Jon Gruden has become a coaching unicorn, as much a fantasy as he is an annual tease.
NFL fan bases crave him. Fans of major college programs do the same. The term “Grumors” is part of the lexicon for those who follow coaching rumors with the same fervor of someone entranced by a page-turning thriller.
Please, stop the nonsense.
Tennessee fans and others within the SEC grasping at Gruden shouldn’t place much hope in that pipe dream. Chances are, he won’t leave his cushy position as an announcer on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. But if he does, he would be a letdown as a college coach at a place that needs a huge overhaul. He would cause the pain of unrealized hope and sting that poor program for years.
Face it, Gruden has been out of the game too long to be a quick success at a major college job. There would be a big learning curve for him at an SEC school or any Power 5 program not built to win now. There would be questions about his interest in recruiting, an area that’s kind of a big deal for a college coach.
To be frank, Gruden would be smart to make his next job in the NFL, if he comes back to coaching at all. He would be more comfortable there. He would have a greater chance of achieving instant success within a league built for fast revivals.
Why would Tennessee’s John Currie or any other athletic director for a program that wants to be a national-title contender risk prestige on a big-name hire who could bust in a huge way? Why would Gruden be worth that gamble?
Why would Gruden place his own reputation on the line by accepting a college position in which he could fail and damage his brand?
It’s baffling why so many college football fans gush over Gruden. If there are questions about Chip Kelly’s ability to evolve after being off a college sideline since leaving Oregon following the 2012 season, Gruden shouldn’t receive the benefit of the doubt after not coaching since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired him in 2009. If there are concerns about Lane Kiffin’s chances of thriving on a major college stage once more, Gruden shouldn’t be considered a better option after never serving as a college head coach. Gruden is no King Midas of the coaching world.
There’s too much risk involved with Gruden for any major college program. He has kept a headset at an arm’s length too long. Sure, Gruden certainly would win the introductory news conference if he were hired. Fans would love him, and some might place palm leaves at his feet.
But there would be much uncertainty about the path ahead, after the pageantry of a Grudebration ended and the task of rebuilding a struggling program began. Tennessee or any other SEC team doesn’t need that much fog.
Can you picture Gruden beating Nick Saban soon without multiple years of learning the college game and respecting the care that goes into recruiting? What about Kirby Smart?
SEC programs that could search for new leaders soon would be wise to turn their attention beyond Gruden. They would be smart to focus on names who haven’t treated potential coaching jobs like poison ivy lately. Kelly and Kiffin are both better options than Gruden. So are Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, Washington State’s Mike Leach, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
The college Grumors are entertaining, but they’re unfulfilling. Devouring them should come with the knowledge that they’re no better than cotton candy. Their sugary satisfaction is sweet, and they provide a rush on various corners of the internet’s Fantasyland.
But college football fans should know visions of a quick rise by a Gruden-led team lack substance. He wouldn’t be above struggling if he entered a situation in which the talent was bare. He wouldn’t be above tarnishing his carefully crafted image as a national football savant, something that was honed during his time reportedly making $6.5 million a year with ESPN. His life is good right now.
Gruden has no business taking on a risky situation, and there are plenty in the SEC.
The conference’s athletic directors who could shop for a coach soon don’t need a risk either.