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Tennessee Coaching Search Profile: Jon Gruden

Breaking down the number one candidate on just about every Vols fan’s wish list

Oakland Raiders v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jon Gruden has been dubbed the “white whale” for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Grumors. The Grudinator. Gru. Chucky.

Jon Gruden has many nicknames and he's had many titles. Could the next title be head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers?

When it comes to Tennessee's new head coaching search, Gruden is the one candidate that makes everyone smile like they just figured out how to stop christmas from coming.

So what makes Gruden so appealing? There is plenty of good to go along with the bad, but in the end it is ultimately one's own opinion that will prevail.

The Good

Jon Gruden is a badass. He is an absolute rockstar in the sports world and the reasons why are legitimate. He is full of energy, positivity, snark, smarts, and he is still one of the biggest motivators around the league. One of the main reasons Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl was because of the fire that Gruden brought to the team every day.

Tampa Bay had fired Tony Dungy after the 2001 season because of the team's repeated failures - both losses against the Eagles - to get out of the first round of the playoffs as well as the inability to produce an efficient offense. Dungy was responsible for Tampa's resurgence which included their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons and first ever NFC Championship appearance. However, it wasn't enough at the time as ownership believed that another coach could fill the void on offense and take the next step towards a championship.

Tony Dungy
Many in the Tampa community feel like Dungy was dealt a bad hand by ownership.

It paid off.

Enter Gruden, who delivered just as expected and brought the Bucs their first Super Bowl in franchise history in his first season as head coach. He came in and immediately took a team that was on the doorstep and helped them reach the ultimate goal as a team and franchise.

Just imagine him in a five-star recruit's living room. The possibilities are endless. Not only would his rockstar persona and identity basically seal the deal, but who knows how well his message would spread amongst said recruit? We all know how influential recruits can be when luring others to our side.

He would also be a major hit amongst boosters and administrators. Gruden has never been one to throw a coach, player, or higher-up under the bus. He's always taken his lumps like a champ and has done so in a very professional manner.

Fundraisers? Booster appeasement? No sweat - Gru's got your back, baby!

The overall energy he would bring to the campus and the team are unrivaled. He's a walking chest-thump, a marauder-of-sorts,and someone who knows how to get the job done. His dedication and passion for the sport is widely known and part of the Lore of Gru.

I mean, who the hell doesn't want this on their sideline?

Yea. He is badass.

Add in the fact that Gruden has ties to Tennessee and it makes this highly sought-after marriage all the more wholesome. He met his wife Cindy, who was a cheerleader at the time, while he was a GA with the football team in the 80's and one of his three sons currently attends the university.

His coaching philosophies lie on the offensive side of the ball and it is reasonable to think that he would bring a pro-style offense to Tennessee, which is something that has been desired among fans for quite a while.

There is no doubt that if the Vols get Gruden then he would give 100% of his all to the university and the football team. The only question that remains is if the Vols can entice him enough to get him inside of Neyland Stadium on Saturdays.

The Bad

I'm not sure if you noticed a trend while reading the good portion of this profile, but there is one major issue with the positives of the possible hiring of Gruden - hardly any of it was about his ability as a coach.

Sure, he is passionate, dedicated, and at the end of the day - a good coach. However, if you look closely then you will see the cracks in the foundation.

One of the biggest arguments against Gruden is that he won the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy's team and that couldn't be further than the truth. Dungy was responsible for inventing and implementing the infamous Tampa 2 system, as well as developing key players on the Super Bowl roster.

Warren Sapp Bucs
Tony Dungy was key in the development of Warren Sapp as well as multiple other players

The Bucs improved just two spots in total offensive output in Gruden's first season, moving up from 26th overall to 24th. They averaged just 19 more yards per game and averaged under a half yard more per play. The team was carried by the defense, led by Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson - the majority being drafted or signed as a free agent by Dungy.

The worst of Gruden's tenure came after the Super Bowl win. I mean, you can only go down after reaching the top in your first season but still, this was a pretty epic collapse. The Bucs fell to 7-9 the next season due to a rash of injuries and inconsistent play, but that didn't stop Gruden from shipping off some on the franchise's most important players.

That trend continued throughout his tenure and before Buc Nation knew it, the franchise had gone from four playoff appearances in five seasons under Dungy to just three appearances in seven seasons with Gruden. The Bucs were able to get to a 12-4 record in 2002, but accumulated a very bad 45-51 record - that featured three losing seasons over the next six, including losing four straight to finish out the 2008 season.

Tampa is still trying to overcome the purge that befell the team throughout that span. One reason that it has taken so long to do so is because of Gruden's lack of developing a young quarterback.

This may come as a surprise to many but it is definitely something to consider. If you look at Gruden's most successful teams, they all came with veteran quarterbacks at the helm.

Rich Gannon in Oakland. Brad Johnson, who had one mediocre season in 2002. Brian Griese, who led Tampa to a 5-1 record before getting injured in 2005. Jeff Garcia, who is responsible for Tampa's last playoff season. Those four quarterbacks were responsible for all five playoff appearances during his 11-year tenure in the NFL and only one - Gannon - was able to get to the playoffs more than once.

Not once did Gruden develop a young quarterback or draft a quarterback that would make an impact on the team. Chris Simms and Bruce Gradkowski were both thrust into starting roles based off of injury and Gruden found replacement for both of them within one season after their incumbent statuses.

Baltimore Ravens v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chris Simms ruptured his spleen during his first season as a starter and was promptly benched the following year.
Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images

Would he be able to be patient enough with a young quarterback in Tennessee? Or would he bring in upperclassmen tranfers, JUCO players, etc. to compete? This kind of inconsistency at the most important position on the field could spell disaster.

Gruden is also responsible for some of the worst draft picks in franchise history. Only two first-round picks - Davin Joseph and Aqib Talib - made the Pro Bowl. Cadillac Williams won Rookie of the Year in 2005, but a slew of injuries rendered him ineffective for the remainder of his career. The rest of the his top picks were busts.

Also, don't forget the fact that Tampa gave up its two first round picks in 2002 and 2003 just to bring him in.

His ability to evaluate talent also became very questionable throughout his time in Tampa. Dexter Jackson, Gaines Adams (RIP), Sabby Piscitelli, Michael Clayton, Alex Smith, Jeremy Trueblood, and Maurice Stovall were all third round picks or higher and all of them had little to no contribution throughout their time in Tampa.

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Wide receiver Dexter Jackson is one of Tampa Bay's all-time worst draft picks

On top of all this, he hasn't coached in almost a decade. The college game has changed so much since then and there is no guarantee that he would be able to adjust and fit in with his schemes.

Yes, Gruden is a very flashy hire, but he could also be a flash in the pan like he was in Tampa.

Jon Gruden Fits In Well At Tennessee Because...

He is an electric person and coach. He has had success at the ultimate level, which is something that Nick Saban couldn't do. However, that doesn't mean he will translate into a successful coach at the college level.

But considering his knowledge of the game and his status as a first-rate celebrity, it would be hard for top recruits and coaches to tell him no if he were to come calling. His background with the program would only add fuel to the forever burning fire that is the UT fanbase.

Sure, there are questions about his current coaching ability, but Gruden’s overall resumé and personality seem to be enough to make up for that.

The potential with Gruden is unlimited and this time around the legs on the story are longer than ever. His decision to come to Rocky Top would instantly launch the Vols from a laughingstock to a serious team to discuss come 2018.