As the end of the regular season (and the launch of the annual coaching carousel) approaches, no one is saying anything about Jon Gruden returning or not returning to coaching. And that potentially says everything.
There’s a growing sense in league circles, as explained by multiple league sources to PFT over the past two days, that Gruden will return to Tampa Bay as the next coach of the Buccaneers.
Gruden last commented on the situation three weeks ago, at a Tampa-area press event that, coincidentally, a handful of reporters covering the team were told about. Said Gruden on the possibility of returning to coaching, “I’ve got a job I’m trying to hang onto. I love football, I love what I’m doing and I can’t control all the reports.”
He may not be able to control some of the reports (like this one), but it was Gruden who pulled the rip cord on the lawnmower by musing about coaching at a time when most assumed he’d migrated to the Bill Cowher don’t-bother-to-even-ask phase of his career.
Ever since Gruden’s name emerged as a candidate to return to the job he held from 2002 through 2008, there has been no definitive statement from Gruden or from his current employer that he’s not leaving. In past years, chatter about teams being interested in Gruden ended with ESPN announcing a new contract for Gruden. This year, nothing.
It’s possible that ESPN hasn’t extended Gruden’s deal because ESPN has been trying to get Gruden to take less money. With the subscriber base scattering and ratings way down, the money paid to Gruden in past years may need to be adjusted. There’s already talk that ESPN has tried to squeeze Gruden to accept a lesser deal. If so, that would be one of the various factors for Gruden to weigh when deciding whether to return to coaching.
For now, the silence has caused some to conclude that it’s just a matter of him before Dirk Koetter is out and Jon Gruden is back, nine years (and four replacement coaches) after he was fired.