The proverbial heads are starting to roll as we traverse deeper and deeper into the college football season.
Tennessee became the latest big-name job available — as the administration fired head coach Butch Jones this past weekend. The Vols lost on Saturday to Mizzou by a score of 50-17. Tennessee had lost 7 of its last 9 games before ultimately pulling the plug on Jones.
There’s been plenty of anxiety surrounding the program for the past few years. Despite annually finishing with highly-rated recruiting classes, Tennessee has not achieved a double-digit win total for a single season since 2007. It’s a roster chock-full of talent — yet a program mired in a malaise of underachieving mediocrity.
Frankly, the same can be said for Florida. Despite winning back-to-back SEC East titles, the brass became disenchanted with former head coach Jim McElwain. He was jettisoned during the middle of his third season after a rocky 3-4 start. Bizarre circumstances surrounding alleged death threats also didn’t help McElwain’s cause very much.
As it currently stands, two programs with hopes of competing for National Championships year in and year out have vacancies to fill. The rumors swirling around both jobs have been considerable. There’s even more of an impetus to hire an excellent coach given the reemergence of both Georgia and South Carolina.
There are two names standing out among the others when delving into the search: Chip Kelly and Jon Gruden.
According to reports, Florida has begun the vetting process on Kelly. The New Hampshire native last worked as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. Kelly also accrued a 26-21 overall record in three years with the Philadelphia Eagles. Without question, Kelly’s claim-to-fame as a head coach came during his time with Oregon.
Whilst in Eugene, Kelly led the program to a 46-7 overall record in four seasons. This included four-straight division titles, two conference titles, and two wins (Rose, Fiesta) in major bowl games. Kelly employs a high-octane style of offense — one which is aimed at completely exhausting the opposing defense. Kelly completely revolutionized the game by having his offense snap the ball as quickly as possible. This style made the traditional no-huddle look like a plodding exercise through dense pockets of wet sand.
The beauty of Kelly’s offense is that it’s not overly difficult to comprehend. Essentially, it’s the same six plays run from varying formations. This aspect would (in theory) help the team acclimate as quickly as possible when trying to implement the scheme. It’s a read-centric offense from the standpoint that quarterbacks often are able to attack the first read without going through a laundry list of progressions. It’s a simplistic — yet highly effective scheme.
Oregon wasn’t the easiest place to recruit to. There’s not a great in-state pool of players to pull from. As such, Kelly and his staff were forced into grabbing players from California, Texas, Florida, and states all across the country. He won’t have this issue at Florida — as it’s one of the most talent-rich regions anywhere. Kelly will essentially be able to utilize the vaunted ‘Florida speed’ without having to expel a ton of energy on the recruiting trails.
This could be the hire Florida’s been pining for. Rarely has defense ever been a problem in Gainesville. The program never has an issue in luring top talent to The Swamp. Schematic issues, however, have made the post-Tim Tebow era an absolute circus on the offensive side of the football. With Kelly in charge, this should no longer become an issue.
As for Tennessee, the “Grumors” have long been churning in Knoxville. Gruden started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at UT during the 1986-87 season. It was here where he met his future wife Cindy — a former UT cheerleader. Bear in mind, Gruden was at Tennessee for only two seasons.
The program has been a relative mess since longtime coach Phil Fulmer was let go in 2008. The Vols haven’t won more than 9 games in a single season since this time. There’s been nothing to suggest Tennessee being anything more than an underachieving entity — particularly since it recruits so well.
An ineptness emanating from the Jones-Derek Dooley-Lane Kiffin trio has led to Tennessee reportedly swinging for the fences. Gruden is often publicized in the media as the odds-on favorite for the job. The fan base is clamoring for him to take over. While there’s tons of optimism, the faithful in white and orange may want to temper expectations a bit.
Gruden hasn’t been a head coach on any level since 2008. He also became a color commentator in 2009. Gruden is able to bank a sizable salary without any of the stress or headaches of a coaching position. He also is able to see his family on a regular basis rather than sporadically. Secondly, he’s never been a head coach on the collegiate level. Gruden offered this quote on whether he’d be a successful college head coach:
Jon Gruden in August: “If I became a college coach I would probably have you on probation w/in 4 or 5 weeks. Too many rules, man. I mean I like to work. The recruiting … all that stuff. Yeah, I’d probably have you in real deep, deep trouble if I was your college coach”
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 13, 2017
Now, is this the effervescent ‘sound-byte’ Gruden we’ve all come to know and love on television, or is this Gruden showing a bit of gamesmanship in terms of not wanting to tip his hand? We truly don’t know at this point — though a leap into a highly time-consuming business which involves wooing 16, 17 and 18-year-old athletes doesn’t necessarily seem like something he’s wanting to do at this point in his career.
We’re seeing varying levels of professional coaches transitioning well to the college game…and vice-versa. Gruden is surely a recognizable feature for all recruits considering his visibility on Monday Night Football/ESPN. His magnetic personality would likely make Gruden a great recruiter. Pointing to a Super Bowl ring can’t hurt the cause in this capacity, either.
There have been plenty of unsubstantiated rumors in which Gruden may or may not have had contact with the UT administration. Some have even gone as far to say he’s visited the campus multiple times during the year. Again, this could be a ‘pie in the sky’ mindset rooted in fantasy rather than reality.
If Kelly and Gruden bypass either of these opportunities, there could be some crossover in terms of a coaching target. The two that instantly come to mind would include Mississippi State head man Dan Mullen and rising UCF head coach Scott Frost. The search for a head coach could become even more bonkers during the offseason — particularly if rumored openings occur at UCLA, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Texas A&M.
Image Sources: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images, Neville E. Guard/USA TODAY Sports