Thearon W. Henderson
The best kind of rumor is the one that never had any evidence to support it anyway.
I like to imagine Bill Belichick as a college coach sometimes. His offenses and defenses would undoubtedly be innovative, aggressive, and exquisitely wrought pieces of football machinery. He would also only enjoy the recruiting trail for one thing: the chance to have sex with your mother. Stop, stop: you need to be more mature about this, because she is a grown woman and has needs like anyone else.
You really don't want to know what those needs are. Bill does, but that is as far as he gets in the "successful college coach" blueprint. Few coaches have crossed the permeable barrier between college and the NFL without losing something in the transaction.
Those who have are some of nature's strangest, most aggressive primate geniuses: Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. One earned Super Bowls by buying a two-seat car, divorcing his wife, and milking years off his life in the process. The other one is Barry Switzer, whose tenure in the pros was most notable for him running up a six-figure room and bar bill during Super Bowl week. Both are amazing achievements, and related because Barry Switzer just took Johnson's team to a championship before piling the whole marvelous machine into a ravine.
No one else has achieved those lofty heights, and with good reason. The two jobs are both football jobs, but also subject to very different basic demands, demands that someone like Jon Gruden -- like most coaches moving in either direction -- would be utterly unfit or unlikely to satisfy.
1. Recruiting. The first thing you will hear NFL scouts say about college is that "Ehh, it's all recruiting." They are right to a certain degree. (A degree ignoring everything else involved, but still.) Unless you are Bill Snyder, the cagey old man sweeping a magical metal detector across the beach and finding discarded talent bullion just left there in the sand, you need to recruit, and then develop said talent. Finding that talent is a full-time job all by itself, a multi-level person-to-person marketing scheme run 365 days a year by you and a crew of sleepless assistants. It is a skill, and one that needs constant adaptation and attention.
Jon Gruden has never recruited in the modern college football landscape. He did once declare that he would need two hotel rooms for all his bitches after a victory. That might be a pretty good start on a recruiting philosophy, but we will never know because this is not happening, ever. He was also less than successful when he did control his roster decisions as an NFL coach, something that might raise a few red flags for those concerned about talent evaluation.
2. He makes a tremendous amount of money right now doing very little. His estimated compensation for the Monday Night Football job is $4 million a year. This involves prepping for one broadcast a week, and then interviewing terrified young quarterbacks in the time between broadcasts. This does not include his income from ripping his pants while drinking beer, nor the spare time he spent -- I am not kidding -- watching game film with Ron Zook during the offseason.*
*To be fair, this would be really, really fun on the right drugs.
In exchange for this lifestyle, he could take over a snakebitten program fresh from two consecutive coaching disasters and stuck in one of the sport's most challenging Bermuda Triangles of recruiting. Tennessee spends more money annually on recruiting than any other program, and with reason: they sit in the eastern corner of a smallish state, and scramble after talent pursued on all sides by very successful programs.
But sure, yes, of course, how could we ignore the appeal of working four times the hours minimum for what might amount to less pay minus the lucrative endorsement deals? Making less money to do more, all while losing sleep worrying about Dabo Swinney sending carrier pigeon love notes to your recruits, makes total sense.
3. He is a West Coast Offense guru. This has never, ever worked at the college level, and likely never will due to the time required to master the timing, the formations, sight adjustments, and the mile-long playcalls involved. Cam Newton seemed confused about them, at least.
Gruden is deeply and admittedly intrigued by the college game's schemes, particularly no-huddle spread schemes like Oregon's. He would also likely dumb down anything he does for the college ranks, because despite the THIS GUY persona, Gruden is a very intelligent person.
But who's to say he's even good at simplification? The persistent critique of offensive-minded college coaches moving up to the NFL -- that their systems are simple, and won't work with the speed of the league -- is often true, but also often true in reverse. Simplification is a skill in itself, and one that is a key differentiator between the resumes of college and pro coaches. Charlie Weis may have learned this the hard way in his time at Notre Dame. Then again, based on his experiences at Florida and Kansas since then, maybe he learned nothing. DISREGARD.
4. He has shown no interest in the job. But but but but but but--nope. The only pro coach with more attendant college fantasies is Bill Cowher, who has been associated with the NC State job for almost a decade. Rex Ryan also has college fantasies. These are very, very different and not pertinent or appropriate to the scope of this piece or this website.
5. This is the best kind of lie -- a big, shiny persistent one. This is the same rumor not just from Tennessee's last coaching search, but from the one before it that brought Lane Kiffin for one very strange year. Despite all debunking, despite all evidence to the contrary, the John Birch Society of Coaching Rumors still passes this pamphlet out, and people continue to believe it. Did you hear the story about the coach the lady picked up, and treated like a pet, and then it turned out to be a rat, and not a chihuahua? Jon Gruden is the Mexican Pet of college coaching search rumors. I can tell you a hundred times that it is not real, and yet there you are, insisting it will happen, and perhaps also telling me that your aunt really did have a Shithead, Orangejello, and Lemonjello all in her first grade class. Sure she did.