The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden in January 2009. ESPN signed him in May 2009. My sportswriting career in earnest began around the same time. So, I can say I have spent my entire career dealing with Gruden-returning-to-coaching rumors that have not come to fruition.

I’m not blameless here. I once wrote that Gruden would be a perfect fit for the Miami Hurricanes — not during the most recent coaching search, but the one after 2010 when Randy Edsall seemed like a thing that could happen and Miami ended up hiring hot young coaching star Al Golden.

Gruden rumors are so clockwork they have become a cliché. They even have a hashtag-friendly nickname: “Grumors.” These rumors persist because his return is a fascinating hypothetical that generates awesome traffic. In 2017, that’s more important than real news happening.

Fanbases have been throwing out Gruden as their panacea for eight years. With each passing annum, the logical hurdles to him returning become more obvious.

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Tennessee online sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.

Gruden's one year of FBS-level college experience came as a receivers coach at Pitt in 1991.

Gruden getting back into coaching is a leap. His reported salary is $6.5 million, give or take. He also has endorsement deals – Hooters – he probably could not maintain as an NFL or college head coach. Factor in Florida not having a state income tax. Gruden, in essence, gets paid as much as anyone in the football coaching profession. He earns that money while doing far less work than anyone in the football coaching profession. There are a few odds and ends and a taxing — no doubt — QB Camp filming schedule. But Gruden mainly works a couple of days per week a few months per year.

Getting back in to coaching would be for personal, not financial reasons. Gruden has nothing left to prove. He coached in the NFL for 11 years and won a Super Bowl. Turning 55 in August, he presumably would have already had the “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing TV” crisis. Twenty-six NFL head coaching jobs have come open at least once since Gruden last coached (maybe he has an eye on that Bengals job?) without him returning. Ditto for 10 of the 13 college football programs on Stewart Mandel’s “Kings” list.

If Gruden did want to coach, it’s yet another leap to suggest he’d want a college job. Coaching a major college football team isn’t a bad gig. Some find it preferable to the NFL. College coaches don’t have to deal with GMs. But, taking a college job also means spending every spare moment traveling and recruiting high school kids.

Even if Gruden wanted to return to college, why Tennessee? Yes, he was a GA there in the 1980s. Yes, his wife went there. But this isn’t a “Jim Harbaugh returning home to Michigan” situation. Tennessee isn’t a great job right now. It’s a job with the potential to be great if you spend a few years laying the foundation. This isn’t taking the reins at a ready-made Alabama or Ohio State right now.

It’s also worth remembering Gruden isn’t a slam-dunk college hire. This isn’t Nick Saban or  Harbaugh returning from the NFL with a strong college pedigree. Gruden hasn’t coached anywhere since 2008. He was fired for subpar performance then, going 45-51 over his final six seasons and not winning a playoff game. His one year of FBS-level college experience came as a receivers coach at Pitt in 1991. Is Gruden a better hire than Dan Mullen? Does he want us to find out the answer to that question?

Sure, Gruden did nothing to douse the fire when speaking about the Tennessee job with Mike and Mike. It is in his interest never to say never. The prospect of him returning to coaching every summer is his principal source of leverage. It’s the reason he has such a massive ESPN contract.

The TV climate has changed. There’s speculation ESPN may dump Monday Night Football to cut costs. ESPN, truth be told, may not be too upset if Gruden does walk away from his contract. That’s a better way to cut costs, PR-wise, than cutting scores of people who make far less money. But ESPN’s future relationship with the NFL is not an issue for Gruden, who has a contract through 2021. It’s probable he would get another well-paid NFL TV gig afterward. It’s certain he would not need the money.

Grumors will abound again this year. There’s little media incentive for them not to exist. “Sources” will connect dots or categorically rule it out. It’s interesting to talk about, and we are in the “interesting” business. Just proceed with caution. We’ve been here before with Gruden and Tennessee. The situation on paper hasn’t changed. And Tennessee isn’t even the only job starting with a T purportedly in the mix for Gruden.