Even after nine seasons away from the sideline, the Super Bowl XXXVII champion remains one of the most sought after coaching candidates in the business.
Speculation that "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden may be considering a return to the sideline as a head coach is nothing new, but thanks to a unique set of circumstances, the latest rumors appear more valid than usual.
In a recent appearance on "The Rich Eisen Show," Gruden said he may return to coaching "one of these days, you never know," a seemingly empty sentiment he has expressed on a number of occasions in the past. But with special ties to a pair of high-profile potential openings, it seems possible that the Super Bowl XXXVII champion could be persuaded to accept his first professional gig since the 2008 season.
The University of Tennessee just fired Butch Jones, the former Cincinnati coach who led the Volunteers to three consecutive Bowl wins but a 0-6 conference record in 2017. It has been a hugely disappointing fall for the program, which has employed four head coaches in the last decade.
Gruden's longstanding ties to Tennessee make him a natural fit for that opening. He spent time in Knoxville as a graduate assistant from 1985 to 1987. In addition, his wife is a former Tennessee cheerleader, while his son is a current student at the university. Gruden was spotted at the Volunteers' game against South Carolina last month, showing he still has a soft spot for his old squad.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gruden is said to have at least thought about the position. According to John Talty of Al.com, the Ohio native once informed school administrators that the Tennessee job was one of three college jobs he would ever consider taking.
Over 500 miles to the south, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden's most recent employer, are toiling through a lost season of their own. After winning nine games in 2016 and adding a number of offensive weapons over the offseason, the Buccaneers began the year as a trendy, up-and-coming team with designs on leaping to the next level. Instead, they've stumbled, sporting a 3-6 record after a Week 10 win.
Appearing on an episode of "The Ringer NFL Show," former NFL executive Mike Lombardi said he expects the Buccaneers to fire head coach Dirk Koetter, opening up a spot for Gruden.
"Look, the [owners] Glazers have fired people — they fired Jon Gruden who won a Super Bowl for them, they fired Tony Dungy, alright, they fired Greg Schiano after two years. They're going to fire Dirk Koetter," Lombardi said. "They fired Raheem Morris. One thing you know as an executive, when it's going south, it's south — it's south in Tampa."
Gruden hasn't indicated any interest in returning to Tampa, but a reunion "would not be a bridge too far," according to a former assistant who spoke to Jason La Canfora of CBS.
Lombardi mentioned in an earlier episode that Gruden has reconciled with Buccaneers ownership.
While Gruden has been linked to high-profile openings in the past, Tennessee and Tampa Bay appear to be perfect fits. The 54-year-old told Eisen he wasn't ruling anything out.
"I have talked to people in years past," he said. "I plan on keeping my options open. If something comes along down the road, we'll take a look at it."
If Gruden does end up back on the sideline, it will end a nine-season tenure on "Monday Night Football." Fans will get another chance to see him this Monday when the Carolina Panthers host the Miami Dolphins.