Jon Gruden Turns Down Tennessee: Where Do Vols Go from Here?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 30, 2012

The annual Jon Gruden frenzy in 2012 ended in the same way that it does every season—as nothing more than rumor and speculation.

According to Josh Ward and Jimmy Hyams of WNML in Knoxville, Tenn., Gruden informed Tennessee that he isn't interested in becoming its head coach, according to Ward's Twitter account.

Jon Gruden has informed Tennessee he isn't interested in becoming UT's football coach, per @jimmyhyams.

— Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward) November 30, 2012

The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press reported on Friday that there was interest from Gruden's camp in the Tennessee job, but compensation for assistant coaches wasn't where Gruden wanted it to be.

Gruden's decision to pass on Tennessee will certainly disappoint Vols fans, but the hysteria over the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach was a bit exaggerated. Sure, having a Super Bowl champion roaming the sidelines would be great for the program, but he hasn't been a coach in any capacity at the college level since he was the wide receivers coach at Pitt in 1991.

Once the Gruden hangover clears up, there are plenty of good options out there for the Vols to pursue. (via lists favorites as Butch Davis, Larry Fedora, Jim Tressel, Dan Mullen, Al Golden and Jimbo Fisher.

Considering Tennessee is on probation, it's hard to imagine the Vols trusting Davis, who—fair or not—has a black cloud hanging over him from the North Carolina case. The same argument can be made for Tressel, who was handed a show-cause penalty from his role in the Ohio State improper benefits case.

Fedora may not have the name recognition as some of the other potential candidates, but if that's who the Vols wind up with, the program will have secured one of the hot names in the coaching market.

He led Southern Miss to the Conference USA title last season with a 12-2 record, and in his first season in Chapel Hill, he led the Tar Heels to an 8-4 record and added 92 yards per game to an offense that finished 53rd in the country a year ago.

Fisher may be leveraging for a raise from Florida State, but he would probably make the jump for the right price. Since money was an issue with Gruden, it may become a factor with Fisher as well.

FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will leave after the ACC Championship Game to take the head coaching job at Kentucky, and offensive coordinator James Coley could be going with him.

Could their departures nudge Fisher to make a move? We will see.

Don't sleep on Golden. He may not be the splashy hire, but he did lead Miami to a 7-5 record when they were predicted to finish next to last in the ACC Coastal in the midst of NCAA uncertainty.

Charlie Strong would also be a solid hire for athletic director Dave Hart. He led Louisville to a 10-2 record and BCS bid this season, and he will be—and has been—a hot commodity in searches at Auburn and Arkansas this month.

Strong has been around the block in the SEC, coaching 18 of the previous 22 years prior to taking the Louisville job as an assistant in the conference.

Just because Gruden won't be headed to Rocky Top doesn't mean that all is lost in Knoxville. There are still plenty of qualified candidates for the Vols, and if any of the favorites end up with the job, the program will be fine.