All I have to say is, it’s about time.
Props if you recognized that “Angels in the Outfield” reference. Even more props if you knew that I’ve had one in the holster the past few weeks, waiting for Tennessee to finally part ways with Butch Jones.
The Vols did what everybody and their mother knew they would do. They fired a coach who had worn out his welcome. Athletic director John Currie made perhaps one of the easier decisions we’ve seen for a Power 5 program in recent memory.
The question is why it took him so long to make it.
He watched Jones drag Tennessee to the very bottom of the SEC. Weeks went by and he insisted that the program was indeed confident in Jones. He fooled no one. Meanwhile, recruits dropped their commitments, prominent alums bashed the program and Tennessee was two weeks later than Florida on beginning the process to find a new coach.
All of those things turned an already tumultuous situation into a complete and total fiasco. The news that came out of Knoxville on Sunday was overdue, and in the next few weeks, we’ll see how much it costs Tennessee.
For what it’s worth, Jones probably shouldn’t have been on the hot seat to enter the season. As odd as that sounds in this current moment, one could defend the fact that Jones took over a team that went 1-7 in the SEC, and he recorded consecutive 9-win seasons. Jones, entering 2017, had at least met realistic expectations.
But there’s always one caveat that comes with the preseason hot seat talk. Jones wasn’t on the hot seat, barring a disaster.
This season has been a complete and total disaster.
Places like Tennessee don’t tolerate total and complete disasters. As I always say, the stadiums are too big, the competition is too fierce and the stakes are too high to stomach lows like what Jones put Tennessee through.
Each week felt like a new low for the Vols. Losing on a Hail Mary to Florida was heartbreaking, but that play didn’t scream “total and complete dysfunction.” The next two months did.
The nail-biter against winless UMass got the ball rolling on Jones’ free-fall. The indecisiveness about the quarterback position and the subsequently horrendous offensive production added even more steam. Getting shut out 41-0 at home by Georgia showed Tennessee fans everything that they needed to know.
Jones was never going to be the guy who was going to make Tennessee elite again. Not even the biggest Jones apologist could deny that after the Georgia whipping.
Currie, perhaps the biggest Jones apologist of the bunch, didn’t feel the need to give into public reaction after the Georgia game. When the Vols proceeded to lose their next three SEC games — including an embarrassing loss at Kentucky — he decided to push on. Never mind the fact that Florida, which will target many of the same names as Tennessee on the coaching market, made its move.
Instead, Currie watched his team do backflips after beating Southern Mississippi by two touchdowns on homecoming Saturday.
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 5, 2017
I’m not faulting a player for celebrating a victory. Shoot, that was the first time the Vols won in six weeks. Of course they were happy.
But that was such an indicative sign of where things were for this program.
Jones frustrated Tennessee fans because of his perceived acceptance of less-than-excellence. Nobody bought into his “champions of life” or “5-star hearts” or “leadership reps” because they were used to justify his team failing to meet expectations. He didn’t realize that when you’re at a big-time program like Tennessee, you can’t gimmick your way out of losing.
Currie had to know that Jones wasn’t the right fit at Tennessee earlier than Saturday. Surely it didn’t take getting trounced by Missouri for him to realize that this thing just wasn’t working.
And if his attempt was really to bridge the gap between now and the new early signing period, it was a complete failure on the recruiting front. Since that Georgia loss, Tennessee lost commitments from 5 recruits in its 2018 class. They knew that they wouldn’t be playing for Jones if they signed with the Vols. Perhaps even more important, they knew that the staff that recruited them would be gone, too.
So why did Currie take weekly shots when he knew it was his only move to make? Was he holding out hope that Jones’ never-ending positivity would spark a midseason turnaround and the Vols would sneak their way to 7 wins? He must have. That’s the only reason he could have used to keep Jones around as long as he did.
How ironic it was that Jones reportedly turned down the opportunity to coach the team’s final two games. I can’t say I blame him. Some might view that as quitting, but Jones wasn’t in any sort of position to walk away. His fate was sealed weeks ago, whether he or Currie acknowledged it or not.
Now, the Vols are left just as Jones found them. They’re a floundering program with abundant resources and support that’s once again desperate to find the right guy.
The right guy doesn’t have a cup of coffee as a top-15 team. The right guy has his fanbase booking tickets to Atlanta in October. The right guy doesn’t have excuses or made-up awards. The right guy demands perfection and picks apart his team like Kirby Smart and Nick Saban. Jones never has and never will be that guy.
It’s too bad for Tennessee fans that it took so long for their administration to realize that.