Hart at UT is like Long at Ark. Both guys are in over their head and need to be fired and replaced by a real AD who has a clue on how to do the job.
Last night, WREG-TV in Memphis poured an enormous amount of gasoline on the Jon Gruden fire already burning across the state of Tennessee. According to the station’s report:
“News Channel 3 has learned former NFL coach Jon Gruden has a contract offer in hand from the University of Tennessee and a decision could be made as early as (today).
Part of the offer is Gruden getting a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters.”
From there, Twitter and messageboards exploded. According to the NFL writers at ProFootballTalk.com: “Oh boy. This may be the most outlandish Jon Gruden coaching rumor yet.” John Infante of BylawBlog.com tweeted this little nugget following the WREG report:
Since then, both the Browns (Haslams) and Gruden have denied the report. Asked this morning on the ESPN radio program “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” if there was any truth to the report, Gruden said, “No, there isn’t.” He added: “I’m just excited about Monday Night Football. I like what I’m doing. I’m just trying to hang on to the job that I have.”
The Browns then released a statement saying:
“Jimmy Haslam has no involvement in the University of Tennessee head coaching search, and the report that Jon Gruden would potentially have an ownership stake in the Browns is completely erroneous.”
Last evening, MrSEC.com worked the phones regarding each of the three coaching vacancies in the Southeastern Conference. Here’s what we were told by one source inside the University of Tennessee administration and one industry source:
1. No decision on a Tennessee head coach will be made before athletic director Dave Hart travels to New York for the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame inductions this weekend. The Hall of Fame dinner — at which former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer will be honored — is on December 4th.
2. UT’s AD has not met with Gruden face-to-face yet. While rumors swirl that a deal is done and an announcement will come today, tomorrow, Friday, three weeks ago (literally), it’s hard to imagine an athletic director hiring a coach without ever having met him.
3. Gruden wants a perfect deal to jump to the college ranks. He has the option of staying at ESPN and of returning to an NFL team (possibly the Philadelphia Eagles or Cleveland Browns… as coach). Hart and other Tennessee boosters are leery of giving a Nick Saban-like deal to a coach with no proven track record in the college game. If/when Gruden and Hart do meet this week — and it was suggested to us that they will — the two will have to hit things off enough that both decide to give on a couple of issues.
4. While everyone has speculated about the guaranteed dollars Gruden would command, another angle of the story could be what kind of exit clause Gruden would be willing to ink. Tennessee was burned by Lane Kiffin. If Gruden landed in Knoxville, rumors of a return to the NFL would pop up constantly (see: John Calipari to the NBA every April). Would Gruden be willing to sign a fat buyout clause of his own to guarantee that he wouldn’t leave UT high and dry if he decided the college game really isn’t for him?
5. The Gruden deal was as “dead as Marley’s ghost,” according to one source we spoke to on Friday. Hart and Gruden could resuscitate it this week, but it’s still a very, very long shot.
6. Tennessee fans should instead be focusing their attention on Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Fisher came to FSU as coach-in-waiting while Hart was AD in Tallahassee. Fisher is not happy with the fact that an ACC team drops out of the BCS title picture with a single loss while SEC squads survive. He’s reportedly not thrilled with the administration at Florida State. And he sees a growing money gab between the SEC and ACC only getting larger in the coming years. In addition, his $2.75 million salary could be bumped as high as $4 million by the Volunteers who would be willing to churn out the dollars for a top 10 recruiter from a top 15 program located in the Southeast (meaning recruiting ties are ready-made should UT and Fisher agree on a deal).
7. Fisher, however, has Jimmy Sexton for an agent and he sorta/kinda denied interest in the Auburn job earlier this week. The latter means little as coaches can’t openly say, “Yeah, I’d like to get outta here and I’m talking to a bunch of schools.” The former is a bigger concern because Sexton has a history of floating his clients’ names, leveraging schools against one another, and then getting his guys big raises to stay put.
8. We have previously reported that Fisher would have more interest in the Auburn job than the Tennessee job, but that was before it was learned another NCAA investigation is underway on the Plains. Would that be enough of a red flag to drive him to Knoxville — should he leave Tallahassee at all — instead of Auburn? Expect Sexton to play all three schools against one another for maximum cash.
9. We were told that Tennessee will likely speak to Miami’s Al Golden at some point this week — a Florida tour to meet with Gruden and Golden this week would make sense — before New York. In New York, Hart is expected to talk to Charlie Strong, Jim Mora Jr., and Mike Gundy among others. Gundy is an Oklahoma State alum and it’s likely that if he were to actually leave Stillwater, it might be for Arkansas instead (due to his current recruiting ties).
10. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora remains a name to watch as well.
11. Finally, it was suggested to us that talk of Bob Stoops leaving Oklahoma for Tennessee is either a pipedream or a smokescreen. Stoops is making $4.5 million this year and it’s very, very rare that a successful head coach at a top 10 program leaves for a fixer-upper in a tougher conference. Nothing’s impossible, but from what we’re told, the Stoops thing is a longer shot than Gruden.
So we believe Tennessee will chase Fisher — and if he won’t come — then land on a fallback candidate like Fedora, Golden or Strong.