November 8, 2017
As the Tennessee Volunteers wind down their 2017 College Football schedule, new Athletic Director John Currie is faced with some tough decisions as it relates to Head Coach Butch Jones. We’re not just talking about whether or not to keep the embattled 5th year coach, there are some major financial impacts on the decision, both short term and long term.
The Volunteers have a 4-5 overall record this season with an 0-5 conference record through nine games. Remaining games include a road contest at Missouri and home games against LSU and Vanderbilt. Getting to six wins will make the team bowl eligible, but is considered a major letdown after recent recruiting classes, as well as two-straight 9-win seasons the last two years.
Fans are not happy with how the team has performed in big games. In crucial games against SEC rivals Georgia and Alabama, the Volunteers were beaten by a combined score of 86-7. That’s called not even being competitive. After the Georgia beatdown, many thought Jones was living on borrowed time, but he’s still there.
The decision to move on from Jones will clearly have some financial factors. First, buying out the final three years of his contract will cost the school at least 6 million if they wait until the end of the season. Should they bail on him sooner, add a prorated amount for this year. Second, should they decide to bring in a high-profile candidate to replace him, add several million more per year beginning next year for the new coach.
Assuming that Tennessee fails to qualify for a bowl game this year, there is also the money the team would have received, which most likely would be around 3 million.
But Currie also needs to think about the recruiting picture. Potential recruits are now able to sign letters of intent in December, and with the team having already seen three players from their 2018 class decommit, they should be praying there aren’t any more. They originally had 23 total commits and were ranked # 6 in early rankings.
If the team decides to fire Jones now, how many of those potential recruits will also decommit, causing a weaker incoming class and possibly weakening the team long term. Does Currie wait until December to make the move and have another coach in place quickly to attempt to keep as many recruits as possible?
All major universities rely on their football program to provide important revenue to help fund their athletic programs as well as the academic side of the University. So you can see this is an important financial decision for Currie. If Tennessee decides that the football program will not get better under Jones, it’s in their best financial interest to move on to a coach who they feel will. In the short term, the cost of the buyout, bowl revenue and recruiting concerns can’t be denied. With all the money at stake, one would hope Currie as well as other members of the administration have consulted the bean counters and figured out the cheaper road to take while trying to salvage the program.
Long-term, however, is getting the program to the top of the SEC, and playing in major bowl games and competing for championships. Currie has to understand that, his current plan of laying low and saying little is not playing well with fans and could potentially sway new coaches from considering the job. One thing is for sure, when this dismal season is over, Volunteer fans should have a pretty good idea of how good of an Athletic Director John Currie is.
September 24, 2017
It was not the type of effort that one would expect from a 28-point favorite, a team from the mighty SEC taking on one of the nation’s worst – UMass. Tennessee would squeak by with a 17-13 victory over the Minutemen, their fifth loss in as many tries. With the win comes what every Tennessee football fan has been longing for since, well, likely since he was hired. It is time for the university to fire head coach Butch Jones.
Saturday’s game against UMass is the nail in the coffin for Jones, who is now in his fifth year in Knoxville. Sure, the Vols are 3-1, but only because Georgia Tech failed on a two-point conversion in double-overtime and Tennessee athletic director John Currie put FCS foe Indiana State on the schedule. The lackluster performance by Tennessee comes on the heels of an emotional last-second loss to rival Florida. For Vols’ fans, enough is enough.
After a three-and-out for Tennessee to start the game on Saturday, one sort of knew that things were going to be complicated for Jones and the Vols all day long. Tennessee allowed the Minutemen a first down before forcing a punt. Vols’ quarterback Quinten Dormady then fumbled the ball away on a third-and-two run. It got worse when a 13-play drive against a team that gives up an average of 27.8 points per game went for naught when the Vols missed a field goal.
It took a Colton Jumper sack with 1:09 to play and two incomplete passes by UMass quarterback Ross Comis before Jones, the Vols, and Tennessee fans could exhale and enjoy a victory. They don’t have very long to enjoy it as Tennessee hosts No. 7 Georgia on Saturday. Then, it’s on to the rest of the SEC schedule which includes an October 21 date at Alabama. Whether Jones is the head coach or not simply doesn’t matter at this point.
Jones has produced back-to-back 9-4 seasons. Last year, Jones and the Vols started 5-0 but fell victim to Texas A&M and the Crimson Tide on back-to-back October Saturdays. Then came the kicker. A 24-21 defeat at the hands of a not-so-good South Carolina gave Tennessee three straight losses. If that wasn’t enough, the Vols dropped their season-ending rivalry game with Vanderbilt which finished 6-7 on the season.
Tennessee then started the 2017 season by falling behind to Georgia Tech, 28-14, before pulling out the 42-41 double-overtime win. Jones had given the Tennessee program its first win over Florida in 12 years in 2016 with a 38-28 home victory. In Gainesville this season, Tennessee fell behind 13-3 before the offense began to click and tied the game at 20-all. Then, of course, there was the 63-yard Hail Mary with no time on the clock that gave the Vols their first loss of the season.
It just doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to get any better. Coming into the 2017 season, Tennessee had as good a chance as any to win the weaker SEC East. Now, they have to take on one of two remaining unbeatens in the conference. The seventh-ranked Bulldogs already have impressive wins over a No. 24 Notre Dame (20-19) and last week against No. 17 Mississippi State (31-3). What makes Georgia’s 4-0 start even more impressive is that they have done it without starting quarterback Jacob Eason.
Tennessee will likely be an underdog this weekend as it will in two weeks at Alabama. Remember, the Vols lost to South Carolina and Vanderbilt last year. Both are the schedule again though both games are at home. The Vols will face Kentucky, Southern Miss, Missouri, and No. 25 LSU before season’s end. With eight games remaining, even if Tennessee wins half they finish 7-5.
So, why not do it without Jones and begin the search for his predecessor? There are plenty of candidates available beginning with former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Currie spent eight years in the Big 12 at Kansas State and knows Stoops well. Currie’s Wildcats lost five of seven games against the Sooners during his tenure. Tennessee will have to throw some serious money on the table to lure Stoops back into the grind that is college football.
Another hot candidate whose name will come up in virtually any job search is former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. He would definitely bring some pizzazz to a rather mediocre Tennessee offense. Again, the university would have to open up the checkbook to bring Kelly back to college football.
There is also Les Miles who had a very successful run at LSU. He went 114-34 in 11 years in Baton Rouge before the Tigers faithful tired of losing to Alabama. One of the big knocks against Miles was his lack of imagination on offense. That might prevent him from even being considered in Knoxville.
Finally, the most interesting candidate would be current Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, a Tennessee native who played at Tennessee and was an assistant in Knoxville under Philip Fulmer. Cooter has had much success with the NFL’s highest paid player, Lions QB Matthew Stafford. Cooter might want to stick around and see if an NFL head coaching job comes open after this season. Tennessee might not want to wait that long to lock in the football program’s future.
September 20, 2017
A win-loss record sometimes does not tell the whole story when examining an FBS head coach. Take Tennessee’s Butch Jones as an example. At first glance, his 32-22 overall record with the Volunteers doesn’t look as impressive as say Urban Meyer’s 50-4 mark through his first four years at Ohio State. Still, 32-22 isn’t all that bad considering Jones has had to navigate the SEC.
For all those calling for Jones’ head after last week’s excruciating loss last-second loss to Florida, you might want to reconsider why Tennessee hired him in the first place.
- He’s a proven winner. Jones has won more conference championships that all but five active FBS head coaches. Alabama’s Nick Saban is one. Yes, none of those titles were won in the brutal SEC, but only three coaches in the conference can boast nine or more wins in each of the last two seasons – Saban, Florida’s Jim McElwain, and Jones.
- Jones develops NFL talent. Josh Dobbs was the highest-drafted quarterback since Peyton Manning. Six former Vols were selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, the most in seven years. Jones currently has nine players in the league.
- He develops relationships and builds men. Jones is known as a solid recruiter – his 2018 class is ranked fifth in the nation – who builds relationships with players that make them better students and athletes. Whether that translates into wins remains to be seen, but Jones took over a program on the verge of probation due to a substandard APR (academic progress rate). Jones turned that around in one year to avoid the loss of scholarships.
Jones does have his weaknesses and the nation got to see one of them last week in a drive that could have won the game for Tennessee in the waning moments of regulation. If Jones can correct these weaknesses, the Vols could be playing for SEC championships for many years.
- Questionable in-game decisions. In last Saturday’s loss, the Vols’ Rashaan Gaulden picked off a Feleipe Franks pass at the Florida 40-yard line with 3:57 to play in the game and Tennessee trailing 20-17. Tennessee would advance to the Gators’ nine-yard line where it was first-and-goal for the Vols. Instead of handing the ball to RB John Kelly, who had rushed for 141 yards on 19 carries, Tennessee attempted three passes all of which were incompletions. The resulting field goal tied the game.
- Can’t win the tough games. One of the big knocks against Jones is that he struggles in big games. Thus far at Tennessee, Jones is just 8-11 in games decided by a touchdown or less. He has just six wins over ranked opponents, though three of the wins – Florida, Georgia, Nebraska – came last year.