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Report: Gruden getting back into coaching in 2012

Jon Gruden, long a name connected to the Dolphins as a possible target to fill their head coach opening, is leaving ESPN and returning to coaching according to a report in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Written in the context of Gruden joining general manager A.J. Smith in St. Louis if Smith is fired by the San Diego Chargers, the report makes it seem as if Gruden's return to the NFL is practically guaranteed.

"People familiar with Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s plans said Monday that Kroenke is waiting for [Chargers owner Alex] 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."

The story does not say what will happen if Smith isn't fired by the Chargers. Would he hire Gruden in San Diego to replace Norv Turner, who is expected to be fired? Would Smith hire someone else in San Diego? Would Gruden seek another NFL coaching job?

Despite those questions, the possibility of Gruden return anywhere is interesting amid the context of his repeated denials he's interested in an return to coaching and despite a statement earlier this year released through ESPN that he had extended his broadcast contract and would not be leaving the Monday Night Football booth for the sideline.

Despite that statement, by the way, sources at ESPN have told The Herald's Barry Jackson that Gruden is free and able to leave the network for a coaching job at his whim.

Two weeks ago, the Herald tried to question Gruden about his intentions following the season. But on a conference call, the ESPN representative did not call on the Herald reporter to ask a question, ostensibly because he knew the question coming would be about Gruden leaving the network.

And ESPN representative then told The Herald the network that is supposedly a news gathering organization felt no need to expose Gruden to questions not having to do with their weekly game broadcast. The ESPN rep directed the Herald to the previous statement on Gruden extending his contract.

... A contract and extension Gruden is prepared to leave in the dust if the San Diego Union Tribune story is correct.