Jon Gru­den re­port­edly not in­ter­ested in Vols

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact Mark Wied­mer at mwied­mer@timesfreepress.com.

Ur­ban leg­end?

Or leg­end of the fall? When it comes to Univer­sity of Ten­nessee foot­ball, is Mon­day Night Foot­ball an­a­lyst and for­mer UT grad­u­ate as­sis­tant Jon Gru­den the for­mer or the lat­ter?

The idea of Gru­den re­turn­ing to Rocky Top in a coach­ing ca­pac­ity for the first time in more than 30 years seems to be the dream con­clu­sion of al­most ev­ery Vol­niac to the search to re­place just-fired Butch Jones. Ac­tu­ally, it was prob­a­bly the dream when Lane Kif­fin was hired, as well as the dream be­fore Derek Doo­ley and Jones were hired.

Af­ter all, be­yond that pre­vi­ous brief stint wear­ing or­ange, Gru­den also owns some­thing even Alabama’s Nick Sa­ban has thus far failed to ac­quire: a Su­per Bowl ring.

So what if he hasn’t been em­ployed in any ca­pac­ity as a col­lege coach since 1989 at Pa­cific? So what if a lot of pro foot­ball folks al­ways will claim his 2003 Su­per Bowl crown should have be­longed to Tony Dungy, who built that ex­tra­or­di­nary Tampa Bay de­fense be­fore Gru­den was named the coach in a bizarre trade with the Oak­land Raiders, whom he’d coached the pre­vi­ous sea­son?

What­ever the rea­son — des­per­a­tion, in­spi­ra­tion, in­fat­u­a­tion — the fans want Gru­den and UT ath­letic di­rec­tor John Cur­rie prob­a­bly needs Gru­den to mol­lify a Big Or­ange Na­tion that is com­ing apart at the seams over en­dur­ing a 19th straight sea­son with­out an SEC cham­pi­onship and a 10th straight au­tumn with­out an SEC East crown.

And if you be­lieve Scott Rous­sel of Foot­bal­lS­coop.com, Gru­den al­ready has said no, that he has no in­ter­est in the UT gig, and prob­a­bly any other coach­ing op­por­tu­nity.

But is that re­ally the end of it? Could no in­ter­est be switched to much in­ter­est for enough Ge­orge Wash­ing­tons? And if not, is it not time to fi­nally quit pin­ing for this guy, who al­most seems to taunt the UT fan base each time this job comes open, though never seems to be overly sin­cere about his in­ten­tions. For some­one whose wife was a UT cheer­leader and whose son is cur­rently a UT stu­dent, even al­low­ing hope to de­velop briefly seems cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment of the high­est nar­cis­sis­tic order.

Yet if he were sin­cere, if only for a mo­ment or two, what might a Gru­den coach­ing staff look like? Would it be filled with long­time NFL as­sis­tants? Might he reach out to for­mer UT play­ers, such as cur­rent South­ern Cal as­sis­tant Tee Martin, who was the Big Or­ange quar­ter­back dur­ing that 1998 na­tional cham­pi­onship sea­son?

More­over, could he con­vince Pey­ton Man­ning to take a more con­crete role in the pro­gram? Or might a Gru­den hire by UT open the door for Man­ning to to take Gru­den’s spot in the MNF booth, as some UT fans have sug­gested?

(And might that be a win-win for both the Vols and MNF?)

For ar­gu­ment’s sake, let’s go with the as­sump­tion that Foot­bal­lS­coop.com is right about Gru­den hav­ing no in­ter­est in the Vols. What then? Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who hasn’t felt much love lately from Semi­noles Na­tion? For­mer UT as­sis­tant and cur­rent Duke coach David Cut­cliffe, who cer­tainly would run a model pro­gram both on and off the field but never has quite looked like a top-level coach when it comes to wins and losses?

Per­son­ally, if Cur­rie is re­motely con­sid­er­ing any­one but a cur­rent head coach, I’d en­cour­age him to reach out to Clem­son de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brent Ven­ables, who seems to have a dis­ci­plined, no-non­sense ap­proach to his craft, hav­ing helped place the Tigers in the past two na­tional cham­pi­onship games, in­clud­ing last sea­son’s na­tional ti­tle.

That said, Cur­rie should prob­a­bly look for a proven head coach who has mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with a top-shelf Power Five pro­gram as a co­or­di­na­tor at the very least.

Jones wasn’t an aw­ful hire. Jones didn’t do an aw­ful job. In fact, off the court he might have been the best coach in the SEC when it came to im­prov­ing his pro­gram’s aca­demics and off-field be­hav­ior.

But de­spite a quite re­spectable re­sume at Cincinnati, he of­ten seemed over­matched on game day, es­pe­cially any time a bit of coach­ing ge­nius was needed to pull off an un­ex­pected win. Look back over his five sea­sons and there were far more head-scratch­ing losses (Florida twice in the Swamp, Ken­tucky this year, at South Carolina and Van­der­bilt last year, Oklahoma inside Ney­land) than head-turn­ing tri­umphs (the Hail Mary at Georgia last sea­son, the Mir­a­cle inside Mercedes-Benz against Georgia Tech this sea­son).

But if Gru­den re­ally chooses to sit this one out, the best news for who­ever ul­ti­mately re­places Jones is that the next coach never should have the pipe dream of Gru­den hang­ing over him.

Mark Wied­mer

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