The drumbeat from Tennessee Vols fans desperate to lure Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and onto the Neyland Stadium sidelines is deafening. Last week, I wrote that Gruden is in a unique position in that he can completely dictate the terms of his coaching future, assuming he even has one. After all, his gig with ESPN is a sweet one, comparable to what John Madden parlayed into a veritable empire lasting well beyond retirement age.
Attracting Gruden from such a position would require something unprecedented. Well, the latest confounding rumor emanating from the Tennessee job search certainly is that. A Memphis TV station reported late Tuesday night that University of Tennessee alumnus and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was concocting an offer that would bring Gruden not just into the Volunteer fold, but also the Browns’.
The rumor was quickly shot down, both by the Browns and Gruden. The legality of such an offer isn’t even clear. Moreover, Gruden denied there being any offer from UT in a radio interview with “Mike and Mike in the Morning.”
That isn’t stopping the rampant spreading of unnamed source material tying the former Super Bowl winning coach to Tennessee. CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman got in on the action, with the added angle that Gruden is focused on returning to the NFL. Such chatter is quick becoming a tradition this time of year, much like putting up the Christmas tree. And, like the Christmas tree, the Gruden talk is packed away by New Year’s, forgotten for the next several months.
Has the fervor for Gruden rendered any hire Tennessee might make a disappointment? The Gruden noise has almost drowned out talk of other candidates. Meanwhile, the Vols are locked in a three-team race with Arkansas and Auburn to make the best hire.
A rumored $27.5 million, five-year contract offer from Arkansas to LSU head coach Les Miles might be enough to dramatically drive up the basement price for all three universities’ negotiations. For hot coaching commodities like Louisville’s Charlie Strong, that translates to a very favorable market.