An honest assessment of Tennessee coach Butch Jones
By now, Tennessee coach Butch Jones understands the pressure that comes with leading an SEC team.
When his team wins, Volunteer fans rejoice. But when his team losses, Jones is expected to own up to his mistakes. That’s not an easy thing for anybody to do, but it’s been even tougher for Jones because his team had a legitimate shot at winning all four games it lost this season.
It doesn’t matter that the teams Tennessee lost to — Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas and Alabama — have a combined 40-10 record this season. Fans and media will continue critique Jones and his in-game decisions because his team blew leads in all of those games.
Fans are not sympathetic. Most don’t believe that playing the 10th-toughest schedule in the nation is a valid excuse for finishing the season 8-4, when the Vols could have easily been 10-2 and winners of the SEC East. But sometimes it’s important for everyone, including the media, to take a step back and realize two things:
- Every great coach has made at least one regrettable decision in his career.
- The best coaches learn from their mistakes and continue to improve.
Jones, his coaching staff and his team had to learn many lessons the hard way this year, but the most important lesson they were taught might have been that no lead is insurmountable.
In three of Tennessee’s losses, the Vols led by 13 points or more. Tennessee’s conservative play calling on offense combined with multiple mistakes on defense allowed Oklahoma to come back and win.
Conservative play calling might have cost Tennessee a win against Florida as well. And after two devastatingly close losses at the beginning of the season, Jones didn’t have his team mentally ready for the four-quarter challenge that Arkansas and its bruising rushing attack presented.
But the thing about learning lessons the hard way is that you never forget about the mistakes that you made. The memories of those mistakes stay with you the same way a tick sticks to a dog, and you have a couple ways to respond to them. You can either continue to let them haunt your dreams, or you can have an introspective moment and think about the ways you can prevent those mistakes from happening again.
Jones seemed to take the latter option against Georgia.
Maybe he was thinking about the risky decisions that Florida coach Jim McElwain made that allowed the Gators to beat the Vols when Tennessee was losing 24-3 to Georgia and facing a fourth-and-2 on Georgia’s 47-yard line.
Maybe he thought about that moment in the Oklahoma game when he elected to have his team kick the field goal instead of going for the touchdown right before he decided to go for it again on fourth down on that same drive against Georgia.
It might have taken a few painful losses for Jones to figure out how to help his team win games, but Tennessee’s 38-31 win over Georgia proved that Jones knows that he will have to make some bold, risky decisions for Tennessee to defeat the SEC’s best teams.
Against Georgia, he also taught his team, once again, that no lead is insurmountable. But this time, his team was on the winning end of a comeback.
Jones certainly made his share of mistakes this season, but like most good coaches, he can use those moments to improve his craft.