It finally happened.
After an 0-6 start in SEC play, Butch Jones was fired as Tennessee’s head coach after nearly five full seasons. During his Sunday press conference, Tennessee athletic director John Currie said that an “exhaustive search” for the next head coach of the Vols would be underway.
Scanning Twitter, message boards and comment sections, it’s hard to gauge who the majority No. 1 choice for Vol fans is.
There’s some up-and-comers, for sure! UCF’s Scott Frost, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Memphis’ Mike Norvell to name a few.
If Currie wants to go the coordinator route, there’s also Clemson’s Brent Venables and former Tennessee quarterbacks Tee Martin and Jim Bob Cooter!
The Vols could also go for former Oregon Ducks and NFL coach, Chip Kelly. He works for ESPN as an analyst and there’s talk that he’s ready to get back into coaching. Oh, and there’s also another former coach who works for ESPN, I think. What is his name again? Oh yeah.
It has been said by many that Jon Gruden is the white whale of this coaching search, and with many good reasons for that distinction:
- The man has a Super Bowl ring, which he won as the coach of the Buccaneers in 2003 and potentially would have another if not for the “Tuck Rule Game.”
- Gruden won five divisional titles as an NFL coach — two with the Raiders and three with the Bucs.
- He has become the ultimate pro quarterback guru as the subject of Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, where he has helped guide many future NFL draftees.
- Through his eight years as a color commentator on ESPN’s Monday Night Football and appearances in commercials for Hooters, Corona and other brands, Gruden has become a household name even for casual sports-watchers. The Jon Gruden brand is marketable and well-known.
- Oh, and the former Vols graduate assistant LOVES Tennessee. He met his wife, Cindy, in Knoxville and one of his sons currently attends UT.
In hiring Gruden, Tennessee immediately grabs headlines across the sports landscape and creates pandemonium on social media. The aftermath of Gruden to Knoxville would be one of the most-discussed topics of the year and would make Tennessee relevant for months before the first game is played.
While what we would see of Gruden on the field is a mystery (he hasn’t coached since 2008) there’s no way he has forgotten how to gameplan. With Gruden dissecting film and strategies every week for Monday Night Football, discussing the ins and outs of offenses in the QB Camp, the relationships that he’s built with coaches and the fact that he draws up plays during his own time, don’t doubt that Gruden would have a hard transition back to coaching.
Gruden also brings a charismatic and intense personality with him that would resonate with players and fans. After five years of having a head coach that made Tennessee an Internet laughing stock with cliches and slogan, fans should not have to worry about Gruden making Tennessee a living meme.
The #GRUMORS first started gaining real steam in 2012 after the Vols fired Derek Dooley, but Gruden chose to stay on with ESPN and his lucrative MNF deal, despite reports that there was some interest in the job on Gruden’s part.
Recently, Gruden has left the possibility of a return to coaching open-ended, and this interview on the Rich Eisen Show last week didn’t curtail Vol fans’ excitement level. Is Tennessee close to making the dreams of fans a reality?
With all the immediate fanfare that Gruden would bring, Tennessee fans must still not be close-minded about all of Chucky’s aspects.
There is the elephant in the room — Gruden has not coached in nearly a decade. This brings up concerns regarding rust and if he is mentally ready to hop back into the year-long grind of coaching. Also, Gruden has not been a coach at the college level since 1991 (wide receivers coach at Pitt), so taking on the role of head coach at a Power 5 school will be something that is foreign to him.
There’s also the potential reality that Gruden doesn’t want to be involved with all the intricacies of taking on a college job:
Jon Gruden in August: “If I became a college coach I would probably have you on probation w/in 4 or 5 weeks. Too many rules, man. I mean I like to work. The recruiting … all that stuff. Yeah, I’d probably have you in real deep, deep trouble if I was your college coach”
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 13, 2017
Even if Gruden did take the Tennessee job, there’s no guarantee that he would have a successful tenure. Many coaches try to move up the career ladder to the NFL and end up failing and leaving the leagues after only a few seasons. It’s not out of the question that the opposite could happen to Gruden.
Despite the successful years that Gruden had as an NFL coach, there were some sour apples out of the bunch. Gruden had five seasons of going .500 or worse and was fired from the Bucs for collapsing at the end of the 2008 season and missing the playoffs after a 9-3 start. There is definitely a possibility that Gruden would be a disappointment despite all the hype.
Is there plenty of risk involved with giving Gruden the keys to the Tennessee football program? Absolutely. He could be a letdown and maybe even get the Vols in trouble in the process if what he said in August is to be believed.
However, there comes a time when businesses, institutions and individuals must make decisions that come with a high amount of risk in order to reap the potential benefits. After a decade of bad hires, embarrassing losses and national irrelevancy, it is becoming a dangerous time in the history of Tennessee football.
Hiring Gruden would mean that Currie, the administration and donors visibly care about making a move that would be a seismic event. It’d be a move that would show the nation that Tennessee is done losing, done being on the receiving end of jokes and done settling for eight-win seasons as the standard at a program that is synonymous with Peyton Manning, Reggie White, Phillip Fulmer, Johnny Majors, Jason Witten and many others.
Would Gruden have to get used to recruiting, NCAA rules and being back in the coaching saddle? Sure, but if he takes the Tennessee job, this means that he would be serious about making the necessary adjustments and becoming a winner again.
Oh, and forget about recruiting. Remember that Gruden himself is a nationally recognized brand. Millions of people have been watching him on Monday nights for years, and simply showing up to a recruit’s home with his Super Bowl ring on is a sizable selling point.
While a 100-85 overall record as an NFL head coach doesn’t scream “elite,” Gruden was a consistently decent coach and won a championship at the highest level of football there is. He knows how to coach, and knows what it takes to win. There is little doubt that he would be able to put together a great staff through his connections that would reflect a winning attitude.
A Gruden hire will make Tennessee relevant, make Tennessee a potential contender for championships and show fans that Tennessee truly still cares about football.
HIRE RANKING: 9/10