants with the $$$ to get them, and the united fanbase of The University of Tennessee backing his every move. He had done his research and due diligence so nothing will surprise him about the college game. His personality will be great for college football. He is as close to a sure fire winner as it gets. Even if he wants to go to the NFL in 3-4 years (which I don't see) just the talent alone he will bring into the program makes him a great hire. This is as close to a no brainered as it gets and if you can't see that I can't help you. He isn't walking into the job Dooley took 3 years ago either. This UT is stable with a core group of steady, reliable, good character young men. He has a full roster with 4 offensive linemen (along with 2 steady backup with a lot of experience) returning that have given up only 7 sacks through 11 games while greatly improving the run game without a 5* true feature back like he could have next year. Ohh and they all will play on Sundays before they are done. With or without Bray you have a very well stocked group of talented QBs, your entire 3 deep at backfield minus your H-back. Day worse case no Patterson and Hunter he still has plenty of weapons at wideout including Pig Howard who has gotten better and played more every week. Rivera is gone but Croom will be a beast at TE almost unguardable. Ohh yeah those recruits again that can play early like all 5*s want for a veteran laden offense especially where it starts in the trenches. The defense needs help but has some real talent at LB and the line has potential if coaches up. The back end has holes but Vonn Bell and Mackenzie Alexander plug two big ones. With Randolph coming back healthy and Coleman improving there is some potential. There is enough experienced talent on campus to have a upperclass group to lead while you can plug a 5* here and there while selling that early PT to be a solid team next year. With the available talent in '14 he could realistically without any once in a lifetime (cam newton) type player taking over set a 3 year goal of having this program back on top. On top to stay with a deep talented roster that could be handed off to whoever he picks to groom into the next coach should he decide that being an Icon and worshipped while having a happy wife and life isn't enough. I don't see it if he comes he's here until he decides to hang up the whistle and return to the booth. Even if he's the biggest flop in history which has near zero odds if your taking bets then Hart still has a job because every AD in the country would've done the same thing. You immediately get fiscally sound with new revenue from season tickets and merchandise sales just from the excitement he will bring regardless of wins and losses for at least 3 years. Don't make the hire and if its known you could've unless your hire is winning 12 every year then Hart probably signed his own pink slip. This is the easiest hire in CFB history the hard part is in the details. There is only one guy for this job right now and I think UT and Hart know this. Can you imagine the atmosphere in Bryant-Denny next year, 3rd Saturday in October, Saban welcomes Gruden for the first time. This is too easy!!!!

TravisChumley
TravisChumley

 @VolTN I agree with most of this, I just think you got to hire the guy if given the opportunity. There are more proven coaches out there, but Gruden unites the majority of fans, sells tickets, brings attention back to UT. I'm not sure if he could be successful, but I'm not 100% sure anyone on the list will be the right fit here either. I'll take Gruden, but I really like Mora Jr. I just think Gruden is the best football coach on the list, he will have to adjust if he comes to college I know, but it seems like a risk no matter who it is.  I just think I would want him and his coaching ability on my team, hope he could learn the differences in College/Pro football as he went. I think his upside could be really high and if its not you still have a really good coach. I think if we hire another coach that is successful in college it still isn't 100% he would be successful here.

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