Can Tennessee steal Gruden from ESPN?

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard a Tennessee fan say, “Let’s just pay Jon Gruden 7 million dollars,” I would have around 7 million dollars. I can remember thousands of outraged students chanting Jon Gruden outside Gate 21 on that fateful winter night when mattresses burned in the streets and Lane Kiffin miraculously escaped Knoxville alive.

After Saturday’s 13th consecutive loss to a ranked opponent, the cries for bringing Gruden to Tennessee have never been stronger. What would it mean if the Vols could get Gruden? Is it possible? There are a few things to consider regarding this dream hire.

Gruden is the most important man at ESPN.

ESPN’s Monday Night football has been the most watched series on cable for six straight years with an average of 13.3 million viewers. Frankly, no one else is even close. MNF is unquestionably ESPN’s most valuable programming.

Gruden recently signed a five-year contract to continue his role as an analyst for the cable juggernaut. He’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards and this past spring, ESPN made the decision to further increase his role by moving Ron Jaworski out of the MNF booth.

According to ESPN president John Skipper, the network feels that Gruden could be the most valuable asset of MNF. “We want to ride Gruden. He has a lot of personality. He has a lot to say. Our sense is we ride Mr. Gruden a little bit. I think he can be a big star.”

So to clarify, Jon Gruden is the most valuable asset on the most valuable programming of the “worldwide leader in sports.”

Side-note: I guess I’m in the small minority who doesn’t think the phrase “I tell you what, this guy [insert first and last name here] for the [insert city and team name here]? He can play! He’s a FOOTBALL player!” as broadcast gold.

Vol fans believe ESPN utterly hates Tennessee.

In fairness, this College Gameday commercial from 2002 didn’t exactly portray Tennessee in a positive light.

The ESPN hate theory dates back decades. I grew up hearing my grandfather talk about how Beano Cook cost Peyton Manning the Heisman Trophy. He knows his stuff too. This is a man who had goal line seats in ’59 when the Vols stuffed Billy Cannon on a two point conversion attempt to upset LSU. To this day Cannon swears he got in, but my grandfather says the call was spot on.

What would stealing Gruden from ESPN mean to conspiracy theory Vol fans? Absolutely everything. The only steal that could top this would be getting Saban from Alabama, which is something Satan would never allow to happen.

Can UT afford Jon Gruden?

Hard economic times have fallen in Knoxville. Last year the athletic department announced that it had a $4 million deficit. A Dooley buyout after this season would cost $5 million. Combine that with the buyout of assistant coaches, like Sal Sunseri’s $2.4 million contract, and we’re talking about a ton of cash. That’s just the cost to get rid of the current coaches. Who knows what the total would be after hiring a new staff.

If the stars aligned and Gruden felt like coaching again, he would obviously require a respectable salary. It’s not like bringing in some guy with a losing record in the WAC.

We can safely assume Gruden is already under a multi-million dollar contract from ESPN. This would truly be one of Clay’s dump-truck hires. Will Tennessee really be willing to dump-the-truck in their current economic situation? 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.