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Report: Gruden preparing to return to coaching in 2012

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Earlier this year, Jon Gruden signed an “exclusive” five-year contract with ESPN, which was scheduled to commence in 2012. And it’s so “exclusive” that Gruden may be gone before the first day of the new deal.

In a thorough and detailed update regarding the coming turmoil in San Diego, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune reports that Gruden has decided to return to coaching in 2012, and that ESPN is aware of Gruden’s looming departure.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting. Acee reports that, if Rams owner Stan Kroenke fires coach Steve Spagnuolo and G.M. Billy Devaney, Kroenke will attempt to hire Chargers G.M. A.J. Smith (if/when Smith is fired by the Chargers) and Gruden in a package deal that would consist of a guy who never smiles, and a guy who always scowls.

Chargers owner Dean Spanos is expected to reveal next week his plans regarding the G.M. position. It’s widely regarded as a given that coach Norv Turner will be fired.

On Sunday night, Peter King of Football Night In America opined that the Rams’ job could be the best one available in the 2012 hiring cycle, given the presence of Sam Bradford, the possibility of the top pick in the 2012 draft, and the most cap room of any team come 2013.

Of course, there’s also a chance that Smith is hoping the Chargers realize that Smith could lure Gruden to San Diego as the replacement for Turner. Perhaps not coincidentally, Gruden gushed about Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers when San Diego recently played the Jaguars on Monday Night Football. (We know he does that with everyone, but it was even more over the top than usual with Rivers.)

UPDATE 12:57 p.m. ET 12/27/11: ESPN said in a statement released to PFT that Gruden “remains committed” to Monday Night Football.