Instead of ripping off the Band-Aid quickly, like Florida did with Jim McElwain, Tennessee yanked out each hair individually in excruciating fashion.
Volunteers athletic director John Currie finally did what he had to do Sunday, relieving Butch Jones of his duties as head coach effective immediately. Along with the Gators, that now makes two top coaching vacancies in this conference.
Needless to say, getting rid of McElwain and replacing him with defensive coordinator Randy Shannon on an interim basis has done nothing to provide a spark. After a blowout loss at Missouri six days after the move was made — it really was a lifeless effort against the Tigers — Florida came up short Saturday at South Carolina to drop to 3-6.
UT’s keys have been handed to defensive line coach Brady Hoke, who enjoyed more valleys than peaks as the head coach at Michigan.
Much like Shannon with the Gators, nobody takes Hoke seriously as a candidate to be promoted to full-time coach of the Vols. Even if he finds a way to beat LSU and Vanderbilt to get to bowl eligibility, he likely won’t be around much longer.
Speculation has been running rampant for weeks on Rocky Top — a 41-0 embarrassment at the hands of Georgia at home in Week 5 was the beginning of the end for Jones — as to who the next coach would be. Many of the names, like Jon Gruden, come off as wishful thinking. Additionally, the Gators got a two-week head start on the search.
Even if Jones ended his tenure in Knoxville with an unacceptable 34-27 record in four-plus seasons, credit him for giving it everything he had.
“Transitions like this are never easy for anyone involved,” Currie said in a statement released on the school’s official website for athletics, “and I am grateful for the way Coach Jones, (his wife) Barb and their children have poured their hearts and souls into this community and the improvement of our football program over the past five years.”
Because Florida pulled the trigger as quickly as it did on the mercurial McElwain, despite him accomplishing much more than Jones in a shorter period of time, the negativity in and around Gainesville was minimized to some degree.
Currie could’ve pink-slipped Jones following the aforementioned loss to Georgia — the 180-degree difference between the two was right there for the Neyland Stadium faithful to see — just like he could’ve after the subsequent defeats to South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky. Saturday’s 50-17 mess at Mizzou was more of the same, not the lowest of the low.
As a result, not only did Jones become a national laughingstock, but so did Currie and the entire Tennessee football program.
“I know Vol Nation will stick together,” Currie (below) said, “rally around this team and support these student-athletes who, despite adversity throughout this season, continue to play with great effort and intensity.”
Currie’s assessment of the situation is wishful thinking at best and stunningly naive at worst. From what I can tell, the only time Vol Nation has stuck together recently is when spray-painting nasty things about him and Jones alike on The Rock.
Tennessee’s recruiting class for 2018 isn’t exactly sticking together, either. According to the composite rankings at 247Sports, it was as high as No. 6 back in October. But with decommitments left and right — highlighted by 5-star offensive tackle Cade Mays, who’s a Volunteers legacy — it’s now 14th and likely to fall even further.
Perhaps a new coach can come in and save the day, although it’s fair to assume that the Gators will be targeting some of the same names.
“Our commitment to doing what it takes to hire the absolute best coach for the University of Tennessee is resolute,” Currie said.
Nevertheless, even if UT shoots for the moon and offers bank-breaking money, that doesn’t mean it’s going to get the pick of the coaching litter. Remember, Jones was the third or fourth choice when he landed the job. So was Derek Dooley before him.
If, for example, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is on the radar for both the Vols and Gators, why would he choose the orange and white over the orange and blue? Not only does he have some history at Florida — he was offensive coordinator there for four seasons — but recent evidence with McElwain suggests that an immediate turnaround is realistic.
Conversely, Jones tried his brick-by-brick approach at Tennessee for almost five years yet never even got to double-digit wins.
“Naturally, there will be great interest and speculation across the college football world,” Currie said. “As I reminded our student-athletes when I met with them earlier today, unless you hear news directly from me, do not assume it to be accurate.”
In other words, ignore any #Grumors that pop up in your various social-media feeds. Yes, Gruden has ties to the Volunteers program, but it’s going to take more than money to get him out of the “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth.
Since he has also taken so much heat — most of it he brought on himself for delaying the inevitable with Jones — Currie is under tremendous pressure to land a big name at an astronomical figure. No question about it, the job has some selling points. The fan base is hungry. The facilities are top notch. In “Jurassic Park” fashion, UT will spare no expense.
But if the Vols find themselves in competition with Florida for a dream hire, they better not get their hopes up too high.