I neglected to watch the end of the season finale of “Monday Night Football,” in which Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing yard record, and in the process likely gave ESPN its most-watched football game (even dating back to when they had the “Sunday Night Football” franchise) in network history – if not the best of the entire season (let’s hear it for the Jaguars). So could anyone tell me if, when the three-man booth of Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden signed off last night, mumbled under his breath, “Meet me in St. Louis”?
An article published late Monday night by the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Gruden would tag along with the new general manager that would be hired by the St. Louis Rams at the conclusion of this season. Writer Kevin Acee projects that both the Rams, as well as the publication’s hometown Chargers, will both dismiss their respective head coaches and general managers, those being Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney (Rams) and Norv Turner and A.J. Smith (Chargers). Acee then cites “league and agent sources” with the news that Smith would then be hired in the same capacity with the Rams, and also “bring along Jon Gruden as head coach.”
Acee also cites unspecific sources as saying Gruden “has decided to return to coaching in 2012 and that his current employer, ESPN, is already preparing for his departure.”
If this is indeed true, Gruden will not honor a single game in the five-year extension that he signed just this past October to remain in the “Monday Night Football” booth; the extension would have taken effect next September. The good news for ESPN is that the network won’t be stuck paying Gruden a salary, should he decide to return to the NFL sidelines: there is an out clause in the contract extension that allows Gruden to leave the network with the intention of being hired for an NFL coaching vacancy. The out clause is also good news for Gruden too, in that he doesn’t have to be married to the “Monday Night Football” booth and fulfill a commitment for a half-decade, when he would much rather enjoy coaching the games that he’s been providing color commentary for over the past three seasons – and earning two Sports Emmy nominations in the process.
So again, I ask: Did Gruden show any disinterest at all in any point of the Saints/Falcons Monday night contest? If so, I wouldn’t blame him, but looking ahead to your next opportunity, especially when you haven’t even been hired yet, is a lot like an NFL team with a winning record looking ahead to the playoffs, but falling to a lesser team in a game on the field. I trust Gruden has shown the same attention to the game that he’s shows for close to fifty Monday night games thus far.
Of course, Gruden did not provide a comment about the possible head coaching vacancy in St. Louis – perhaps Spagnuolo still holding that position might have something to do with that.
There would be two key factors that would throw weight against the possibility of Gruden becoming the 26th head coach of the Rams franchise: Gruden and A.J. Smith have been good friends since the late 1990’s; Bruce Allen, a close friend of Gruden, had introduced Gruden to Smith back when the two were working for the Raiders. Also, the Rams’ current COO and executive VP of operations is Kevin Demoff, with whom Gruden worked for three years in Tampa Bay – where the coach affectionately known as “Chucky” due to his resemblance to the creepy talking doll from the “Child’s Play” films, brought the Buccaneers their first and only Super Bowl championship.