While the college coaching carousel is spinning down (only Penn State has yet to name a new head coach), the NFL version is just warming up. The final weekend of the 2011 season is upon us and all of the usual suspects are being rounded up as we speak.
The San Diego Union Tribune cites typically anonymous sources in reporting that if the Chargers fire General Manager AJ Smith, the Rams will pick him up and Smith will bring Gruden with him.
People familiar with Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s plans said Monday that Kroenke is waiting for [Chargers owner Dean] Spanos to make a move on Smith. If Smith is available, league and agent sources strongly indicated that Smith will be hired as Rams’ general manager and bring along Jon Gruden as head coach.
Sources said Gruden has decided to return to coaching in 2012 and that his current employer, ESPN, is already preparing for his departure.
Spokesmen for ESPN and the Rams declined comment on Monday night.
Smith also declined comment when asked both about his future employment or his association with Gruden.
Gruden was fired by the Buccaneers following the 2008 season and joined the ESPN Monday Night Football crew for the 2009 season. Although his name has come up each year since then, he has never shown any interest in leaving the broadcast booth.
ESPN announced in October that the network and the former coach had agreed on a new contract that would keep him in the booth for the next five years.
"I said I want to get good at this," Gruden said at the time. "I was serious about this from the day I started it and I am serious about wanting to get good at it. I spent 26 or 27 years in coaching, 18 of them in the NFL. I want to focus on this and get better every day."
Gruden’s name also comes up in connection with high profile college coaching jobs. In 2009, rumors swam that he was the lead candidate for the Tennessee Vols job, eventually filled by Derek Dooley. In 2010, unsourced reports had him agreeing in principle to take the Miami Hurricanes job, eventually filled by Al Golden. Google “Jon Gruden” and “Penn State,” and the predictable parade of Bleacher Report stories linking him to the Nittany Lions top the list.
The Union Trib is a credible news organization. They may have legitimate sources and Gruden might actually be considering a return this time. But given his comments just a couple of months ago, I’m betting it’s not likely.