Recent speculation about Jon Gruden returning to Tampa to coach the Buccaneers is hardly out of the question, according to league sources, with the annual process of teams taking the broadcaster's temperature in the pro and college ranks about to begin, and some believing this is the year he will actually leave the booth.
While Gruden left the Bucs on not the greatest of terms after being fired there, sources said he has mended fences with the Glazer family in recent years, attended some team events and that he will always have an affinity for the franchise that he led to its only Super Bowl title. With fans chanting his name at home games in recent weeks, and the team sputtering badly under Dirk Koetter -- who sources said is almost certain to be let go at season's end with the team spiraling in terms of results and discipline -- the Gruden-to-the-Bucs rumors wont stop anytime soon.
A return to Tampa "would not be a bridge too far," as one former assistant of Gruden's who remains close with him put it, noting that Gruden still lives only about 10 minutes from the team facility, that his youngest child will be headed to college in another year and, at age 54, he is still quite young by NFL standards.
Gruden's work with quarterbacks in the past -- and his ability to dole out tough love -- might be exactly what former first-overall pick Jameis Winston needs to kickstart his stalled development. Tampa has some skill players already in place, and the Bucs are lining up to potentially have a top-five pick again that could be used on a blue chip player or possibly traded to a quarterback-needy team in exchange for a haul of draft picks.
Some close to Gruden noted the Titans job as another that would uniquely appeal to Gruden should it open up -- he has strong family ties to Tennessee and has been a champion of quarterback Marcus Mariota -- noting they suspect the former coach would be selective about which jobs he would entertain but acknowledging the field this offseason could skew uniquely to his liking.
Gruden made NFL history when he was dealt from the Raiders to Tampa Bay and went on to beat his former team in the Super Bowl the following season. He struggled to find a quarterback to lead his offense, however, and, to the surprise of many in the league at the time, was let go a few weeks after the 2008 season following a 9-7 campaign. He spent seven years as head coach in Tampa and embarked on a broadcasting career after leaving the Bucs at a time when he was still considered among the younger coaches in the game.