Broodin' Over Gruden

Perhaps it's fitting that the last time the Tennessee head coaching job was available, Bill Clinton was President elect and a Bush was in the White House because 16 years later, once again, the torch of leadership for both UT and the U.S is about to be passed to a new generation.

That search for UT's next head coach was little more than a formality as Phillip Fulmer had handled the team with success during Johnny Majors early absence due to heart surgery. Fulmer was generating strong interest from other programs in need of a head coach and the transition itself promised to be seamless.

Even the coaching search for Bill Battle's replacement amounted to little more than the wait for Majors to win a national championship in 1976. Naturally there was simply no interest in any other candidate. The Majors name was magic to Tennessee fans and he had just completed one of the most remarkable four-year reversals of fortunes ever major program ever. Like this latest change that one came during a national election year as Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in a race for the presidency.

Without a clear No. 1 choice as was the case with Majors and Fulmer this is the first time in a long time Tennessee fans have had the chance to ponder a field of prospective head coaches and let their imaginations run wild. To celebrate what hasn't happened since Bill Battle was hired in 1969, here are some of the rumors making the rounds. • CHUCKY TOP The John Gruden to Tennessee rumor is not new, but until the job actually became available it was little more than wishful thinking on the part of some Vol fans eager for change. However the rumor gained some credibility and steam when reported by the Killer B's on ESPN 1470 and later repeated on the Mike and Mike in the Morning show.

Said rumor sets the going rate for Tampa Bay's head coach at $5 million a year. Whether UT would meet that rate is a matter of opinion but it doesn't seem a strong possibility given the ongoing renovations and remodeling project on The Hill. Then there's the $6 million pay out to Coach Fulmer and an uncertain economy to consider.

Factors favoring Gruden for Tennessee is that his wife is a UT alum from east Tennessee. He had reached the pinnacle of football with a Super Bowl win in 2003 and may want to test himself in another arena. Gruden has already been fired once in the NFL and knows it's difficult to stay on top with salary caps, free agency and the draft. Gruden is known for maximizing his talent through coaching and might do as well or better with the same talent level UT is losing with now. Gruden's names would open a lot of doors on the recruiting trail and he's an established entity in talent rich Florida as well as California.

Tampa Bay is currently 6-3 and a playoff contender that would like keep in the NFL through this season and that is too late to help Tennessee's current recruiting drive. Gruden also signed a contract extension this year making it less likely he would undertake a move for less than top dollar as established by Alabama's contract with Nick Saban. That price could be too high, but UT football is the cash cow that funds most of Tennessee sports programs and drives donations. Getting it right the first time with a coach who offers wide appeal would keep the fans coming and the funds flowing.

ANYTHING FOR A BUC

A separate but related rumor has another UT coaching candidate going to Clemson provided he brings his father with him. The candidate is Lane Kiffin, the 33 year-old boy wonder, who is the hottest target on the market because of his availability and personality.

Sources report Clemson would like to hire Kiffin as part of a package deal that would include his father Monte, who is Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator. That might be a dream deal if it can be put together, but why would a father want to work under his son at a school that goes through head coaches at an dizzying rate?

Tennessee could make the same kind of offer and the program's history of stability might be more attractive as would the facilities and competition. If you're coming from the NFL playing in the SEC might not seem so intimidating. Likewise Saban and Spurrier might not seem so smart.

It's interesting to note that since Kiffin has been born UT has only changed head coaches twice. Alabama has had more than that in one year.


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