In an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press, former Tennessee assistant athletic director David Blackburn said believes Jon Gruden would be a "viable option" for the Vols' vacant head coaching position.
"He and I communicate from time to time. I would definitely think he's a viable option. He's a guy who loves coaching and loves Tennessee. Our history is probably the reason we get along so well, my dad was a coach in a small town and Jon is a rural Ohio guy whose dad was a coach, so we're just two good ol' boys who like to talk football. I can't sit here and say he will take it if offered, but I do think he would listen. Tennessee is like home for him and he'd be a great fit."
Blackburn, who was a candidate for the UT AD position last spring after working as Chattanooga's athletic director for several years, has known Gruden personally since the 1980s, when both men had positions within Tennessee's athletic department: Blackburn a student manager and Gruden a graduate assistant under Johnny Majors.
"If Jon is hired, he would surround himself with an incredible staff and some guys who have a history at Tennessee and understand what makes that program so special," Blackburn said.
"I'm not sure which direction they will go if it doesn't work out. There are a lot of other good candidates out there and I know they would get a great one, but I certainly don't think anything has been decided as far as Jon not taking the job."
On Monday, Gruden was asked about a potential return to coaching and specifically being linked once again to the recently open job at the University of Tennessee during an appearance on Mike & Mike
"I haven't really talked to anybody," Gruden said. "All I really have is my family and football, that's about it. I'm real sensitive to the coaches that are out there coaching so I don't speculate. I just love football. I'm just trying to hang on to the job I have, I'm very fortunate to be with the people I'm with. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, I just know this, I'm going to continue to give my best effort to the game, stay prepared and I love Monday Night Football, don't plan on leaving but, as you know in life, you never say never."
While Gruden didn't confirm interest in the Tennessee coaching position, Vol fans should feel optimistic that he didn't outright deny it, as he did in 2012 when told Mike & Mike that there was "no truth" to rumors of his interest in the job or that he was promised a potential stake in ownership of the Cleveland Browns by majority owner and UT donor Jimmy Haslam.
Gruden, who has never served as a head coach at the college level, went 95-81 during 13 NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08), which included leading the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory during his first season.
During a broadcast of Monday Night Football last month, the former coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden teased a potential return to coaching by saying "boy I miss coaching."
While it's likely something he's said numerous times during his nine seasons in the booth, it's more notable now as he's slated to be the odds on favorite to replace Butch Jones as the Vols' next head coach.
Gruden's past ties to the Tennessee football program have led Vol fans to believe that the former Super Bowl winning coach could possibly take over on Rocky Top.
Gruden began his career as a graduate assistant with the Vols under Majors in 1986-87. His wife, Cindy, was a Volunteer cheerleader and, as several Twitter users pointed out, his son apparently attends UT.
The Monday Night Football broadcaster has also referred to the head coaching position at Tennessee as a "dream job" on numerous occasions and expressed interest in coaching again, although he's also downplayed the notion of coaching at the college level.
On Monday, WZTV in Nashville shared a video from 2014 of Gruden discussing the Tennessee coaching job and the subsequent "Grumors" that follow every time the Vols have a vacancy.
"That's probably my wife's mom and my wife's brother starting those rumors," Gruden said. "I love Tennessee. My middle son is going to go to Tennessee and be a Volunteer, I believe that and I'm always going to be a Volunteer and always going to be a big fan."
We'll have to see if there's any truth to Gruden making a return to Rocky Top in the coming weeks.
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