Wiedmer: Shouldn't Jon Gruden say something?

Wiedmer: Shouldn't Jon Gruden say something?

November 28th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

ESPN NFL analyst and former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden is the favorite of many University of Tennessee fans to become the Volunteers' new coach.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

You can't say Jon Gruden's going to be the next University of Tennessee head coach until he says it.

Even then there needs to be a news conference, a meet-and-greet with boosters, a get-acquainted session with players.

There must be something more concrete than a potential tweet into cyberspace that all this might really happen for it to be believable.

But with each day that comes and goes without a Gruden statement of denial, the improbable becomes more and more possible, if not downright likely.

For if there's no chance of this happening, why hasn't Gruden issued a statement to address the situation? Just something simple and complimentary along the lines of ... "While there will always be an especially warm spot in my heart for the Tennessee football program, I am not interested in coaching at the collegiate level at this time."

Nothing more. Nothing less. But succinct, bullet-proof and final.

Yet none of that is happening. We expect silence from UT athletic director Dave Hart. Silence is somewhat necessary on Hart's end. To do otherwise is to provide unwittingly a list of favorites, which means the third guy on your list would know he was third, which might make him not want to become first.

For instance, imagine how angry Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might become if he learned Hart was talking to him only because both Gruden and Jimbo Fisher had turned the Volunteers down.

Maybe $5 million a year would soothe his hurt feelings. Or maybe he'd just keep his $4.5 millioni at OU and say thanks but no thanks.

Beyond that, if the UT fan base decides that Gruden really wanted the job but Hart decided to go in another direction, the Big Orange Nation might run him out of town by Christmas, so set are the majority of Volniacs on landing Coach Chucky.

So the silence from Hart says nothing. There'd be silence from Hart if he were in serious negotiations with Alabama coach Nick Saban.

But Gruden's silence is deafening. It all but screams that something's still going on.

Not necessarily a done deal. It may never become more than Gruden's Plan D, a safety net should neither the Philadelphia Eagles nor Dallas Cowboys come calling, or if ESPN convinces Peyton Manning that he can still play on Sunday and provide color on Monday night.

You can see the commercials now: "Welcome to 'Monday Night Football,' sponsored by Buick."

Still, if Gruden had no interest, he'd surely come out and say it, if only to spare his wife and mother-in-law a lot of needless texts and Facebook fallout.

The funniest part of all of this for those who don't bleed orange is that Philadelphia Eagles fans are apparently becoming as convinced as Volniacs that they're going to land Gruden.

They may or may not be as excited about it as Tennesseans -- one Internet poll has consistently ranked Gruden the favorite of 53 percent of the UT fan base with Stoops a distant second at 11 percent. Those rates have held fast for more than a week, whether the total votes were 3,000 or close to 30,000.

So to be Hart is to clearly know your fans' collective choice, despite the fact that Gruden has never been a college head coach.

Yet to be Hart is also to know that winning the news conference is not necessarily winning the war. Slimy though he may be, Bobby Petrino has a far better collegiate pedigree than Gruden. Bob Stoops is a no-brainer if available. And Cincinnati's Butch Jones may be the best of the bunch -- Notre Dame's Brian Kelly in training pants.

Point is, it doesn't have to be Gruden to become an impressive hire. But it seems to need to be Gruden to tame a savage fan base.

And each day that passes without some statement from Gruden is a day closer that Hart comes to delivering heartbreaking news to the Big Orange Nation if Chucky's in love with anybody but the Vols.

In that sense, the UT AD is in a very dangerous spot, about to become as popular as Santa Claus ... or as unpopular as the football coach he's replacing.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com