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I had several ideas for column topics this week, but when midnight Wednesday rolled around, I knew I had to abandon those options and focus on the painfully obvious: the coaching search at UT.

That’s because at just past midnight Wednesday morning, yet another seemingly unbelievable rumor surfaced, this time being reported by a Memphis TV station.

Twitter exploded. Tweet after tweet echoed the outrageous claim:

This report alleged UT had offered Jon Gruden the head coaching job, and that part of the offer would give Gruden “a piece of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who were recently bought by Jimmy Haslam III, one of UT’s biggest boosters.”

Later Wednesday, the report was denied by the Browns and by Gruden on the Mike and Mike in the Morning podcast.

But despite a denial, the rumors continued to swirl; in fact, they swelled.

We posted a story on knoxnews.com about that rumor and the denials, but regardless, that story became our most popular story. In fact, it became the most popular story on all of the Scripps newspaper sites around the country for a solid 6 hours.

It was a non-story, but it trumped actual newsworthy articles. It was more read than the story about the Powerball increase to $550 million — which online producer Dave Goddard found surprising.

"It’s like people care more about Tennessee football than $550 million," he said.

(Photo by Amy Smotherman-Burgess/KNS)

But why SO MUCH hype?

OK, listen. As I say in my column, which I realize is bound to offend at least some people, I wish I could stage an intervention. With Tennessee fans.

The continuous hype and never-ending rumors have gotten to me, and to many others, I’m sure. Frankly, I just don’t understand it.

As if the bogus Memphis report wasn’t bad enough, here are some of the other “Grumors” circulating:

  • Jon Gruden sightings: Name a place in Knoxville, and I’m certain someone has claimed to have spotted Gruden there in the last 2 weeks
  • High school tours: Tons of message board posts claim that Gruden and his sons have been touring local schools. There was even an undated, typo-ridden acceptance letter circulating on Twitter.
  • Building an all-Vol staff: Many people have claimed that “sources” have told them Gruden is building an all-Vol dream team comprising former assistant coaches from across the county.

Trying to understand the mania

My reasoning is that no matter what fans say or do, or know or don’t know, it’s not going to change the decision making. Dave Hart will decide what and when he wants — and then we’ll all know. So what’s the obsession really about?

Granted, I’m not a Knoxville native. I’ve lived here for just shy of 2 years, so I’ve got a lot to learn. So, in an effort to understand this mania, I reached out to a couple of colleagues and a good friend to help.

  • It’s the escapism of it. SEC football is such a huge part of Southern culture. And people here grew up either without a pro team or without a real attachment to pro team, so the Vols were it. The Vols were theirs. The obsession with all things Vols, and with the coaching search, comes down to pride. They want to be wanted, and they really don’t want to be rejected, especially by a guy like Gruden. The hype, though intense, is bonding and widespread, a kind of “regional glue.” - Dave Goddard, News Sentinel

  • A coaching change is seen as a fresh start, and Gruden is seen as the savior who can get Tennessee back to the golden days. He’s so hugely popular. And the Gruden possibility seems real this time; last time it was rumored but never really taken seriously. Now, it’s in sight — and fans think “the magical, golden boy Gruden” will come to save the day. - Mike Strange, News Sentinel

  • With no bowl game and no real recruiting happening until the regime change, the football team that these fans think about every minute of every day of the year is now ground to a halt. The radio silence is making everybody exceptionally crazy. And Gruden is really famous, and has a Super Bowl ring, and is heavily sought after every year. I think Tennessee fans are looking for a sign that we’re still “good enough.” We haven’t had a reason to feel worthy in a long time. - Wil Wright

(Jon Gruden in 2002. AP photo)

A very real downside

Well, some might ask, what’s wrong with a little hysteria? It may be annoying, but is it really hurting anyone?

The truth is, the hype really could come with some consequences.

Strange and Wright both made the same point: By continuing to make such a huge deal, especially surrounding Gruden, fans are setting themselves up for a monumental disappointment if he doesn’t come.

"The coaching announcement is going to come like a surprise hammer to the face if it isn’t Jon Gruden, because it reads like one more loss. Even if we get a Jimbo Fisher or Charlie Strong or some other totally capable and exciting coach,” Wright said.

My plea to Tennessee (fans)

Passion is great, but this obsession is a bit much. I wish we would all do a few things.

  1. Take a deep breath.
  2. Take a few steps back.
  3. Take a grain of salt with every single thing you hear, ESPECIALLY on social media.

Social media as a game changer

As my friend Wil Wright put it, “This is our second coaching change in the golden age of social media, and it changes the conversation entirely.”

Now, with Twitter and Facebook as ubiquitous as they are, the rumors spread father, wider and much faster. Instead of the rumor mill being mostly contained to message boards, which are frequented by the usual suspects, the ceaseless speculation is open for all to see. And see. And see.

But so often, the speculation is nothing but completely fabricated wishes. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen random people tweet about Coach So-and-So and UT a “done deal.” “It’s official.” “Will be announced today.”

No. It won’t. Because it’s not true.

And even if something might have a shred of truth to it, you would never know because it’s drowned out by myriad falsehoods.

It’s never been easier to perpetuate rumors. Because for every credible information leak there are 50 believable but totally fabricated rumors and they all look the same on a cell phone,” Wright said.

Want to weigh in? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at WiseR at knoxnews dot com or on Twitter @rkwise.