Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Derek Dooley has been on an increasingly warm seat in recent weeks. The team has lost five of its last six games and lost each of the six SEC games it has played this season.
Despite coming into 2012 with high expectations, the Vols now need to win just to become bowl eligible.
Dooley has had three seasons to assemble a winning team and has failed. The SEC is a physical, smash-mouth brand of football that requires a formidable defense and a competent offense. The Vols are explosive on the offensive side of the ball, as Tyler Bray and Co. have averaged 495 yards per game.
However, the defense has given up an average of 37 points each week. That ranks them 113th in the nation in that category.
It's impossible to win in the SEC without playing defense.
Tennessee has been awful in that regard this season, and it's likely going to cost Dooley his job. Furthermore, with Howard Eskin of Philadelphia's Sports Talk WIP claiming that Jon Gruden is looking to return to coaching, Tennessee could strike gold this offseason.
Gruden is a rock star in the world of football coaches. Not only is he a Super Bowl champion, but he is widely recognized has one of the best football minds in the country. Bringing him to Tennessee would put the Vols on the map as one of the premier programs in the SEC. Gruden's reputation would draw recruits and allow Tennessee's program to reach heights it has not seen in decades.
The reason Gruden is a great fit in Tennessee is because he would likely run a version of Oregon's spread-option offense.
After Gruden was fired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, he spent a week with Chip Kelly in Florida learning the spread-option offense. We've all seen how effective the Ducks have been with their offense, and it should be no different for Gruden in the SEC.
The spread option is an effective offense because it forces defenses to defend the entire football field. With a mobile quarterback out of the shotgun and five potential wide receivers on the field, each play starts with six offensive weapons that must be accounted for. The entire offense is a numbers game that forces defenses to declare their intentions at the line of scrimmage.
If there are two high safeties, mathematically there can only be five defenders in the box. With one high safety, there can be six in the box. If there is no high safety, there can be seven in the box. With two high safeties, we should run the ball most of the time. We have five blockers and they have five defenders. If the defense has one high safety and six defenders in the box, the quarterback has to be involved in the play; he has to read one of the defenders, in effect blocking him. We can block five defenders and read the sixth one.
Oregon's offense picks apart defenses at the line of scrimmage. As long as the Ducks have the personnel to win their individual matchups, the spread-option offense is nearly impossible to stop.
Given time, Jon Gruden has the ability to get the right recruits in to run the spread option. What high school recruit would not want to play for a Super Bowl-winning head coach?
It's hard to fathom a scenario in which Gruden takes a head-coaching job and fails to bring in adequate personnel to run his scheme. He's one of the smartest football coaches out there; he'll find a way to get the right recruits.
But the issue has never been whether Jon Gruden can win or recruit in the SEC.
His track record speaks for itself. However, Tennessee is not the only head-coaching position with an imminent opening this offseason. The Philadelphia Eagles are more than likely going to be looking for a new head coach after their disastrous 2012 campaign. Gruden, a former offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, has expressed interest in wanting to return to his old stomping grounds.
Tennessee is going to have to throw a tremendous amount of money at Gruden to lure him away from the NFL. It's hard to envision a scenario in which Gruden decided he does not want to coach at the highest level.
Making Gruden one of the highest paid coaches in the nation would be a good way to entice him, but this may not be about the money. Gruden has made money in his career, and he's not going to go broke anytime soon.
However, if the Vols want to attract the hottest commodity on this year's head-coaching carousel, they better be prepared to open the checkbook.