We’ve been in the heart of Jon Gruden-to-Tennessee rumors, otherwise known as #GRUMORS, basically ever since Butch Jones was fired last Saturday. It’s been going on for a full decade, but now, fans are going as wild as ever, in part because there seems to be an actual chance this time.
However, there are obvious questions about Gruden as a college head coach.
For starters, he’s been out of the coaching game entirely since 2008, and the last time he recruited college athletes was in 1991 as a Pitt assistant. On Friday, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported that Tennessee is fully aware of those concerns:
The concerns surround the fact Gruden has not coached at all in nine years and has not roamed a college football sideline in 26 years. Also, Gruden was basically a .500 coach (57-55) in his seven years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even after winning the Super Bowl in his first season with the Bucs in 2002. Some contend that roster had been largely assembled by former coach Tony Dungy, who had one losing season in his 12 combined years with Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
Gruden had seasons in which his teams went .500 or worse in five of his 11 years in the NFL. There is also concern expressed about his recruiting ability, especially in the hyper-charged SEC culture that lives day-to-day on recruiting.
OK, your immediate reaction here is probably, “Well, of course Tennessee should be having these exact concerns about him.“
That’s exactly the reaction Twitter had, too:
What? Common sense from the Tennessee athletics department? SORCERY! https://t.co/vFfzd99FOW— Brandon thinks it’s stupid to allow long names (@BecomingBrandon) November 17, 2017
Us, every year: Jon Gruden's NFL resume is kinda flimsy, tbqh. And he hasn't coached in college in forever.— Jake Nazar (@ATVS_JakeNazar) November 17, 2017
Tennessee, in 2017: We're worried about Jon Gruden's iffy NFL resume and him not coaching in college
Tennessee has serious concerns about obvious things that people have talked about every time this comes up. Glad they’re catching up. https://t.co/MYNyMlClIK— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 17, 2017
all of this info has been public for years, why now, suddenly does it see the light? cause he was never going to leave the booth to take the Tenn. job and Vols want to spin the story to make them look better before he rejects any possible job offer by them.— kevin nardoni (@lavsmousse) November 17, 2017
Why does this surprise anyone? https://t.co/Q8dPnb0p0K— Derek Tyson (@DerekJTyson) November 17, 2017
maybe the admin actually gives a shit this time and wants to start winning games again.— Sean (@eGOmarine) November 17, 2017
The facts are that Gruden’s a re-tread NFL coach with a miniscule actual connection to Tennessee.
There’s plenty of smoke in the way of rumors, but it remains to be seen how much actual fire there is to them. We asked a knowledgeable Vol what the whole deal is here:
I went to the source to find out the deep-seated root of the GRUMORS.
Terry Lambert, the editor of SB Nation’s Tennessee blog, Rocky Top Talk (which maintains an extensive timeline of years and years of GRUMORS), gave me some interesting details from inside the Vols’ fan base.
“Alabama, Tennessee's biggest rival, returned to powerhouse status with one single home run hire,” Lambert told me. “Tennessee has gotten it wrong three straight times. Fans are craving that ‘Saban moment’ hire. A lot of fans believe Jon Gruden is Tennessee's Saban.
“The Gruden-UT connections are obvious. Fans know that Tennessee has the money and boosters to make it happen. They just want to see the school swing for the fences, for once.”
That’s a symptom of the Alabama disease infecting most of the SEC. It was particularly poignant at LSU, which basically fired Les Miles because he couldn’t get over the Alabama hump. It led Florida and Georgia to hire former Saban assistants as head coaches. The Gators have done it twice, with disastrous results each time. The Bulldogs apparently landed the right one in Kirby Smart.
But does our man on the ground actually want Gruden?
“Yes,” Lambert said. “Look, he's never [been a head coach] in college. He's never recruited. He's been out of the coaching game for a decade. I get all of that.
“But does anyone really think that Jon Gruden would struggle to pull talent to Knoxville? I think he'd kill it in that area. I'd guess he'd assemble a pretty potent staff, too. When you stack all of these candidates up, nobody really moves the needle for me like Gruden does.”
Still, it’s good to know Tennessee shares the same concerns you do.