So on the same day that ESPN’s Jon Gruden supposedly put to rest the notion that he’s not committed to broadcasting, he let slip a remark that serves only to confirm the inevitability of his return to coaching.
Commenting on the intent of Ravens safety Ed Reed to become a secondary coach after retiring from the game, Gruden said bluntly, “I’ll hire him.”
In contrast, ESPN exec Norby Williamson told Richard Deitsch of SI.com on Monday that Gruden will be with ESPN in 2010, 2011, and apparently beyond.
“For the immediate future, for the next few years, he is not going to entertain coaching inquiries,” Williamson said of Gruden.
But still the question remains whether ESPN has a binding contractual term preventing Gruden from taking a coaching job, or whether they’re simply taking him at his word. (And if they’re taking Gruden at his word, we hope they called the folks at NFLN to see if his word can be trusted. Or some of his former players in Tampa.)
Then there’s the reality that, even if he’s contractually prevented from taking a coaching job, ESPN probably would be reluctant to keep Gruden against his wishes, if he develops the urge to return to the game. As a result, one league insider speculated today that perhaps the contract extension was aimed at keeping Gruden from taking another broadcasting job for 2010, if he initially signed only a one-year contract with ESPN.
Still, our suspicion is that ESPN was getting heat from teams scheduled to play on Monday night regarding the disclosure of state secrets in Gruden’s presence, if he might be coaching a rival team in less than two months. As a result, ESPN and Gruden had to do something to kill rumors that Gruden’s Jonny Gumdrop routine is part of a ploy to burn no bridges to potentially interested NFL franchises.
Meanwhile, we’ll be interested to see whether Gruden uses his new deal — and the juice that comes with it — to make a subtle move to oust colleague Ron Jaworski. We’ve detected real tension between Gruden and Jaworski at times this year, including tonight an exchange regarding the Pats-Colts game that culminated in an awkward moment reminiscent of the “Funny how?” scene from Goodfellas.