Part 2: The oral history of the Tennessee coaching search

Jon Gruden and Tennessee rumors
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Part II: Butch Jones is gone, the coaching search officially begins and the ‘Grumors’ take flight

On November 12, less than 12 hours after an embarrassing 50-17 loss at Missouri, Tennessee AD John Currie finally relieved Butch Jones of his duties as coach. Tennessee was 4-6, and while a bowl game was still a possibility, few expected Tennessee to flip a switch and get to the postseason.

All the talk was about the job search.

John Currie – Tennessee athletic director
“We will begin an exhaustive search to identify a coach of the highest integrity and vision to propel Tennessee to championships,” he said at the news conference announcing Jones’ firing. “This is an extraordinary and special place with unique opportunities and a tradition of excellence. This coaching search will be my sole focus, and I will be in regular contact with Chancellor (Beverly) Davenport. I want to emphasize my commitment to hiring the best coach for the University of Tennessee.”

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Louis Fernandez Jr. – WBIR-TV (NBC affiliate in Knoxville) sports/news reporter
Going off UT’s history with hiring new coaches after firing the previous administration before the end of the season, I was pretty confident the Vols would move quickly. You needed to try to get in front of these other programs that had jobs opening and give the new guy time to work with the recruits that would sign in December. I never thought they would make the hire during the regular season, but thought we would all get an announcement in the first few days after the Vanderbilt game. I figured the Sunday-Monday-Tuesday time period would be a sweet spot.

The white whale of Tennessee coaching searches for years has been Jon Gruden. The Super Bowl-winning coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent one season in Knoxville in the 1980’s as a grad assistant under Johnny Majors. Gruden married a Tennessee cheerleader, has a son who attends UT and talks about the Volunteers quite often on ESPN.

The rumors, affectionately known as “Grumors,” were everywhere during previous coaching searches in 2010, 2012 and again in 2017. Whether you believe that Tennessee was truly interested, or if Gruden just liked the attention and used the Tennessee talk to get raises from ESPN, both sides got further down the line this time than they ever did before.

John Brice – long-time Tennessee sportswriter, GN contributor
Multiple attorneys, financial experts, doctors, health-care leaders and various boosters told some other reporters and me about UT talking with Jon Gruden. Two realtors, as well as one of east Tennessee’s most prominent builders, gave specifics on which homes Gruden toured. One is near Jones’ home. Additionally, employees from an exclusive east Tennessee resort known for its privacy confirm on-site meetings with Gruden and UT power-brokers.

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Joe Dubin – WSMV-TV (NBC affiliate in Nashville) sports anchor
The “Grumors” started, which was really like eating at Krystal’s: You wanted to ignore them, but each time you would drive by the building, you had to stop and eat.

McGee: Looking back, the university probably should have done less hiding behind that ‘Grumors’ smokescreen and done more to make it blow away. Letting that Gruden chatter hang around so long did no one any favors.

(You can follow Mark Nagi on Twitter @MarkNagi)

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