Chip Kelly, Jon Gruden and the Recipe for Silly Season


It’s uncanny: Every November, college football arrives on Thanksgiving weekend ladling steaming spoonfuls of a putrid concoction. Call it Silly Season Stew, if you so choose; the name doesn’t really matter.

The label “Silly Season” has become the unofficially agreed upon nickname title for the annual coaching carousel, but early into the process this year, silly does not feel strong enough. The ingredients this Thanksgiving are downright stupid, a trend that began with the firing of Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss weeks before the season.

Initial indicators point to the most bizarre coaching carousel since 2012, which is of no coincidence. That was the last time Tennessee was actively in the market for a new head coach, and the cross-section of Vols fans who inhabit the internet are no less rabid or delusional than five years ago. Also unchanged: the overwhelming sentiment that former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach and longtime Monday Night Football color commentator Jon Gruden is the ideal candidate.

Really, the only difference I can glean between 2012 and 2017 is that Rondo Guitar Dude — a Vols fan who became a minor online celebrity both for calling Derek Dooley a MF’er and campaigning hard for Jon Gruden — no longer produces videos.

OK, that’s not the only difference, and it’s hardly the most significant. ESPN has spent much of 2017 shedding expenses in response to the absurd contracts it signed with the NFL and NBA, which could impact the whopping $6.5 million Gruden makes for his various gigs on the Worldwide Leader. The squeezing of ESPN’s budget could conceivably make a return to coaching more attractive, but the assumption Gruden would opt for a college job over the NFL strikes me as dubious.

In the same vein, Vols fans’ fascination with Jon Gruden strikes me as odd. He last worked on a college sideline 28 years ago as a tight ends coach for the now-defunct University of Pacific football program. Does anyone outside of his immediate circle, or even only Gruden himself, know his proclivity for recruiting, a task as intrinsic to a coach’s standing at an SEC program as his win-loss record?

Moreover, the track record coaches who are essentially NFL lifers have when transitioning to college is decidedly mixed. Pete Carroll flourished at USC, though in a much different era and locale than that for which Jon Gruden is tabbed. Look across town for the balancing example.

Jim Mora’s tenure at UCLA was hardly a disaster, though the trajectory of on-field results mirror Butch Jones’ time in Tennessee in some ways. Both had comparable success within the first three years, but both programs wilted under the pressure of conference championship expectations.

So is Jon Gruden: College Coach destined to be Pete Carroll or Jim Mora?

Chip Kelly at least has a proven, and recent track record for collegiate success. To that end, I understood when Kelly’s name was repeated as a possibility for various high-profile collegiate jobs, even while he was still employed in the NFL. However, the dots connected between Chip Kelly and various programs always felt tenuous at best — so much so, I am making my own contribution to the silliness of Silly Season by eating a sheet of paper if he lands at UCLA.

My digestive tract may be spared, if Kelly is indeed head to Florida. That was bandied about from a variety of Twitter sources Sunday night, all citing anonymous information — and therein is the secret ingredient that gives Silly Season Stew its kick. Anonymous rumors provide the season for this noxious gumbo.

Without fail every year, a variety of anonymously sourced reports tie candidates to various jobs. The more outlandish the claim, the more attention it receives, so there’s no shortage of folks shooting their shots. An anonymous source’s information proves correct, you’ve made a name for yourself. Whiff and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of backlash, given how much murky information gets served up this time of year.

From a St. Louis radio employee citing UCLA’s interest in USC alum and Human .500 Record Jeff Fisher, to SB Nation erroneously publishing Oregon State pursuing Butch Jones and Ole Miss offering its opening to Oregon’s Willie Taggart, Silly Season is only getting started. I hope you saved room.