University of Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt is expected to deliver his pitch to Jon Gruden in person Wednesday and try to snag the biggest fish in all of football. But if Hocutt can't bait him (I'd say there probably is a better chance Hocutt won't) it doesn't mean the Hurricanes will necessarily be losing out.
As sexy a hire as Gruden might be for the people powering this push for relevance at UM, the truth is there are probably better fits the Hurricanes can find elsewhere. History tells us the most successful coaches at UM -- Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis and, yes, Larry Coker -- weren't exactly big names or established championship coaches before they became the man at Miami. They made their mark at UM as hungry, up-and-comers looking to establish their own fame and success.
Gruden has already tasted his. He won a Super Bowl when he was 38 years old, the youngest ever at the time. Now, he entertains us on Monday Night Football (kind of reminds me a little of John Madden). The issue here isn't if Gruden would be a good coach at Miami. The man knows football. He was 100-85 and made the playoffs five times in 11 NFL seasons. There's no doubt he would give Hocutt and UM's administration exactly what they're looking for: an instant shot of relevance and excitement for a rabid fan base starving for some.
The issue for UM, in the end, is if Gruden will really be the perfect fit -- especially for around $3.5 million (astronomical rates by Canes standards). Is the grind that is recruiting something Gruden is going to want to do? How about the every day stuff like chasing 18 and 19-year old players to class, making sure they stay away from South Beach, and helping who ever needs counseling get through tough struggles off the field? You know, The U family stuff. UM President Donna Shalala may love winning more than anybody at UM, as Hocutt said Sunday. But she doesn't seem to me like a person who will all of a sudden let the principles she asked Randy Shannon to uphold slip, so UM can win more games and play for championships.
I'm not saying Gruden couldn't be Superman here and do it all well. But the fact is he hasn't coached in college since 1991. All he's known for the last 19 years is the NFL. His reputation (one I gathered from talking to a sports writer who covered him in Tampa) is that of a football coach who is a competitive junkie, someone who loves the X's and O's with a passion and drives his assistants hard to achieve perfection. He's a guy who wakes up at 3 a.m. and is in the building to work by 4:30 or 5. Nothing wrong if you want to win. But college football is clearly a completely different animal than the NFL.
And that formula of winning at the NFL level doesn't always translate to college. Bill Walsh went from winning three Super Bowls with the 49ers in the 1980s to spending three years at Stanford in 1992. He won 10 games in his first season including the Pac 10 title, then went 7-14-1 over his next two. Bill Callahan led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002 (against Gruden) and in 2004 found himself at Nebraska. He went 27-22 and in four seasons and played for the Big 12 title only once. He's now back in the NFL as an assistant. Al Groh (Virginia) and Chan Gailey (Georgia Tech) are others who won some, but didn't have major success in the ACC. The point is for every Pete Carroll at USC or Nick Saban at LSU and Alabama, there are examples of an NFL coach going back to college and not working.
And Gruden will definitely have to recruit. This isn't a team built to win a championship right. The quarterback play remains questionable. Receivers, linebackers and defensive tackles aren't stacked either. This isn't a matter of a team ready to win a championship and just needing the right leader.
In the end, who really knows what Gruden's intentions are and why he's even meeting with Hocutt at this point. Maybe, he'd like to coach his son Deuce (currently a junior in high school) in college? Maybe coaching at Carrollwood High got him thinking he'd like to go back to coaching young players, teach them the fundamentals of the game. Maybe, he would like to coach with his brother, Jay, potentially his offensive coordinator, and be the next biggest thing on South Beach behind LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Maybe, he'd love to be the next Pete Carroll and win three national championships. Or, maybe, this is all about Gruden trying to get his name out with the NFL season coming to a close soon and big jobs likely to become available. Whatever his intentions, that's Gruden's business. Miami seems to be willing to go to extremes to get him.
All I know is on Sunday, as we listened to Hocutt, I heard three different messages about his search for a choice. The first: "At the U, we expect to compete for championships and nothing less." The next: "Miami must be relevant in college football." And the last: "You can be relevant nationally and not win your conference. But at the end of the day, you must be relevant nationally here at the University of Miami."
Gruden would definitely make the Canes relevant. But I'm not sold on the rest of it. I'd rather have a guy who has done it all already somewhere else and is ready to take his success -- and UM's -- to the next level.
> I just want to give credit to our own Barry Jackson and Susan Miller Degnan for some excellent reporting tonight on this Gruden story. It's easy for anybody -- me included -- to get on Twitter and post stuff we hear from sources. But I can tell you putting it in print is a different deal. Barry and Susan worked hard last night to get a lot of good detail in today's story from sources as close to the situation as possible.
> As the story mentioned, if Gruden doesn't pan out the other potential targets include Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, Connecticut's Randy Edsall, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Arizona's Mike Stoops, plus at least two others names, sources said.
Of that group, Mullen, Harbaugh and Edsall intrigue me the most. The issue of course is that Mississippi State is trying to act fast as possible to resign Mullen to a bigger contract. Harbaugh, a Michigan grad, has done a great job at USC and would also be a huge get for Miami. But I suspect he'd be Wolverines all the way if he left Stanford. Edsall is probably the most reachable. He just isn't the name that sparkles and gets fans excited. So, essentially, I think this list will expand to include some more top-notch names.
As I was told last night by a source, UM is ultimately looking for a charismatic leader who is an established winning he coach and doesn't come with any baggage. Just thinking out loud, but I think Wisconsin's Bret Bielema (45-16 at Wisconsin) and Baylor's Art Briles are guys who have won in tough conferences that probably deserve consideration. Outside of that, a good NFL coordinator wouldn't be bad -- especially with the labor issues in store for next year.