Greeson: Is Gruden the right solution for the Vols?

Greeson: Is Gruden the right solution for the Vols?

November 29th, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Jon Gruden

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The questions about Jon Gruden and the University of Tennessee have consumed the state.

Will he come? Will he go to Philadelphia? Will he stay at ESPN?

It's impossible to know unless you are in the power-broker meetings reserved for folks with the really good seats on Saturday and the checking accounts measured by commas rather than zeros.

It hit such a high-water mark on the Sea of Disbelief that the air waves Wednesday were filled with erroneous reports that renowned UT booster Jim Haslam III would include an ownership piece of his newly purchased Cleveland Browns as part of the deal to lure Gruden to Knoxville.

The last surge Wednesday night -- and it hit a fever-pitched considering the phrase "Jon Gruden rumors" was the top trending topic on Yahoo! for most of the afternoon -- was that the flirtation between the Vols and Camp Gruden had stopped almost as quickly as they started.

It's impossible to know where it's headed. But as the entire state debates will he or won't he, has anyone stopped to ask whether Jon Gruden is going to fit in college football?

Think about it. In the NFL, it's all football. In college, it's recruiting and glad-handing boosters and making stops in Cookeville and Murfreesboro to speak at events. In the NFL, the players know their livelihood is at stake with the outcome of their performance. In college, the players know the coaches' livelihood is at stake with the outcome of their performance.

Seriously, who was the last former NFL coach that had success in college? Yes, Pete Carroll won on a grand scale at USC. But they also had to give all of that back because of NCAA violations. Oh yeah, NCAA rules. That's another Grand-Canyon-sized difference between the college game and the NFL.

OK, so if Johnny Vols Fans everywhere are willing to push their chips in for a Pete Carroll-like return -- couple of titles, couple of Heisman winners, couple of years of NCAA sanctions and scholarship reductions -- we can accept that. That seems like a good risk, especially considering the desperation of the fan base and the state of the program.

But that's the high end looking at the other former NFL coaches that tried to make jumps to high-profile college jobs.

Charlie Weis and Monte Kiffin were former ground-breaking NFL assistants and they are getting chewed up in college.

Despite grand debuts, the jury is still out on Jim Mora and Bill O'Brien considering the biggest transition is how well can NFL guys connect and recruit. What about Chan Gailey's forgettable time at Georgia Tech? And who can forget Lane Kiffin? Wait, strike that. We all want to forget Lane Kiffin.

There's no doubt Gruden had more head coaching experience and success than those guys in the NFL. And he'd be a rock star hire in the eyes of in-state recruits and a unifying hire for a splintered UT fan base.

For those reasons alone, hiring Gruden would be a good hire. Heck those reasons, considering the state of the UT program, could qualify it as a great hire.

But, if the contract details do work out and Gruden gets a rumored piece of the Browns and DirectTV, a percentage of every commercial Peyton Manning ever shoots, half the tea in China and free Dollywood tickets for life, five years from now will it be just a sizzle hire or will it be Tennessee's solution. Because we all know they are not necessarily the same thing.

Lane Kiffin was a home run hire; he was not a solution.

Rich Rodriguez was a home run hire; he was not a solution.

Mark Richt was not a home run hire -- heck, he wasn't even Georgia's first choice; he was the solution.

Sure, Nick Saban was both, and that happens, but it's rare.

And this is not only germane to Gruden and UT, of course. It's the same question for every school about every candidate. And it's an expensive and painful proposition.

But for a Vols fan base that has been tortured on Saturdays and a football program that has been crippled by changeovers and buyouts and defections, the questions must be answered correctly.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6273.