The Jon Gruden coaching rumors are stronger than ever, and the latest report makes it sound like his return is inevitable

  • The annual Jon Gruden-return-to-coaching rumors are picking up, but this year’s batch are the strongest indication yet that he will coach again, and it could be soon.
  • Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Gruden had reached out to other coaches to see whether they would be interested in joining his coaching staff if he took a job in 2018.
  • Gruden’s top choice is said to be a reunion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl.
  • It has been nine years since Gruden last coached in the NFL.

The annual Jon Gruden-return-to-coaching rumors are picking up, but this year’s batch is the strongest indication yet that he will leave ESPN and return to coaching in 2018.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (via the Tampa Bay Times), Gruden has reached out to “former assistants and friends” to see who would want to join his coaching staff if were to return to coaching next season.

“As it’s being explained to me, this year may actually be different,” Rapoport said. “Gruden right now is going through the process of reaching out to for former assistants and friends in the coaching industry just to see if they would be available, if they would potentially come with him if he were be able to get a head coaching job.”

One team in particular appears to be the front-runner to land Gruden, and it is a team he is quite familiar with: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do have Dirk Koetter on the hot seat – that would be his preferred destination,” Rapoport said. “The Bucs have often swung big. They’d have to give up a lot of money to outbid ESPN and pay Gruden what he would want – something that would be worth it to come back to coaching. As a source close to him told me, this year may actually different.”

The Bucs were a trendy preseason sleeper pick to make noise in the NFC South this season. Instead, they slipped to a disappointing 4-11 under Koetter. Mike Lombardi, a former NFL general manager, is among those who feel Koetter will soon be fired.

“Look, the Glazers have fired people,” Lombardi said on a recent episode of the “Ringer NFL Show” podcast. “They fired Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl for them. They fired Tony Dungy, all right. They fired Greg Schiano after two years. They’re going to fire Dirk Koetter. They fired Raheem Morris. One thing you know as an executive: When it’s going south, it’s south. It’s south in Tampa.”

Lombardi also said in a separate episode that Gruden’s name was coming up in NFL circles as the next coach of the Bucs and that he had “made up with the Glazers.”

“A lot of people in the NFL are telling me that the name they’re hearing is Gruden for that Bucs job,” Lombardi said in October.

Bucs owners recently added the “Monday Night Football” analyst’s name to the team’s “Ring of Honor.”

According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, the Bucs will wait until after the season to decide the fate of Koetter. But Stroud added – before the Bucs’ loss on Sunday to the Carolina Panthers – that “it’s nearly imperative that the Bucs win or play incredibly well in both” of their remaining games if Koetter has any hope of saving his job.