KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones is gone. Now what?
Sitting at 4-6 and winless in SEC play, Tennessee AD John Currie said that “transitions like this are never easy for anyone involved.”
Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke gets a chance to salvage the Vols’ season and perhaps play their way into a bowl game.
Currie says that he is “confident that Vol Nation will stick together, rally around this team and support our student-athletes” over the next two weeks of the regular season.
Here are five things the Vols must accomplish.
1. Fight to become bowl eligible
The Vols are staring at a tall task, but it’s not impossible. They must win their final two games against LSU and Vanderbilt to become bowl eligible. A bowl game would be rewarding for seniors and provide some much-needed enthusiasm.
It would also mark the first time since 2001-2004 that Tennessee as a program would have made four consecutive bowl appearances.
Senior Jashon Robertson on the possibility of a bowl game. pic.twitter.com/92ikKce6dh
— Dan Harralson (@danharralson) November 5, 2017
2. Tweak the offense to feature more pro-style sets
It’s no secret that no matter who was the offensive coordinator under Jones, the scheme never changed. It was Jones’ system and it was not going to change.
Under Hoke in the final two regular season games, eyes will be on Larry Scott to see if he goes away from Jones’ scheme and implements his pro-style attack that he fielded while the interim head coach at Miami.
Pro-style sets could benefit the backfield of John Kelly and Ty Chandler.
3. Field a complete defense
The Vols hold the nation’s No. 5-ranked pass defense, yet rank No. 127 in rushing defense, giving up 256.9 yards per game. Bob Shoop’s defense has given up 200-plus yards rushing in five games.
With Hoke taking over, the defense could become better with different schemes and allowing for Shoop to coach more freely. Having players like Tyler Byrd play defense is something to watch for.
4. Develop young players
It is important for players returning in 2018 to get the most out of their practice reps over the next two weeks (if not more). With potential offensive scheme changes on game day with Scott, players could also receive different elements of development throughout practices that they can take with them into the offseason and into the next coaching staff.
5. Have some fun
After a dismal season that has drained players, fans and former players, Currie described the season as “there were moments of frustration, there were also moments of optimism and I wanted to give our coaching staff and our student-athletes the best possible chance to be successful.”
Currie believed Jones provided the best chance at success.
Now the cloud of uncertainty is gone. Saturday will represent a clean slate. Interim coaches don’t always provide a spark (see: Florida), but there are plenty of examples of where change led to a revival (see: LSU).
Regardless, the angst and anxiety over Jones’ future is gone. There’s no longer a reason to look back. That, alone, is reason for optimism.