As this Jon Gruden scandal continues to unfold, be very thankful Vols didn't hire him
Tennessee’s loss to Georgia was tough. Separating oneself from Jon Gruden would have proven extremely tough. Take solace Tennessee UT fans, things could have been much worse.
For those enjoying the lead up to the Georgia game and, subsequently, commiserating over the 41-17 loss to the Bulldogs, many UT fans might have missed the fact that the coaching candidate they most coveted continues to make news after misogynistic and racial remarks forced him out as the Las Vegas Raiders head coach last month. Now, Gruden is suing the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell for those comments that he made in emails exchanged with The Washington Football Team. The team is under investigation by the NFL for workplace misconduct. Gruden got caught up in the middle of that storm.
So let me emphasize this point. Gruden isn’t denying the incredibly offensive remarks. He’s just suing over the fact that they became public. There’s something inherently slimy in that. Tennessee didn’t need any of this. The Vols are lucky that Gruden was just using the Vols as a pawn to keep himself in public conversations about coaching vacancies. He hinted that he was interested while never denying he’d return to coaching in college. However, there’s no indication that Gruden was seriously considering coaching at UT when it had various vacancies over the past decade. Chalk that up as a win for Tennessee’s athletic department and UT fans. Had Gruden really been interested, he likely would have gotten the Tennessee job at some point. However, he never really intended to return to the grind of college football. Before this recent scandal, things were going quite swimmingly for Gruden. He had a great television career and a slew of endorsements
It’s hard not to sympathize with Tennessee fans and what they’ve had to endure over the past dozen years. Luck has definitely not been on the Vols’ side — except when it came to Gruden.
Imagine if UT had actually hired their longtime fan-favorite, Gruden, as head coach. Had he been at the helm at Tennessee and been busted for the disgusting emails that forced him to resign, it would have set Tennessee football back another 12 years.
Gruden, partly because of his popularity as a television announcer and his career as a Super Bowl-winning head coach before that, would have been the lead story nationally had his scandal broke in Knoxville instead of Las Vegas. That would have been very bad. Unfortunately, it would have been the type of thing that UT fans have had to grow accustomed to in the past. The strangest part of the entire infatuation with Gruden becoming the head coach at Tennessee never made much sense. Did he really want to return to college? Would he have been successful at Tennessee? I’m not as convinced as most UT fans that a Tennessee-Gruden marriage would have ever worked just because he met his wife in Knoxville when he was a graduate assistant for the Vols.
Remember, Gruden was used to being held in high regard. He was used to being the guy in the room that everyone admired. That changes somewhat in college. As a college football coach, you have to play sycophant from time to time to land the best recruits. I never thought that Gruden would be a good fit for UT or any college coaching job. And I thought that well before those nasty emails came out.
One could argue that the news of Gruden writing misogynistic, homophobic and just plain disturbing emails never would have come to light had he been at UT instead of the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Maybe it was just someone in the NFL who wanted to harm the Raiders or Gruden. Maybe not. In retrospect, that’s a big risk to take. Had the Vols hired Gruden, they’d be without a long-term coach right now — just like the Raiders. Success or not, Gruden would have been a ticking time bomb at Tennessee or anywhere else.
Sure, Gruden could hire some public relations firm to get him back into the good graces of football fans and back in some sort of limelight. But that will be years from now — if at all. There’s a good chance that Gruden’s public persona is destroyed permanently whether it’s in coaching or broadcasting. When Sketchers drops you as a spokesman, you know it’s bad.
The unfettered lust for Gruden to become Tennessee’s head coach when the Vols had a vacancy was way over the top, but there was no telling that to a Tennessee fan in the 2010s. Gruden was the only answer for many among UT’s fan base.
There were reports that Gruden was at local restaurants in Knoxville, possibly hammering out a deal, when the Vols hired Butch Jones, Derek Dooley and Jeremy Pruitt. None of those reports were ever substantiated. Gruden was never fine-tuning a deal with the Vols and he was likely never considering a return to Knoxville.
Remember the stakeouts at McGhee Tyson Airport because of rumors that Gruden might be flying in on a majestic, white horse? None of that nonsense was true. The talk of the town was so strong that there was even a term for conversations suggesting that Gruden would coach Tennessee. They were called “Grumors.” They were about as well-founded as his understanding that emails can become public.
The obsession around Gruden revolved around the fact that he was once a graduate assistant at UT, met his future wife in Knoxville and reportedly owned land in nearby Sevierville. Since I’m not a real estate agent nor a land broker, I’m not sure about that last claim, but the other two facts are true. However, the “Grumors” never had any substance when it came to him actually being named UT’s head coach. Even the most hopeful fans were smart enough to know that.
It’s still an incredibly strange coincidence that Gruden’s reputation was destroyed just like UT fans destroyed Greg Schiano’s reputation when he was slated to be hired in 2018. Schiano was ostracized by UT’s fan base because he was on the staff that ended up being fired because of Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s lack of oversight into the Nittany Lions’ program. What happened at State College involving child abuse by Jerry Sandusky was abhorrent, but there was no strong evidence that actually linked Schiano to the coverup. None at all.
Some said at the time that Schiano wasn’t a great hire based on his résumé. There’s a valid point there. He probably wouldn’t have been a great coach at UT. He’s 8-11 since being re-hired by Rutgers before the 2020 season. That’s not good, but it is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have a long history of not being good.
Tennessee didn’t have many choices at the time and had an ongoing coup of their own that kept Schiano from ever being hired. The entire process of hiring Schiano, which led to a change in the athletic director position at UT, was a laughingstock that should still embarrass most Tennessee fans. Now, imagine that type of embarrassment with a big-time celebrity like Gruden. I’m glad UT’s fans didn’t have to endure such nonsense. They’ve been through enough.
In one of the first breaks that UT football has received in a long time, the Vols settled on Josh Heupel after Pruitt was eventually, mercifully fired. That seems to be going well. The Vols are 5-5, have an exciting offense, play hard for their coach and look to be on the right path to rebuild something significant. Some have even printed up t-shirts with Heupel’s name on it. I’d wait before going that far, but everyone wants to make a buck. It’s just hard to get those “Butch Please” t-shirts out of my mind. Perhaps a “Butch Don’t” would have been more appropriate. A “Don’t hit send Jon” would have also been appropriate.
The bottom line is that the Vols are in a better place now than they could have ever hoped had they hired Gruden. Maybe UT’s fans just got lucky by ending up with Heupel. If so, that’s good. They deserve it. UT fans have had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. Gruden would just have made it worse.