OK, humor me for a second.
As you all know, former Raiders and Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden has been in the news of late as a possible candidate for the newly open head coaching job at the University of Miami. Gruden, who is currently a color commentator for ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast, has strong ties in South Florida and his brother went to 'The U.'
However, it seems Gruden isn't interested in the Miami job. He wants to coach again, but not college. Gruden has his sites on returning to the NFL.
As a Super Bowl winning coach, Gruden certainly will draw interest from teams who are likely to fire their head men after Week Seventeen. Even some teams who have already fired their coaches, like the Cowboys and Vikings, might be interested in Gruden. The most logical team to bring Gruden in, especially if they do not make the playoffs, is the San Francisco 49ers. Gruden got his start in the professional coaching ranks in SF, and his ties to the Bay Area during his tenure with the Oakland Raiders make him an appealing candidate.
But, for someone like me who has followed Gruden since he replaced Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, I don't think he wants to go to a team like the 49ers. Gruden is, at his heart, a quarterbacks coach, and the 49ers don't have a franchise QB. And I think Gruden is tired of coaching players like Brian Griese, Bruce Gradkowski, and Brad Johnson. He wants to coach a future Hall of Famer.
Basically, he wants to coach Peyton Manning. In fact, he's even publicly said he wants to.
Because of this, it's possible that Gruden is holding out from taking potential coaching jobs like the U. of Miami gig because he waiting to see what happens to the Indianapolis Colts. I know some people are dismissive of this, but if the Colts do not make the post-season, it will be very difficult for Bill Polian and Jim Irsay to sell the fans on the idea that Jim Caldwell is the 'right guy' going forward. And since Manning's contract is up after this season, and Manning and Gruden are friends... well.
Gruden's been pretty bold and obvious about his desire to coach Peyton Manning. He even said so on a broadcast of MNF last year:
"You guys ask me when I was ever going to coach again? I'm gonna come back when Eli or Peyton Manning have twins sons and they get to be about 19 years old. And I'm gonna coach for 30 years. I wanna coach a Manning before I cash it in. Those guys are just better than everybody else. They just know how to play the position. You know this, as an Iron Man yourself, Ron (Jaworski), the greatest attribute those guys have – those Manning brothers – is that they never miss a game."
He also went on David Letterman back in April of this year and said this:
Letterman asked Gruden if he could coach anywhere in the league, where it would be. Gruden said "I'd go to Indianapolis,coach Peyton Manning and I'd have you come and hang out with me after the games." Letterman replied, "I'd love to hang out with you, honestly."
Also, remember that Gruden went to Clay High School in South Bend, Indiana when his dad was a coach at Notre Dame. Gruden was also a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning's alma mater.
And remember, defensive coaches like Larry Coyer used to work with Gruden when both were in Tampa Bay. Coyer was Gruden's assistant head coach there. So, if a change were made, the Colts likely wouldn't have to change their defensive scheme much. It's no secret that Gruden loves Dwight Freeney as well. When asked in an interview last year by NFL Films' Steve Sabol who he'd take out of all the defesnive players in the NFL, Gruden answered:
I'd probably take Dwight Freeney. He plays at full speed all the time. His effort is premiere in the league.
Now, I'm not advocating that Jim Irsay go out and hire Jon Gruden after the 2010 season, no matter how it shakes out. I've never been a fan of the guy. He rode Tony Dungy's team to a Super Bowl in 2002 (much like Jim Caldwell did last year), and then didn't win a playoff game for the rest of his tenure in Tampa Bay. So, for me, I don't see much of an upgrade.
Plus, I find it impossible seeing Gruden co-exist with the Polians. Gruden ran Rich McKay out of Tampa Bay because he wanted personnel control, and he'd likely attempt the same thing if hired in Indy. If a team is hiring Gruden, they aren't just hiring him to coach. He's a 'total control' kind of guy, and such people don't mesh well with other 'total control' kind of people, like Bill Polian and his son Chris. This is why A.J. Smith, a Polian 'disciple' from their days in the Buffalo Bills front office, has Norv Turner as his coach in San Diego. Turner will never question Smith, no matter how dumb some of his move have been. Marty Schottenheimer questioned Smith all the time when they worked together last decade. Thus, Marty was fired after the 2006 season.
All that said, I think that it is interesting that Gruden has made all these public announcements about wanting to coach Peyton Manning, and now his name is surfacing as a possible coaching candidate for several teams. This doesn't mean that Gruden will be given a job, but if he uses his relationship with Peyton Manning, and Manning uses this at the negotiating table, who knows.
What I do know is Jim Caldwell may very well be coaching for his job over these next five games, and I'm not the only one thinking this. If Caldwell is fired after the 2010 season, and Gruden is still hanging out there as a possible candidate, his people will push hard for Jim Irsay to hire him.