Is Jon Gruden the Answer for the Tennessee Volunteers?
If you live in the state of Tennessee or follow SEC football, the biggest rumor as of late is that Tennessee will fire Derek Dooley after the South Carolina game this Saturday.
However, that is not the biggest part of the rumor.
It is that the University of Tennessee has in its sights to offer Jon Gruden, the former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, the head coaching position at Rocky Top. As Knoxville-based sports radio insider Tony Basilo writes, "Jon Gruden is Target # 1, target # 2, target # 3 and target # 4."
Personally, I think this is all still a lot of Santa wish list thinking on the part of some Volunteer fans.
However, just for the sake of argument, if all of this does transpire (Dooley gets fired, Tennessee offers Gruden the job and he accepts it), will he be the Moses who will deliver the Volunteers to the promise land and back to the top of the SEC?
Recent history suggests that NFL coaches that come to the college ranks typically have mediocre success.
We all know about how college coaches typically fail in the NFL..
It is like a who's who of college football: Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz, Mike Riley, Butch Davis, Rich Brooks, Dennis Erickson and Frank Kush.
However, very little attention is paid to the record of the NFL coaches that come to the college ranks—it is very similar. Granted one can always find exceptions to the rule. Pete Carroll, for example, was fired for under-performance at the Patriots but had astonishing success in the college ranks with the USC Trojans from 2001-2009.
Here are a couple of examples of NFL coaches that came to the college ranks and did not fair too well.
Walsh was one of the greatest NFL coaches in the last 40 years.
Not only did he create the West Coast Offense, but he coached the San Fransisco 49ers to three Super Bowls and ended his career at the 49ers with a 102-63-1 record, six division titles and three NFC Championship titles.
After leaving the NFL, Walsh returned to Stanford to coach the Cardinals from 1992-1994. Walsh had coached at Stanford before in the late 1970s before going to the NFL.
Between 1992-1994, Walsh's record at Stanford was .500.
Sherman is the second winningest coach, in terms of percentages, in the history of the Green Bay Packers franchise—only Vince Lombardi has a better winning percentage.
From 2000-2004, as head coach of the Packers, Sherman lead them to playoffs every single year, including three divisional titles.
His record with the Packers was 53-27.
With that in mind, Texas A&M hired Sherman after the firing of Dennis Franchione in 2008.
Sherman seemed to be the home-run hire the Aggies needed—a successful NFL coach that would run a pro-style offense and would generate a huge boost in recruiting, and allow the Aggies to finally out-recruit the Longhorns and the Sooners.
In his four years at Texas A&M, Sherman compiled a 25-25 record and 15-18 conference record in the Big 12.
Callahan did something only John Madden and Art Shell have ever been able to do at the Oakland Raiders.
Callahan got the Raiders to an AFC West title his first year as head coach. Callahan, that same year, would get the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII. And to this day, Callahan is the last Raider coach to post a winning season for the franchise.
In 2004, Nebraska hired Callahan as their next head coach.
In the four years with the Cornhuskers, Callahan posted a 27-22 record and 15-17 conference record in the Big 12. Callahan did improve the Husker offense and had some great recruiting classes, including a Top 5 class in 2005.
Yet, his Cornhuskers never seemed to get traction.
He even had the dubious honor of posting the first losing season for the program since 1961. Sports Illustrated even went so far as to write, Callahan was one of the worst coaching hires in college football during the last decade.
A long time assistant coach to the legend Jimmy Johnson for the Dallas Cowboys, Wannstedt was a head coach for the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
As head coach of the Dolphins, Wannstedt compiled at 42-31 record and took the franchise to the playoffs twice.
Wannstedt was hired in 2005 by his alma mater, Pittsburgh, be their head coach. In the six years with the Panthers, Wannstedt was 42-31 and 24-18 in Big East games.
Wannstedt did have a winning record and recorded some fine recruiting classes, including a No.11 class in 2006, rated by Rivals.com, and a No. 8 class in 2007.
Wannstedt, however, resigned under pressure in 2010 for not being able to get Pittsburgh over the hump and get the program to a BCS bowl. Likewise, his last year of 7-5 did not sit well with Panther fans.
Wannstedt should have been allowed to stay on.
After all, he was winning.
But his fate with the Panthers shows how the expectations of college fans can be when you hire an NFL coach.
In many cases they have unrealistic expectations.
Those are just four examples of head coaches. There are some other examples of NFL position coaches and coordinators who found the college game much more of a challenge then the NFL.
Offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and owner of three Super Bowl rings, Weis was hired by Notre Dame in 2005.
Although it looked as though he was just what the doctor ordered for the Fighting Irish, going 9-3 his first year and 10-3 his second year and getting the Irish to a BCS bowl game, Weis was fired in 2009, compiling a 35-27 record as head coach.
A veteran position coach in the NFL who, among other things, coached in a Super Bowl when he was with the San Diego Chargers in 1995.
Croom was hired in 2004 by Mississippi State.
In the five years with the Bulldogs, Croom had one really good year in 2007 when he posted an 8-5 record and took the Bulldogs to the Liberty Bowl.
Croom, before resigning at the end of 2008, finished his stint with Mississippi State with a 21-38 record and a 10-30 mark in SEC conference games.
What does it all mean?
This certainly does not mean that Jon Gruden would share the same fate of some of these coaches.
Who knows, Gruden very well could be the second coming of Robert 'General' Neyland and could be just what Tennessee needs. However, the point of this article is to temper the enthusiasm a bit for some Volunteer fans who think that hiring an NFL coach is the magic elixir.
Another point to ponder is Tennessee may not be able to fire Dooley anyway.
It has been reported that in order for Tennessee to buy out Dooley's contract and his staff, it would cost as much as $9.3 million dollars. Considering Jon Gruden makes about $4 million a year doing TV work for ESPN, it is going to cost Tennessee a small fortune to pay off Dooley and his staff and pay what Gruden would cost.
Not to mention the millions it will cost for Gruden to hire the best staff he can afford.
Granted, for rabid fans, money grows on trees, but for universities and boosters, $9.3 million dollars is real money.
Also, Gruden was recently interviewed on the October 15 by the Los Angeles Times, and while he said he misses coaching, he pretty much said he was happy and content with his ESPN analyst job.
Tennessee would probably do well to either give Dooley another year, or if they do pull the trigger and fire Dooley, they should focus on hiring a proven college coach.
Chris Petersen of Boise State, Mike Bellotti, the former head coach of Oregon, and Charlie Strong, who coached for twenty years in the SEC and is currently head coach at Louisville, seem like home-run hires to the rest of us for Rocky Top to consider.
When it comes to NFL and college football, Rudyard Kipling's famous old saying comes to mind.
"Never the twain shall meet."
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