Tennessee has extended a lucrative contract offer to Jon Gruden and is awaiting his response, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Friday, throwing a surprising wrinkle into a 12-day coaching search that will revive speculation about the ESPN commentator and former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach.
Citing two unnamed sources, the newspaper said the only possible hang-up to the deal involves salaries for assistant coaches, and that there was no firm deadline for Gruden to make a decision.
The Times Free Press story conflicts with other reports this week, including one from News Sentinel partner GoVols247, that Gruden had cancelled a Wednesday meeting with Tennessee Athletic Dave Hart and was no longer considered a serious candidate for the position.
Gruden, who won a Super Bowl 10 years ago as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is in his fourth season as a commentator for Monday Night Football, where he is one of ESPN's star personalities.
Earlier this week, a Memphis television station reported that Gruden was being offered a stake in the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise as part of a deal to coach at Tennessee. The Browns and Gruden strongly denied the report, although Gruden stopped short of promising to return to ESPN in 2013.
Most observers expected Gruden to eventually return to the pro ranks, where there could be several attractive job opportunities after this season.
Gruden has little college coaching experience, although he was a graduate assistant at UT in 1986. His wife Cindy is a former Vol cheerleader.
Through a spokesperson, Hart has declined to comment during the search.
Gruden's agent, Bob LaMonte, has not returned calls and texts from the News Sentinel.
Hart was expected to leave Sunday or Monday for New York City to interview candidates at the National Football Foundation's annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is being inducted Tuesday.