KNOXVILLE – It’s “silly season” in college football, which means reports and rumors are flying everywhere about potential coaching changes.
They reached a new level late Tuesday night when the television station WREG in Memphis reported that Super Bowl winning coach and current Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden has an offer from Tennessee in hand that includes partial ownership of the Cleveland Browns.
“Part of the offer is Gruden getting a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters,” WREG wrote on its website at 11:14 p.m. ET Tuesday night.
The report said that Gruden could make a decision as early as Wednesday.
It didn’t take long for Gruden, who has been tight-lipped over the past month, to address the issue.
“I’m just excited about Monday Night Football,” Gruden said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” show early Wednesday morning. “I like what I’m doing. I’m just trying to hang on to the job that I have.”
The Browns also addressed the report with a statement on Wednesday morning.
“Jimmy Haslam has no involvement in the University of Tennessee head coaching search, and the report that Jon Gruden would potentially have an ownership stake in the Browns is completely erroneous,” said Neal Gulkis, vice-president of media relations for the Browns.
None of this will end the Gruden speculation, but it’s safe to say Tuesday night’s report was a false alarm and that partial ownership of the Cleveland Browns won’t be part of any negotation between Tennessee and Gruden and the Vols.
Where do they get this stuff?
Stoops in at Kentucky: In more concrete coaching news, Kentucky officially announced the hiring of Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops on Tuesday afternoon.
“Our desire to get better defensively and continue to expand our recruiting base helped guide us to Mark,” Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said on Tuesday. “He comes from a coaching family and has been in big games and big atmospheres throughout his career. That has prepared him for this opportunity to become head coach at Kentucky.”
Stoops is known as a defensive guru, who took over a Florida State defense in 2009 that had been ranked No. 111 nationally the year before and guided it all the way to being ranked second in total defense this season. He’s also known as an energetic recruiter with great ties to Florida and Ohio – two areas Kentucky is trying to improve its connections in since it doesn’t produce loads of home-grown talent.
How does the hire affect Tennessee? Maybe not a lot directly, but there are some connections to Tennessee’s search involved with Stoops.
His brother, Bob Stoops, is the head coach at Oklahoma and has been rumored to be a potential candidate for the Vols despite his recent denial of interest.
Would Bob Stoops want to come coach and recruit directly against his brother, who hasn’t established himself as a head coach yet? That’s a fair question.
Secondly, Mark Stoops was the defensive coordinator and one of the strongest parts of head coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Florida State. Fisher has been a rumored top candidate for both Tennessee and Auburn.
Losing a top coordinator to other programs is part of life as an elite program, but if Fisher did have any doubts about staying, perhaps losing a top assistant might sway him to the side of leaving.
And as we mentioned yesterday, Kentucky wasn’t running around in the same interview circles as Tennessee, Auburn and Arkansas, but we believe Stoops wasn’t a name seriously considered by Tennessee, meaning Tennessee’s likely list of top candidates is still intact with one SEC hire already out of the way.
View Nooga.com’s complete list of potential coaching candidates for the Vols here.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.