I’m not sure if Tennessee fans are on board with the notion that Butch Jones is on the hot seat, or if the idea is totally the creation of Colin Cowherd and his media brethren.
Since when can Volunteers fans scoff at 9-4 seasons and call for the coach’s head? I’m not saying that time didn’t exist in Knoxville. I am saying it has been awhile. Twelve seasons have come and gone since the last time Tennessee had fewer than four losses in a season.
Jones’ progression through four seasons is a dream scenario but for a couple of games last season, namely the brutal loss to Vanderbilt and a couple poorly played road contests — at A&M and South Carolina — that the Vols still almost won.
I get it. The regular season-ending loss to Vandy is fresh, the bitter taste lingers in the mouth. It just won’t go away. And the turnovers — seven in the loss to A&M — shouldn’t have been coming at such an alarming rate in Jones’ fourth season. This season, they will need to be better than second worst in the SEC East in turnovers.
But for now, those should be considered growing pains for a program heading in the right direction.
Do Vols fans really want to ditch the guy who resurrected the program from a period of five losing seasons in a six-year stretch? (Yes, I know one of those years was Jones’ first season.)
Johnny Majors’ first four seasons at Tennessee produced records of 4-7, 5-5-1, 7-5 and 5-6. It took seven seasons for him to field a team that lost fewer than four games. Majors hung around for 16 seasons and handed over a solid program to Phillip Fulmer, who carried the banner for another 17.
There’s a very good chance Butch Jones is more of a Johnny Majors than he is a Derek Dooley. Athletic director John Currie seems to think so.
By all indications he’s a darn good recruiter, and that’s at least half the battle in college football.
The knock on Jones seems to be that he is too nice a guy, doesn’t talk tough enough.
At this year’s SEC Media Days, he got bashed for not declaring last season a disappointment and a total failure. In essence, he got roasted for not being tough-guy Nick Saban. That’s apples and oranges, folks. Saban has built his program to the point that one loss, by one touchdown, that denies the Tide a national title can be declared failure.
Jones, on the other hand, is selling his players and Vols Nation on progress, trying to create a good vibe that keeps the orange tide rolling forward.
The 49-year-old coach was mocked for his “Champions of Life” comment. He comes off, to me, as a guy who genuinely cares about players and truly believes football has more to teach than Xs and Os. The more cynical among us might find that cheesy or disingenuous, or me naive. So be it. At any rate, I don’t think Vols players will compete any less intensely this season even though they are already “champions.”
High expectations come with the territory and the multi-million-dollar salary. Neyland Stadium has 100,000-plus seats to fill. So, no, Butch Jones does not have unlimited rope.
Considering the Vols will be breaking in a new quarterback this fall, another 9-4 season might be a reasonable expectation. Would that be good enough?
Would the best three-year stretch Tennessee has had in more than a decade be good enough?