Raiders coach Jon Gruden made a virtual appearance at the University of Tennessee last Friday, but wasn’t trying to get any “grumors” started or angling for a coaching job.
Similar to Peyton Manning a few weeks ago, Gruden made a surprise appearance online in an Introduction to Statistics class at UT and encouraged students to stay strong, stay positive and keep working during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gruden is entering his third season as the Raiders’ head coach. But while serving as color analyst on Monday Night Football, Gruden became an obsession of sorts with Tennessee fans, many of whom were clamoring for him to be the Vols‘ next head coach any time the job came open over the past decade.
It became such a phenomenon on Rocky Top that there were alleged Gruden sightings all over the Knoxville area, and some fans insisted he was giving hints that he was taking the job if there was a splash of orange in his tie during Monday Night Football telecasts. Hence the name “Grumors.”
Gruden’s online visit with the UT students in Professor Missy Morris’ class was lighthearted, and he told them, “Just know that we’re counting on all you young people to lead the charge when we come out [of the pandemic].”
Gruden has strong Tennessee ties. He served as a graduate assistant under Johnny Majors in the mid-1980s. His wife, Cindy, was a cheerleader for the Vols, and their middle son, Michael, is a recent UT graduate.
After returning to coaching with the Raiders, Gruden said he was never close to becoming Tennessee’s head coach, but emphasized that he has always had strong feelings for the Vols and reiterated as much to the students last Friday.
“I’m a huge Tennessee fan,” Gruden told the class. He later added, “Some of my best memories are right down there on Cumberland Avenue.”
The Cumberland Avenue “Strip” is an area right off campus that includes several restaurants, bars and other businesses.
Among the funnier moments involving Gruden and the class were his struggles with Zoom. Soon after he popped in online, he introduced himself as Jon Gruden, coach of the Raiders, and joked that he didn’t have a lot of time because he was getting ready for the NFL draft.
“I’m a little confused. Nobody can see me, huh?” Gruden said while trying to get linked up so he could see everybody. “Thank God. My wife helped me.”
Morris made sure to show Gruden her “Spider 2 Y Banana” T-shirt, a playcall and formation Gruden would famously trumpet on Monday Night Football.
“You are a crazy lady,” Gruden shot back, laughing. “I wish I had you as a professor. I would have gotten a lot better grades.”
Gruden told the class he would check back in a couple of weeks and also kidded Vols running back and leading returning rusher Ty Chandler, who was in the class.
“I don’t know if Chandler is awake yet,” said Gruden, to which Chandler assured Gruden that he was, albeit with his hair looking a “little wild” due to the quarantine.
On his way out, Gruden again stumbled with the Zoom technology.
“I don’t know how to sign out. I don’t know if I can get out of here,” Gruden joked.