I need you to help me. For the last six months, the one coach that has gotten more attention from fans than any other is Jon Gruden. And it's not just in Arkansas. Tennessee fans have Gruden fever as well (possibly more so than Razorback fans ever have). He's still on the message boards. His name shows up in our search results more than any other candidate by far.
I have to admit, I don't understand it. I've never understood it. As much as fans have dissected the pros and cons of every other candidate ever mentioned as a possibility to be head coach, Gruden seems to escape it. Nearly everyone, fans and some in the media as well, say he'd be some sort of fantasy, home run hire. Why?
Sure, he seems like a cool guy. He's full of energy. He has a great sense of humor. He's charismatic. Almost everyone loves him on Monday Night Football. He won a Super Bowl. He might be the most fun guy in the bar. He's a spokesman for Hooters. Hell, he's even good friends with John Daly.
But is that a good thing if you're going to be the coach of an SEC program? Does that sound like Nick Saban? Will Muschamp? Bobby Petrino? Bob Stoops? Chip Kelly? Steve Spurrier? Well, maybe it does sound like Spurrier a bit, but Spurrier has always been a college football guy. As we all know, the differences between leading a college program and an NFL team are gigantic. College coaches spend the entire off season and days in between games during the season dealing with NCAA compliance, grades, boosters, recruiting, meddling parents, and anything else that comes along.
Gruden has gotten rave reviews from the pre-draft shows he does with young quarterbacks. It's a great show. It's easy for fans to follow along. It would be a great weekly show for a college football coach to do instead of the poorly produced snooze-fests that most college coaches do each week. But understand, that show is designed to make Gruden look like a genius. He gets to go through all the tape of a quarterback's career and handpick a few plays that allow him to give sage advice on how to run certain situations better. It may look like an impromptu film session that we envision most every coach going through, but it is entirely scripted.
When Alabama hired Nick Saban, they knew they were getting a top college coach because they knew what he did at LSU. South Carolina knew what Spurrier did at Florida. Arkansas knew what Petrino did at Louisville. Tennessee knew how well Derek Dooley did at Louisiana Tech, and well, there they are. Gruden has no such record. He's never been so much as a coordinator in college and hasn't coached at all at this level in over 20 years.
Winning a Super Bowl is fantastic and he deserves all due credit for it. But the other 10 years in which he was a head coach weren't spectacular. He only made the playoffs four other times, and in his last two appearances, lost in the first round. His record in all seasons following the Super Bowl win is 45-53. According to the ESPN article reporting his firing in 2009, his last Buccaneers team "completed one of the biggest collapses in NFL history."
Gruden appears to have every characteristic you'd look for in an absolutely fantastic recruiter, but beyond that, there is nothing about him that says guaranteed home run. There have been plenty of programs that have reeled in highly rated recruiting classes that rarely live up to the hype *cough*TEXAS*cough*.
I'm not saying he would be a bad coach, I'm just saying it's not a slam dunk. In the short term, yes, he'd grab headlines and be a sexy hire, but how long will that last if he doesn't win instantly? I'd be shocked if he came to Arkansas anyway, but I don't think he should be the one so many fans salivate over even if he was interested. A home run is someone who has succeeded before at doing what we want the new coach to do. Gruden's never done it before. He might be able to get there, but we don't know.
Have I missed something?
Doc Harper is the editor of ArkansasExpats.com and is a columnist for ArkansasSports360.com and CollegeFootballNews.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @doc_harper.