Tennessee Football: Why Jon Gruden and the Spread Could Work on Rocky Top

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 5, 2012

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon GrudenAl Messerschmidt/Getty Images

For the last two weeks, the annual rites of fall—better known as "Jon Gruden coaching rumors"—have picked up steam across the country.

Nowhere are they more prevalent than on Rocky Top, where current Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is 4-5 overall, 0-5 in the SEC and 4-17 within the conference in his three years as head coach of the Vols.

That won't cut it, and coupled with Gruden's connections to the Tennessee football program, the Gruden-to-Tennessee rumors have kicked into overdrive.

But Gruden has never been a head coach at the college level, and hasn't coached in college at any capacity since 1991, when he was the wide receivers coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

After being fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2008 season, Gruden visited current Oregon head coach Chip Kelly in an effort to learn more about Kelly's version of the spread offense, according to The Oregonian.

He came away from that meeting with rave reviews of the offense.

When I got fired from football, I wanted to learn about football, and it started with Oregon. I wanted to learn the spread option, and Chip Kelly was nice enough to come down (to Florida) and spend a week with me.

When I got fired, I opened up an office. I called it the FFCA, the fired football coaches of America, and I was really excited about learning some things I didn't know anything about, and one of them was the spread offense. I started with Oregon because I have a lot of respect for what they've done.

So would that offense work in the SEC, and at Tennessee in particular?

It absolutely could, but it needs the right pieces.

The last two times we've seen Oregon face off against SEC opponents—in the 2011 season-opener vs. LSU and the 2011 BCS National Championship Game vs. Auburn following the 2010 season—the offense was neutralized by the fast and physical SEC defenses.

In those two games the Ducks averaged just 392 yards of total offense and 23 points, 143.25 yards per game and 25.5 points per game fewer than they have averaged over the last two-plus seasons. Auburn and LSU successfully made those games SEC-style slugfests.

That's exactly why Oregon's system has struggled against the SEC recently, but if Gruden brought it to Tennessee and recruited the same type of SEC players—particularly SEC offensive linemen—the system could work on Rocky Top.

If you want proof, look no further than to College Station, where first-year Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin altered his air-raid system to fit the skills that quarterback Johnny Manziel possesses. While Manziel has grabbed the headlines, the real reason that the Aggies have been so successful is a veteran offensive line led by Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

While A&M's offense does go east and west more than your average SEC offense, running backs Ben Malena and Christine Michael can, and do, play smash mouth football behind the Aggies offensive line. 

Offensive line has been a bright spot for the Vols this year. The Vols have given up the second-fewest sacks (4) of any team in the nation this season and the fourth-fewest tackles for loss (33). Only one starter—left guard Dallas Thomas—from this year's crew is a senior.

That, coupled with a versatile running game that has improved tremendously from a year ago, is a good foundation for any offense. Even the spread.

Plus, can you imagine wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the De'Anthony Thomas role? Look out.

The only missing piece would be the quarterback. Granted, that's a big issue, but not one that Gruden can't overcome.

If Gruden does land on Rocky Top—and admittedly, that's a big "if"—don't be surprised to see the Vols look a little bit like Oregon at times. As long as it's not forced, and Gruden is flexible with his system based on personnel, it could work.



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