The Pros and Cons of Jon Gruden Coaching at Tennessee

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 30, 2012

ESPN Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden
ESPN Monday Night Football commentator Jon GrudenAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The hot rumor on the coaching front in late October was the long-awaited return of Jon Gruden to the sidelines.

After a winless October and a 3-5 record to start the season, Tennessee fans are the latest group to buy in to the Gruden hype.

Last week, the Gruden-to-Tennessee rumors kicked into overdrive with a few erroneous reports, followed by a picture snapped of Gruden on a flight to Phoenix where he supposedly is watching the Tennessee vs. South Carolina game and taking "feverish notes."

Keyword: "supposedly."

All of this while Derek Dooley is still employed by Tennessee as its head football coach. But let's assume for a minute that Gruden is, eventually, hired in Tennessee to become its head coach. Will it work?



Gruden will bring a resume of success to Rocky Top.

Dooley came to Tennessee with a 17-20 record at Louisiana Tech, and seemed like a hire out of convenience after Lane Kiffin bolted Knoxville in the middle of the night for greener pastures in Los Angeles.

Gruden would be a tremendous upgrade.

The former NFL head coach complied a 100-85 record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders and won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Bucs.

Simply put, Gruden wouldn't have to say a thing at his opening press conference. He could just flash his Super Bowl ring like Charlie Weis and that would be enough.

He also has the kind of hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach that current Alabama head coach Nick Saban brought to Tuscaloosa. That "juice" helped keep his future NFL players focused and on the right track.

Dooley coaches with the same no-nonsense mindset, but his track record with the Vols includes a 4-17 record within the conference and a 2011 season in which his team quit on him in November.

Dooley lost his team once, and, coming off losses in five of the last six games, the next month will determine whether he loses it again. 

I doubt Gruden would let that happen.

Plus, playing for a coach that is so heavily connected to the NFL will be very appealing to prospects who hope to make a living playing the game.



There is always a concern whether or not coaches that have spent the majority of their careers in the NFL can properly make the adjustment to college. Some have done so successfully, and others haven't. That's where some of the "cons" come in.

The question isn't whether NFL coaches can successfully make the switch, it's whether Jon Gruden specifically can.

What is there to suggest that Gruden would be an effective college head coach?


The last time he coached in college was 21 years ago when he was the wide receivers coach for the University of Pittsburgh, and his only experience in the SEC was in 1986-87 when he was a graduate assistant with Tennessee.

Some adults who can now legally drink alcohol weren't even born when Gruden last coached in college. That means 21 years without recruiting, 21 years without dealing with kids being homesick, and 21 years without developing a program around class schedules.

That's a long time. Plus, he can't fix Tennessee's issues alone.

Gruden made a name for himself using the West Coast system to solidify his place as one of the most brilliant offensive minds in the country.

Tennessee's most pressing issue at the moment isn't offense, it's defense.

The Vols currently rank last in the SEC in total defense (453.4 YPG), last in scoring defense (33.9 PPG), 13th in rush defense (181.5 YPG) and 13th in passing defense (271.9 YPG).

Defense was a hallmark of Gruden's teams in Tampa Bay, but those defenses were run by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who ran Tennessee's defense in 2009 and then bolted with his son Lane to USC in 2010.

Gruden would be a tremendous upgrade for Tennessee. There's no doubt about it.

But let's hold off on assuming that he would step right in and fix what ails the Vol program. He has the championship pedigree, no doubt. But he would have to answer some unanswered questions—particularly on the recruiting trail—before we anoint him as the next King of the SEC.