By Tim Reynolds/The Associated Press
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Jon Gruden apologized Thursday for widespread speculation about his candidacy to be Miami’s next football coach, and said he’s willing to help the Hurricanes find the right person for the job.
The former Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN analyst reiterated his commitment to “Monday Night Football” for the second time this week, and the network repeated that it expects Gruden to at least complete his contract, which runs through 2011.
According to various reports, Miami has turned its interest to Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports that Mullen “appears to be at the top of the list” for the Hurricanes.
CaneSport.com reported that “it is believed Miami has already asked permission to speak with” Mullen. The site also touts Mullen as “the guy widely credited for bringing Urban Meyer to the college football forefront.”
At the Conerly Trophy ceremony in Jackson on Tuesday night, Mullen told reporters he’s not been contacted by Miami or any other schools.
Gruden had talks with Miami throughout the week about replacing fired coach Randy Shannon, and a person familiar with the talks told The Associated Press on Sunday that Gruden was presented with “parameters” of a contract within 24 hours of Shannon’s dismissal. Gruden met face-to-face with Hurricanes athletic director Kirby Hocutt on Wednesday.
“I’d just like to say I’m committed to ESPN,” Gruden said on a conference call. “There’s not a lot to add. I’m very thankful to have the job that I have and I’m eager to try to get better at it. And I know there was a lot of speculation over the last few days, and for that, I’m sorry. I’m just excited to be with ‘Monday Night Football.'”
Gruden won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and also has coached the Oakland Raiders. He began working as an analyst for ESPN in 2009.
Despite reports that circulated earlier in the week that Miami was in final negotiations with Gruden and nearing a deal, he said Thursday “there was never anything really serious about this.”
Hocutt was in his Miami office on Thursday, and no hiring of a new coach was imminent. Hocutt has not responded to requests for comment, and said he would not discuss the search process until Miami’s next coach is named.
There’s at least a half-dozen other serious candidates on the Hurricanes’ list, and the university wants to have a hire in place in time for a major recruiting weekend that begins Dec. 10.
Shannon was fired Saturday after the Hurricanes completed a 7-5 regular season with an overtime loss to South Florida. He was 28-22 in parts of four seasons, without an Atlantic Coast Conference title or bowl victory.
Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will be the interim head coach for Miami’s postseason appearance, expected to be the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Sun Bowl officials were meeting Thursday to move closer toward extending formal invitations to the game.
Gruden said he’s enjoying his role as an analyst, especially watching NFL games — instead of coaching them — on Sundays.
“That’s one of the most enjoyable times of my week,” Gruden said. “Coverage is getting better. You can watch four games at once. You can flip from one channel to the other. I mean, it’s just amazing the kind of coverage you can get and the information access is incredible.”
Not only is Gruden under contract to ESPN through 2011, his contract with the Buccaneers — which paid an estimated $5 million annually, far more than Miami has ever paid a football coach — stretches through the end of that season as well.
“I’m a big fan. I want the Hurricanes to do well,” Gruden said.