KNOXVILLE — The saga with the Tennessee and Jon Gruden took a couple more twists late Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.
For the growing portion of the Volunteers' fan base desperately wanting the former NFL Super-Bowl winning coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst to become Tennessee's next head football coach, the second twist certainly was one it didn't want to hear.
According to reports by Knoxville-based radio station WNML and other media outlets, Gruden canceled a meeting with Tennessee officials on Wednesday.
The rumors and smoke surrounding the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, who was a graduate assistant with the Vols under Johnny Majors in the late 1980s, has continued for weeks. Various reports have suggested Gruden is exploring a return to coaching. Should he leave the ESPN, where he's well paid and away from the stress of coaching, Gruden could return to any potential NFL openings instead of the college game, where he last coached in 1991.
The chatter linking Gruden to the Vols' opening has varied widely. According to one source last week, Gruden becoming the Vols coach wasn't going to happen. Another source suggested to the Times Free Press on Monday that Tennessee's pursuit of Gruden hadn't ended.
Gruden himself broke his silence on the speculation surrounding his future on ESPN Radio in response to a report late Tuesday night from Memphis television station WREG. According to the report, Jimmy Haslam, the new Cleveland Browns owner and Tennessee booster, had offered Gruden a share of his franchise as part of the offer to Gruden to become the Vols' new coach.
A source told the Times Free Press the report was inaccurate. In a statement released Wednesday morning, the Browns' vice president of media relations Neil Gulkis said Haslam has "no involvement" in Tennessee's search and called the report "completely erroneous." NCAA rules prohibit outside sources, including boosters, from "paying or regularly supplementing" any coach or athletic department staffer unless those funds are donating directly to the institution to use at its discretion.
When asked about it on the popular "Mike and Mike in the Morning" show on ESPN Radio, Gruden stated there was no truth to it.
"I should probably tell my wife that because it does involve her and my kids, but no, there's no truth to that," he said. "I'm just excited about Monday Night Football and getting ready for the Giants and the Redskins.
"I apologize, I really don't have time to get into all that stuff. I like what I'm doing. I'm just trying to hang on to the job I have, to be honest with you. Let's leave it at that."
Some other coaches linked to Tennessee's opening are going through their own transitions. For Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, it was his defensive coordinator Mark Stoops taking the head coaching position at Kentucky, where James Coley, the Seminoles' offensive coordinator, could follow. Eddie Gran, Florida State's associate head coach, special teams coordinator and running backs coach and a former Tennessee assistant, is reportedly a candidate for the vacancy at Southern Mississippi.
It's unclear what kind of impact Louisville's move to the ACC on Wednesday will have on Charlie Strong's candidacy at Tennessee or other openings. Strong and the Cardinals finish the regular season tonight at Rutgers. Fisher and the Seminoles play Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game on Saturday night.
Two other names that have been linked to the Vols' opening are North Carolina's Larry Fedora and Cincinnati's Butch Jones.
The Tar Heels went 8-4 in Fedora's first season and would have played in the league's title game if not for an NCAA-levied postseason ban. The 50-year-old was the offensive coordinator at Florida (2002-04) and Oklahoma State (2005-07) before taking the job at Southern Miss, where he went 34-19 in four seasons and 12-2 in 2011. The Golden Eagles were winless this season in their first year without him.
Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart is expected to travel to New York City early next week for the National Football Foundation's annual awards dinner, where he could interview potential coaching candidates in attendance.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...