The Chattanooga Times Free Press got Tennessee fans all a-Twitter yesterday with a late night story claiming that ESPN analyst Jon Gruden — the Vols’ great white whale — had a contract offer in hand and was mulling a serious job offer from Tennessee. And yes, this story has officially become the thing that wouldn’t leave.
The paper claimed sources (plural) had confirmed that Gruden was indeed back in play for UT:
“‘Right now, the money is there for him (Gruden), but they aren’t as close as he would like for his assistants,’ one source said. ‘It could happen as soon as this weekend or go into next week, but he’s pretty firm where he is and has already spoken with guys he wants to be on the staff with him.’
According to a different source, ‘He’s told them they aren’t close enough on money for the staff. He’s very interested, but if they don’t come up with what they need for the assistants, he’s told them he’s out.”
This once again kickstarted the recent Tennessee tradition of predicting press conferences. Fans and messageboards spread rumors after UT’s loss to South Carolina in October that a Gruden press conference would come the following day. When it didn’t, rumors moved the presser to that Monday. Then to “Monday Night Football” where Gruden would announce his decision on air. On and on this “he’s coming!” game has played out over the past month.
There would be a press conference on November 15th. No, November 28th. No, 3pm on November 30th. No, December 13th. Seriously. (We haven’t heard of a rumor past the 13th, but maybe that’s just because the Mayans have us all going bye-bye on December 21st.)
The trouble with the Chattanooga report is that no sources in Knoxville can (or will) confirm that Gruden and Tennessee really got close to a deal last night. In fact, Knoxville radio station WNML-AM/FM is reporting that Gruden has told the Volunteers thanks, but no thanks. (Here’s the tweet from that station’s Jimmy Hyams.)
Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com tweeted “source close to Gruden confirms he told the Vols no thanks.” And this:
We’ve had none of our Tennessee or industry sources confirm that Gruden is still in the process, either. That doesn’t mean he might not pop up again. You can almost be certain his name will continue to be kicked around by fans until either the coach or UT officially says he’s out.
As we’ve stated regarding UT’s search, the Vols will likely head to New York — just as Arkansas and Auburn will — to meet with candidates this weekend. Our sources have said that very thing this morning, in fact. We maintain that Jimbo Fisher of Florida State is the man to watch in Tennessee’s search.
But if the report from Chattanooga is more grounded in fact than a report earlier this week out of Memphis (that claimed Gruden would get a stake in the Cleveland Browns if he joined the Vols), it’s hard to imagine Tennessee getting thisclose to Chucky only to let a few dollars for his staff get in the way.
So if this deal has died in the last 24 hours — which would mean it was first resurrected in the last 24 hours — then it probably has died because Gruden has once again done what Gruden does: Flirted, flirted, flirted… and then said no. He certainly pulled that stunt with University of Miami officials a couple of years ago.
We’re not saying Gruden-to-Tennessee is dead because until someone is hired in Knoxville, anything’s possible. But we are saying the odds of a presser today are slim according to sources to whom we’ve spoken. Very, very, very, very, very slim.
UPDATE – VolQuest.com (the Rivals site covering Tennessee) reports that a University of Tennessee source said this morning: “We reached out to Coach Gruden. Coach Gruden, after visiting with his family informed us that it was not a move his family wanted to make at this time. He declined to meet with Tennessee. Financial considerations were never discussed.”