ESPN announced within the hour that former Oakland and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden has signed an "exclusive agreement" with the network that will "keep him on sports television's signature series and out of coaching for the next five years."
That obviously means scratch Gruden from the list of folks who might be lining up to coach the Dolphins should Tony Sparano not be able to turn things around and keep the Dolphins on their present winless course.
Gruden guided the Tampa Bay Bucs to a Super Bowl victory during his tenure with the team.
“Jon is a rare individual who has been successful at everything he has done, going from one of the youngest coaches to win a Super Bowl to reinventing himself with this new broadcasting career in his 40s," Bob LaMonte, the agent for Gruden said in a statement. "He has an unmistakable enthusiasm for football that will continue to entertain fans on ESPN.”
This obviously affects the Dolphins. As I reported to you in my column today, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is already making contingency plans on what to do with the Dolphins if his team doesn't turn things around.
Part of that plan would include hiring a new coach. The thing is, Ross doesn't want just any coach. He thinks one way to get the Dolphins on the right track might be to hire a "star" coach that would have final say over all football operations matters. That coach would then hire a general manager of his choice.
Obviously, Gruden would have qualified as a "star" coach. Gruden served as an NFL head coach for 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08). He compiled a career record of 100-85 and led his teams to five division titles. Gruden’s best season was 2002 when the Buccaneers finished the regular season 12-4 and captured the Super Bowl XXXVII title with a 48-21 victory over the Raiders, the team he had coached just one season earlier.
So the list of possible "star" coaching candidates shrinks by one. That list now only includes Jeff Fisher, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy. (I don't think Dungy wants to come back to coaching, but I'm putting his name there anyway.)
I must warn you: As I write in my column, Ross may opt to go another direction on the hiring front if the Dolphins don't turn things around. He might hire a "star" personnel man or GM type. He might hire his own Football Czar typeand that person would hire a coach.
And that hire might not necessarily be a "star," but simply a coach the "star" Football Czar/GM believes is ready to take the Dolphins to the next level.
[Update: Mike Florio makes the point on ProFootballtalk.com that ESPN is refusing to say how this contract extension prohibits Gruden from going to the NFL. Thus, Florio believes Gruden can go to the NFL at any time if he wishes. So there's that.]