Butch Jones may be done at Tennessee, but now isn't the time to fire him
It’s pretty clear that Tennessee coach Butch Jones isn’t going to survive on Rocky Top. There’s too much negative momentum to turn around at this point.
The Volunteers lost another ugly game Saturday, this time 15-9 to a South Carolina team that hadn’t been playing very well on either side of the ball. As you read this column, many are wondering if Jones has coached his players for the last time.
The switch at quarterback — Quinten Dormady out, Jarrett Guarantano in — didn’t have the desired effect, as Guarantano was only 11-of-18 for 133 yards without a touchdown or an interception. Billed as a better athlete than Dormady, he was credited with minus-2 yards rushing on 17 attempts and didn’t appear to know the ins and outs of the system.
Most important, Guarantano appeared to have no instincts for the QB position. He made critical mental errors in crucial situations.
Despite playing so poorly in the second half, UT actually had a chance to steal one from the Gamecocks on the game’s final drive. But Guarantano’s pass to receiver Brandon Johnson from the USC 2-yard line fell incomplete to end the contest.
Yes, Guarantano completed a huge 39-yarder to Johnson in the middle of the field earlier in the possession to give the Vols some life. However, he wasted precious time with a sack on the first play of the drive and then failed to spike the ball later — he robbed himself of at least one snap as a result — with the clock running and no timeouts left.
Even more egregious, running back John Kelly, Tennessee’s most reliable offensive weapon, didn’t touch the ball once down the stretch.
The Volunteers worked their way into the red zone four times, but not once did they cross the goal line. They had to settle for three field goals and then came up empty. At no point did Guarantano give the impression that he was in control.
Don’t forget that UT was coming off a bye, too. Jones had an extra seven days to prepare Guarantano for the ‘Cocks — remember all that talk from Jones about having one of the best off weeks in the history of college football? The last time we saw the Vols, they were getting humiliated 41-0 at home by Georgia. They haven’t scored a TD in 10 quarters.
Tennessee just finished a three-game homestand 1-2. The win was an awful one against lowly UMass. The losses were both in SEC play.
While hitting the eject button might sound like a great idea right about now for the Volunteers, in seven days they’re due to lace ’em up in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is No. 1 in the country and not about to take it easy on its cross-division rival.
Before the 2017 campaign started, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was sitting on the hottest seat in the conference. Not anymore, though. It’s Jones, hands down. The boobirds have been loud at Neyland Stadium the last month — the student section was noticeably empty shortly before kickoff vs. South Carolina — and will only get louder now.
That being said, this isn’t the time to cut bait on Jones. One way or another, UT doesn’t stand a chance against the Crimson Tide.
Even if there’s too much pressure on the program and a change simply has to be made, who exactly does the administration elevate to interim coach? First-year offensive coordinator Larry Scott? Second-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop? No and no.
There is someone on staff with previous head coaching experience at a supposed blue-blood program — I’m using that term very loosely right now for UT — but it’s first-year defensive line coach Brady Hoke. Considering the fact that he won fewer games in each of his four years with the Wolverines, he doesn’t seem like a wise choice.
Besides, what if an interim coach rallies the Vols to a strong finish? After the ‘Bama game, the schedule is quite manageable.
The last thing anyone wants is for a Scott, a Shoop or a Hoke to somehow win the locker room in the short term. Ask LSU fans about that. You’re better off just sticking with Jones and then waiting for the offseason to make a more informed decision.
Say what you will about Jones, but he’s managed to recruit well. According to the composite rankings at 247Sports, he currently has the No. 6 class for 2018 based on current commitments — that’s higher than any other club in the league. Those prospects have committed to Jones, not the Vols, so you’d surely lose a lot of them instantly.
Holding on to Jones for another month and half likely means holding on to those commits. Then if you make the right hire immediately after the regular season, maybe they stick around until National Signing Day.
I’m far from a Jones apologist. This is Year 5 for him in Knoxville. No more excuses about the roster he inherited. No more excuses about being bitten by the injury bug. No more excuses about not having a signal caller ready behind Joshua Dobbs.
Jones has made his own bed, so now he’s forced to sleep in it. His cheesy rhetoric hasn’t helped, of course. First it was the “champions of life” comment. Then it was the “5-star heart” remark. This past week, we were introduced to “leadership reps” — it’s even more ridiculous for me to write than it is for him to say. He’s not fooling anyone.
Still, the #GBO types have to grin and bear it for six more games. Now’s not the time, no matter how much they want it to be.