Jon Gruden just what University of Miami needs in a coach

Picture him running out of the tunnel and through the smoke, leading yesterday's team toward tomorrow, and think of how likely college players are to follow.

Picture him stalking the sideline, his face twisted into familiar rage, and think about the poor, blistered eardrums of ACC officials.

Picture Jon Gruden's swagger, unleashed once more, and think about how much it fits the image of the Hurricanes back when they mattered.

And now picture the University of Miami as Gruden's gang, and think about how much fun it would be to watch him coach again.

According to reports, the deal is almost done. If that's true, the Hurricanes have amazingly, surprisingly and quickly coaxed the microphone out of Gruden's hands. If that's true, the Hurricanes have made a big-headline hire.

Hurricane Chucky.

Just wait until the ACC gets a load of him.

This would be a bold hire, and this would be an expensive hire, and most of all, this would be a fun hire. It does not matter what you think of the job Gruden did with the Bucs. It does not matter what you think of the number the Hurricanes once did on college football. This partnership would be more delicious than sword-fighting clowns on Rollerblades.

Let's be honest. Most of us didn't see this coming. Oh, the rumors have been there from the second UM told Randy Shannon to go away. But Gruden's name was linked with the Hurricanes four years ago, too, and nothing happened then.

Besides, most of us think of Gruden as an NFL guy. Eventually, we figured he would end up in charge of the Cowboys, or maybe the 49ers, or some other team that needs his energy. If he was going to Miami, logic said, it was going to be because the Dolphins were calling, not the 'Canes. You could understand why Miami might woo Gruden but not why Gruden might woo back.

This just in: Oops.

For the Hurricanes, this would be a phenomenal hire, and to tell the truth, this statement comes from a guy who once doubted whether Gruden would be a good fit in the college game. (And in some years, whether he was a proper fit in the pro game.)

Oh, I still think Gruden would have a lot of adjusting to do. He'd have to clean up his language on the sideline, for one thing. He'd have to get used to young players and their mistakes instead of trying to ride 36-year-old quarterbacks. And he'd have to deal with players who have homework and class time as part of their days.

That said, I wasn't aware of just how much Gruden loves the college game until we ran across each other at last season's national championship game. He knew about the players for both Alabama and Texas, and he knew about the traditions, and he seemed to be delighted to be calling the game for ESPN.

Chances are, Gruden knows all about the UM traditions, too. He knows that every year you don't order rings from the jeweler is a bad year. He knows about the championships, and he knows about the draft picks, and he probably knows that neither the team nor the coaching job is as good as it used to be.

Gruden's job would be to change all that. To put it bluntly, Gruden would be hired to make UM matter again.

Once, long ago, Miami led the nation in controversy, intimidation and opinions. You either liked the Hurricanes or you loathed them, or you didn't get college football on your television. There were no other choices. They were the toughest kids on the block, and if any other team wanted the national championship, well, it had to go through them.

These days the program has lost its way, the players have lost their aura and the fans have lost the directions to the stadium. There is apathy in the stands, there are cobwebs in the trophy case and there is a vacancy in the coach's office. These days, Miami is just another team that had just another season on its way to just another bowl.

Could Gruden fix that? Perhaps we'll see. But is he the best bet? Absolutely. Former USF coach Jim Leavitt would be too controversial, and UConn coach Randy Edsall would be too unknown, and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables would be too inexperienced. Imagine the approval ratings for each of those men at a hypothetical introductory news conference. Now imagine the roar when Jonny G. bounced out.

Picture him at a booster meeting, swapping stories and flashing that Huck Finn grin of his, and think about how the fans would eat it up when he told the stories of coaching Warren Sapp or of coaching against Ray Lewis.

Picture him with the students, tilting his head back, squinting and saying "Are you kidding me?" when they would share a memory about the U.

Most of all, picture him at the home of a recruit, his Super Bowl ring flashing in the lights. This is the face so many of them have watched on Monday Night Football, and now he would be telling them how great he thinks they could be. He'd say something like, "You know, you just might be the best pass-catching tight end prospect I've seen since Kellen Winslow." And then he'd give that laugh he usually saves for Ron Jaworski, and the kid might pull a muscle in his rush to sign.

Yeah, he'd recruit. Yeah, he'd get kids to buy into his enthusiasm. Yeah, he'd win.

And that's the thing. In college football, a coach can build himself a kingdom. Just a guess, but after coaching in the NFL, I don't think playing an ACC schedule (plus Bethune-Cookman!) would frighten him. The fact he wouldn't have a general manager, a salary cap or an unreasonable limit on how many No. 1 draft picks he could sign probably would help, too.

Here's something else to keep in mind. Coaching at UM has never been a lifetime occupation. The NFL would be waiting whenever Gruden wanted to come back. The broadcast booth, too.

So picture Gruden on Saturday afternoons. Picture him leading the marching band. Picture him playing against FSU. Best of all, picture him leading his Hurricanes into Raymond James Stadium to play against USF, the team that made all this possible by pointing out Shannon's shortcomings.

Could he restore the luster to a faded program? As of today, that might be fairly easy for a Miami fan to picture.

Jon Gruden just what University of Miami needs in a coach 11/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 12:54am]

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