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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Crazy report: Tennessee booster Jim Haslam offers Jon Gruden ownership stake in Cleveland Browns to coach Vols

As far as college football coaching reports go, it doesn’t get more crazy than this one.

On Tuesday night, WREG-TV in Memphis published a report saying that Tennessee booster Jim Haslam offered Jon Gruden an ownership stake in the Cleveland Browns as a source of compensation for him to coach the Vols.

We don’t pass along the report for its news value (there are many questionable attributions to the report), but for its comedic aspects.

First, let’s take a look at what makes it so funny, which starts with Tennessee’s obvious desperation.

The Vols have been chasing after Gruden since 2009. Gruden, who was the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl (accomplished at age 39 with the Buccaneers in the 2002 season), was fired by Tampa Bay following the 2008 season. The University of Tennessee fired Phillip Fulmer the same year. There was no shortage of rumors that the Vols were pursuing Gruden to fill the job.

Tennessee ended up hiring Lane Kiffin, who bolted for USC after a year. They replaced him with Derek Dooley, who appeared overmatched in three seasons as the Vols’ head coach.

After five straight sub-par seasons, Tennessee fans are desperate, and the program is looking to make a big move. They have been pursuing Gruden, who has not coached the past four seasons. Gruden has been content in his role as a commentator on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” despite having his name mentioned in connection with several pro and college job openings over the past few seasons. ESPN even sweetened its deal with him by dumping Ron Jaworski from the booth to make him the featured commentator.

Tennessee is looking for anything possible to try to convince Gruden, a one-time graduate assistant at the school in 1986, to come to Knoxville. This report says one prominent booster has gone so far as to offer Gruden an ownership stake in the Cleveland Browns.

Jim Haslam is on the Tennessee Board of Trustees and has donated tens of millions of dollars to the school. A former offensive lineman on the school’s ’51 national championship team, Haslam donated enough money to have the practice field named after him. His son, Jimmy Haslam, purchased a majority stake of the Cleveland Browns this year for $1 billion.

Now let’s get back to what makes this report unlikely.

First, the report cites Jim Haslam as the Browns’ owner, when in fact it’s his son, Jimmy, who owns the team. Secondly, the per John Infante of Bylaw Blog, the NCAA prohibits outside compensation to coaches. So unless Haslam donated a stake in the team to Tennessee which then gave it to Gruden, the deal would be against NCAA rules. Lastly, TV stations generally don’t have exclusive breaking news stories that turn out to be accurate.

Like I said, I don’t believe this crazy report for a second, but it sure is fun to laugh at the madness the SEC has created.

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