Derek Dooley will lead Tennessee out of the tunnel for Saturday’s match up against Missouri but that hasn’t stopped the speculation about who will be the next coach in Knoxville. Dooley was picked to replace Lane Kiffin after the 2009 season and has yet to deliver a winning record during his three years on Rocky Top. The Volunteers went 6-7 in his first season and followed that up with a 5-7 mark in 2011. Although Tennessee is 4-5 through nine weeks, the Volunteers have a favorable schedule (Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) and could finish with a winning record.
It’s no sure bet that Dooley will be fired at the end of the season, but if he is, speculation has centered heavily on former NFL head coach Jon Gruden. The former Tampa Bay coach does have some ties to Knoxville, as he spent two years as a graduate assistant with Tennessee in 1986-87. Gruden’s wife is also a key part in the rumor mill, as she was a cheerleader with the Volunteers and is from East Tennessee.
While Tennessee fans are certainly upset about the direction of the program, there’s no guarantee Gruden is the right man for the job. And if a coaching change does happen, it’s not certain Gruden would be even open to leaving the "Monday Night Football" booth to come to Knoxville.
5 Reasons Why Jon Gruden Would Be a Bad Hire for Tennessee
1. Lack of College Experience
It’s one thing to coach in the NFL, but it’s another to win in the college ranks. UCLA’s Jim Mora is 7-2 this season, but Bill Callahan was just 27-22 in four seasons at Nebraska. Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino each had success after spending time in the NFL, but both coaches got their start on the collegiate level. There’s no doubt coaches that come from the NFL can bring a lot of knowledge to a program, however, it’s not always easy relating to the players. Trying to implement a complicated offense is much easier in the NFL, especially since collegiate athletes have fewer hours to spend in the film room. Considering Gruden’s lack of head coaching experience in college, there would certainly be a transition period – and it may not be pretty – for Tennessee. Adapting to the college game takes time and there's very little patience for coaches that don't succeed in the SEC.
2. An Eye to the NFL?
Even if Gruden jumps at the opportunity to coach at Tennessee or anywhere else in the collegiate ranks, what’s to stop him from getting back into the NFL? If the Volunteers do decide to can Derek Dooley after the year, hiring Gruden may not be a good decision for long-term stability. Considering Tennessee has had three coaches in five years, picking a coach that may stay one or two years is a potential disaster. You never know how long a coach is going to stick around, but considering Gruden’s NFL background and how he exited, it’s a safe bet that he wants another shot. Tennessee needs to hire the best possible coach but also needs to find some stability for the next 5-7 years.
3. Recruiting and Building a Coaching Staff
Gruden could probably recruit successfully off of name only, at least for the first two or three years of his college tenure. However, what happens after that has to be a concern. It’s been over 20 years since Gruden had to hit the recruiting trail. And this isn’t just a six-month process – it lasts all season. Gruden is a relentless worker and there’s always the fear he could get burned out after just a few seasons. The former NFL coach would also have to put together a staff that would be good recruiters, especially at Tennessee where there’s not a lot of homegrown talent. Building a staff without many college connections isn’t easy, and a collection of NFL assistants wouldn't necessarily work at Tennessee.
4. The West Coast Offense
The spread and high-scoring offenses are becoming the norm in college football, and there’s always been doubt the West Coast offense can work outside of the NFL. Although Gruden’s offense at Oakland finished three times in the top 10 of scoring offense, his teams at Tampa Bay never finished higher than 18th in the NFL in total offense. Obviously, it’s a different league, so it’s hard to take a lot away from those statistics. However, it’s also important to note 54 of the 124 teams in the nation are averaging at least 30 points a game, with 11 scoring at least 40 points per contest. Even though Alabama owns one of the nation’s best defenses, the Crimson Tide are averaging 38.4 points a game. While Gruden’s background on offense is appealing, implementing a West Coast offense takes a lot of time. Nebraska (Bill Callahan) and Syracuse (Greg Robinson) implemented a similar scheme with limited results. During his time in the NFL, Gruden’s playbook might have been one of the deepest in the league. Although the schemes, plays and formations have worked in NFL, there’s simply no way Gruden can copy that offense in college. It’s not impossible for the West Coast offense to work in college, but Gruden would have to do a lot of simplifying to his playbook and be willing to adapt to more of a spread approach.
5. Difficult to Play For?
There’s no question Gruden would bring passion and energy to the sideline or to any program, but that may not translate well at the college level. Criticism is most player’s least favorite word, but NFLers are more likely to handle it better than college athletes. Although Gruden’s intensity could be a good thing for some players who have underachieved or aren’t putting in the proper hours, it’s a very fine line to walk with college players who don’t have the amount of time NFL players can put into perfecting their game. Gruden could land at a college and work out just fine. However, if he gets the reputation of being too difficult or too demanding to play for, his tenure will go south in a hurry.
by Steven Lassan
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