Each and every day this website gets ‘em. Emails from folks who want so badly to believe that a big name NFL coach is coming in as their football program’s savior that they fall hook, line and sinker for every rumor they read on a messageboard. And, heck, one day one of these “out there” stories might just come to fruition. But when we see one of the following nuggets in an email, we immediately raise a cynical eyebrow:
* Coach X was seen in town eating with a prominent booster. (Meetings with candidates are done outside of college towns to avoid both the media and every Tom, Dick and Harry with a cell phone camera.)
* Coach X was seen in town playing golf with a prominent booster. (See explanation above.)
* Coach X’s wife was in town to look at houses. (Any coach’s wife interested in a house can have a surrogate go to said town and scout out houses if necessary, but they do have these newfangled virtual tours of houses, too, you know?)
* Coach X has a clause in his TV contract that states he can’t coach in the NFL next year. (Ex-coaches leave the broadcast booth every year to return to the sidelines despite having spent the previous season holding production meetings with coaches and players from other teams. If ex-NFL coaches had binding deals with networks, you’d think NFL insiders like Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, etc, would know about them.)
All that said, the rumors are swirling in the Bluegrass State that Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher is considering the Kentucky job. First, there’s the obvious question that must be thrown out regarding any NFL coach: “Why would he take less money in the college game and have to recruit when he could take more money in the pro game and not have to recruit?” Second, if Cowher did decide to coach in the college ranks for the first time ever, do you think he’d pick Kentucky of the Southeastern Conference over — potentially — NC State of the ACC? You see, Cowher played football at NC State. Seems the Wolfpack would have a bit of leg up on the Wildcats if NCSU drops the hammer on Tom O’Brien.
Cat fans will tell you — as they’ve repeatedly told us — that AD Mitch Barnhart was thisclose to landing Bill Parcells in 2003. He’s not scared to chase a big, big name. Trouble is, the Dallas Cowboys came calling and ruthlessly swiped Parcells away from UK’s clutches. Rich Brooks landed in Lexington instead (and did a fine job of improving the Wildcat program).
Despite Barnhart’s alleged willingness to find a mega-name, we’re not going to buy the Cowher rumors — or the Rex Ryan rumors, for that matter — until one of those fellas actually walks off a plane at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington wearing a royal blue blazer.
The same goes for all the Jon Gruden talk at both Arkansas and Tennessee. Gruden is a man who loves to be wanted. Each and every year since being fired by Tampa Bay in 2008, the ex-Super Bowl-winning coach has been connected to at least one SEC job. Usually it’s Tennessee — more on why in a minute — but many Arkansas fans believed he was Fayetteville-bound as recently as two weeks ago. And when Mark Richt fell to 0-2 to start the 2011 season, you know who we heard had already told Georgia he wanted want to talk? Ayup. Gruden.
Everybody thinks Gruden love ‘em. Everybody. Over the past four years Gruden’s agent has floated more rumors than Goodyear has floated blimps. College jobs, pro jobs, Gruden’s always “a done deal” somewhere. Currently he’s a done deal — depending on who you ask — to land at Arkansas, Tennessee, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cleveland Browns and the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, having said all of that, Gruden does have some ties to the UT job. And he’s most definitely atop the Rocky Top wish list. Gruden was a grad assistant at Tennessee in the 1980s under Johnny Majors, who remains a friend to the coach. He met and married a Tennessee cheerleader while on the Volunteer staff. Her family is still living in the Knoxville area. So who knows what the family pull for Gruden might be regarding the UT job (the one that’s currently filled by Derek Dooley, by the way)?
Gruden has actually spoken to Tennessee officials during previous UT searches. While the messageboards have lit up with talk of contract agreements and announcements — it was actually rumored that Gruden would announce he’d accepted the UT job during “Monday Night Football” a few weeks back! — the biggest of big boosters knew then and know now that Gruden is a dream hire, a long shot. That doesn’t mean they aren’t working on him to this day.
In fact, an industry source told us yesterday that Gruden-to-Tennessee isn’t dead yet. That source and a source close to the UT athletic department have both told MrSEC.com that Gruden’s monetary demands have dropped a bit over the past few weeks. (In case you’re wondering, while Dooley said Monday that he’d been told by AD Dave Hart that no decision had been made about his future, we’ve learned that staff members close to Dooley already know that the die has indeed been cast.)
One of the sources we spoke with did throw out the caveat that an NFL club approaching Gruden with a bigger pile of money might lead “Chucky” to walk away at the last minute and leave Tennessee weeping at the altar.
Coaches tend to return to what they know. Nick Saban went to the NFL, yes, but he’d been a college coach from 1972 through 1987 and then from 1990 through 2004 before becoming the Miami Dolphins head coach for two seasons. He quickly headed back to the college game at Alabama in 2007.
Pete Carroll — another NFL coach who turned to college game — had been a college assistant from 1978 through 1983 before leaving for a long run of various pro jobs between 1985 and 1999. After nine seasons at Southern Cal, he did what Saban did and returned to his roots. Only his roots were in the pro game.
The aforementioned Brooks at Kentucky had spent about eight years in the NFL between the years 1963 and 2003 when he decided to return to the college game in Lexington.
Mike Riley at Oregon State dabbled in the NFL, but he had also spent the majority of his career in the college ranks. Bobby Petrino had been a college coach. Heck, go all the way back to Lou Holtz and you’ll find that coaches usually return to the game they know. Most college coaches return to the college ranks. Most pro coaches end up back in the pro ranks.
Cowher has never coached in the college game. Neither has Denver defensive coordinator and former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio (who’s also been connected to the Tennessee job via Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning). Therefore, we believe it’s highly, highly, highly doubtful that either will land in the SEC next year.
Of all the rumors out there involving NFL coaches — at Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Tennessee, at Auburn — there are really only two that we feel have any chance of coming to fruition. And those chances are still slim, in our view.
Ryan’s first coaching job was as a grad assistant at Eastern Kentucky. And while he’s been in the NFL since 1999, he did coach in the college ranks from 1987 through 1993 and again in 1998 and ’99. Would he talk to Kentucky? Perhaps. As bad as things are going in New York right now, it’s quite possible that he’ll be jettisoned at year’s end should things not turn around.
On a scale of 1-10, we’d give Ryan to Kentucky about a one. (Insert: “So you’re saying there’s a chance” joke here.)
The other rumor that seems to make some sense is the Gruden-to-Tennessee talk. We at MrSEC.com know there has been communication between the two parties. We know that there are family issues that could tug at Gruden’s heart strings. We know that Tennessee’s power brokers are fully aware that he’s the only “home run” candidate who would please 99% of a currently deflated Vol fanbase. And we’ve also been told his cash demands have dropped a bit.
But on a scale of 1-10, we still give the chances of Gruden taking over in Knoxville a three at best. The man coached in the college ranks from 1986 through 1989 and has spent that last 20+ years coaching or broadcasting pro games. Plus, higher-paying NFL clubs are reportedly looking at him, too. (Ironically, the same Haslam family that just bought the Cleveland Browns has long been the biggest benefactor of UT’s athletic department).
Anything is possible.
Ryan could land at Kentucky and Gruden could land at Tennessee. But in five years of running this site, we’ve seen these kinds of rumors tossed out time after time after time after time. They all share certain hallmarks. And the deal is always supposedly done.
Which makes us very skeptical any time a new rumor pops up featuring some of the same old bulletpoints we’ve seen a dozen times before.