(CBS) -- Former Buccaneers and Raiders coach Jon Gruden has been one of the most coveted coaching candidates since leaving the game for the broadcast booth after the 2008 season, and has been approached by multiple NFL owners and universities in recent years, with Arkansas and Tennessee of the SEC ranking as the latest to covet him.
Both universities want Gruden, sources said, as they try to get back to being powers in the challenging SEC. The Razorbacks are prepared to make their next coach the highest-paid in the SEC, according to sources close to the program, and budget will not be an issue. The program, which has plummeted in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal (the Razorbacks dropped to 4-7 and out of the bowl picture on Saturday), is prepared to be part of a bidding war for Gruden, 49, sources said.
Tennessee's program has also fallen, with the now Derek Dooley-less team needing a win against Kentucky next week to avoid an 0-8 finish in the SEC, and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam -- a billionaire booster for the Volunteers, whose brother, Bill, just happens to be the governor of Tennessee -- has told several people that he loves Gruden and believes he would be a great fit at the school. Haslam would also have interest in Gruden for his NFL team, but Gruden has resisted overtures from the Browns in the past and it's very, very unlikely he has any interest in the job now, according to sources. Gruden's wife Cindy went to Tennessee, and Gruden would be an incredibly popular choice among Vols alumni and boosters, sources said.
League sources said Gruden has made calls identifying possible staff members with his focus seeming more on the college game, asking questions of those potential staffers about recruiting and issues that do not relate to pro football. Numerous sources who have talked to him in recent weeks came away with the impression that Gruden was more serious about return to coaching now than at any time since he was fired by the Bucs after the 2008 season, although it still would have to be a perfect situation to lure him from his current job at ESPN, where he is well compensated and gets to have a fairly normal family life. While coaching in the NFL, Gruden was notorious for his maniacal approach to coaching, in a nearly round-the-clock fashion. Gruden was 95-81 in 10 seasons with five playoff appearances as head coach of the Raiders and Bucs (1998-2008) but did not win a playoff game after leading Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.
College football could provide more lifestyle balance than the pro game, as well as a new challenge for Gruden, who last coached in college in 1991 as the wide receivers coach at Pitt. Gruden has been spending significant time studying Chip Kelly's Oregon spread offense, sources said, which is perfectly suited for college but remains a question mark in terms of its translation to the NFL. Several sources said Gruden would strongly consider Redskins secondary coach Raheem Morris as his defensive coordinator. Morris coached in Tampa under Gruden and succeeded him as head coach before being fired after 2011. Morris, who had a stint as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State, is viewed as a strong recruiter. However, sources said Morris is more likely to focus on possible NFL opportunities at this point in his career.
In the end, Gruden could go through the entire process and stay where he is in the broadcast booth. But the hunt for his services is on, and it will include multiple options in the NFL and NCAA.