Jon Gruden says he may return to coaching, and 2 teams appear to be the most likely destinations

  • The “Monday Night Football” analyst and Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden may be considering a return to the sideline.
  • Tennessee just fired its head coach, and at least one NFL analyst thinks the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do the same. Gruden has longstanding ties to both teams.
  • While remaining noncommittal, Gruden has repeatedly said he would not rule out coaching again.

Speculation that the “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden may be considering a return to the sideline as a head coach is nothing new, but thanks to a unique set of circumstances, the latest rumors appear more valid than usual.

In a recent appearance on “The Rich Eisen Show,” Gruden said he might return to coaching “one of these days, you never know,” a seemingly empty sentiment he has expressed on several occasions. But because he has ties to a pair of high-profile potential openings, it seems possible that the 2003 Super Bowl champion could be persuaded to accept his first professional gig since the 2008 season.

Over the weekend, Tennessee fired Butch Jones, the former Cincinnati coach who led the Volunteers to three consecutive bowl wins but a 0-6 conference record in 2017. It has been a hugely disappointing fall for the program, which has employed four head coaches in the past decade.

Gruden’s longstanding ties to Tennessee make him a natural fit for that opening. He spent time in Knoxville as a graduate assistant from 1985 to 1987. Additionally, his wife is a former Tennessee cheerleader, and his son is a current student at the university. Gruden was spotted at the Volunteers’ game against South Carolina last month, showing that he still has a soft spot for his old squad.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gruden is said to have at least thought about the position. According to John Talty of AL.com, the Ohio native once informed school administrators that the Tennessee job was one of three college jobs he would ever consider taking.

Over 500 miles south of Knoxville, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden’s most recent employer, are toiling through a lost season of their own. After winning nine games in 2016 and adding several offensive weapons over the offseason, the Buccaneers began the year as a trendy, up-and-coming team with designs on leaping to the next level. Instead, they’ve stumbled, sporting a 3-6 record after a Week 10 win.

Appearing on an episode of the “Ringer NFL Show” podcast, the former NFL executive Mike Lombardi said he expected the Buccaneers’ owners to fire head coach Dirk Koetter, which would open up a spot for Gruden.

“Look, the Glazers have fired people. 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,” Lombardi said. “They fired Raheem Morris. One thing you know as an executive: When it’s going south, it’s south. It’s south in Tampa.”

Gruden hasn’t indicated any interest in returning to Tampa, but a reunion “would not be a bridge too far,” a former assistant told Jason La Canfora of CBS.

Lombardi mentioned in an earlier episode of the podcast that Gruden had reconciled with Buccaneers ownership.

While Gruden has previously been linked to high-profile openings, Tennessee and Tampa Bay appear to be perfect fits. The 54-year-old told Eisen he wasn’t ruling anything out.

“I have talked to people in years past,” he said. “I plan on keeping my options open. If something comes along down the road, we’ll take a look at it.”

Gruden ending up back on the sideline would end a nine-season tenure on “Monday Night Football.” Fans will get another chance to see him on Monday when the Carolina Panthers host the Miami Dolphins.