TAMPA — Must be that time of year.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden's name has been linked to a coaching vacancy — this one at the University of Tennessee, where he once was a graduate assistant — and Gruden is forced to shoot down another rumor.
"I've said it from the beginning, this is the only job I've really ever wanted," Gruden said. "As long as the Glazers will have me, I'll be here. I've got a lot of respect for Tennessee. I grew up down there a little bit. My wife is from there. But this is where I want to be, and I can only make myself that clear."
Even if Gruden were interested in the job, it's not a given the Bucs would let him out of his contract, which in January was extended through the 2011 season. Another consideration: Gruden makes more than $4-million annually, though Tennessee might be poised to offer a package competitive with NFL salaries.
And a fundamental question that should be asked is whether a college job even interests Gruden, a coach who has won a championship at the highest level in his sport.
"I don't even want to start that," Gruden said. "I've wanted to be in the NFL my whole life, and this is something I'm really excited to do. This is where I want to be, and I'll leave it at that."
Tennessee is 3-7 and will part with coach Phil Fulmer after the season.
Safety net: S Donte Nicholson, a 2005 fifth-round pick, was signed to the active roster to augment depth at the position in the absence of injured starter Jermaine Phillips.
Nicholson's signing came at the expense of WR Brian Clark, a Tampa native who was released from the active roster and signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.
Back to work: Gruden had never given his team an entire week off during a bye since his arrival in Tampa Bay in 2002, but he felt the circumstances were different this season.
The Bucs were released Tuesday and didn't gather as a team again until Monday's morning practice. Will there be a drop-off?
"I've done a lot of research on what's going on around the league with the bye week," Gruden said. "Our bye week wasn't in Week 3. … It wasn't in Week 5. It was Week 10. The number of injuries that we did have would have made it real challenging to have a practice anyway. I feel like we did the right thing."
Injury updates: G Arron Sears (concussion) returned to practice after missing the game Nov. 2 at Kansas City. He is expected to play Sunday against Minnesota. TE Alex Smith (ankle) did not practice, and his status for Sunday will be determined this week.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.