UT's big boosters need to loosen control like Alabama did and hire their Nick Saban
KNOXVILLE — For many the last-play loss to Florida was enough to start thinking about finding a new caretaker of Tennessee football.
Many more came to that conclusion after a lackluster 17-13 win the next week against winless UMass.
Now after a third consecutive week of underachieving performances, this time with a 41-0 loss to Georgia the program’s first shutout loss since 1994, many are ready for new athletic director John Currie to rally boosters and to make a change at the helm of Tennessee football.
With the bye-week present before an Oct. 14 home game against South Carolina, this seems ideal to make a change, to remove Butch Jones and have an interim head coach close out the regular season and try to salvage a bowl game appearance.
Doing so also would allow UT to get a head start in the race to land the best coach available.
Whether that elite head coach is Chip Kelly, Les Miles, Bobby Petrino or whomever, it makes too much sense to not move forward with the inevitable change. The silence raises questioning if Vols leaders and boosters really want UT to be elite again.
Behind the scenes, many lower-end boosters are disgruntled and want to buy out Jones’ contract, but at Tennessee, a handful of big-money boosters call the shots.
They are Jimmy Haslam, the CEO of Pilot Flying J and owner of the Cleveland Browns with a net worth of $3.6 billion, and Charles Ergen, a co-founder and current Chairman of the Board and former President and CEO of Dish Network with a net worth of $15.9 billion. Both are UT graduates.
Then there are individuals such as John “Thunder” Thornton, a significant UT donor who has made a wealthy career through being a high-profile Chattanooga developer and founding Thunder Enterprises. And Charles C. Anderson Jr., the CEO of Anderson Media Corporation, who serves on the UT Board of Trustees and Board of Directors for UT Athletics; his family name sits atop the Vols’ indoor practice facility named the Anderson Training Center.
Those are a few of the people who could come together and help hire a program-changer.
After years of mediocrity and going through three head coaches who have a combined record of 55-50, it is time for the big boosters at UT to spend some of money and give up some control, much like Alabama did when bringing in Nick Saban after years of distress.
For years, Alabama boosters, headed by Paul Bryant Jr., steered the Crimson Tide football program. Then-Alabama athletic director Mal Moore convinced all parties, including the son of legendary head coach Bear Bryant, that the time to restore the storied program was now. No more settling; Alabama needed an elite head coach.
And Moore began a relentless pursuit of Saban, who met all of the attributes he was looking for.
“When I set out on this search, I noted that I was seeking a coach who has a proven record of championship success,” Moore said in 2007. “Coach Saban brings that proven record of accomplishment and leadership to our program.”
Understand, Jones still is Tennessee’s coach.
Coming off Tennessee’s 41-0 loss to Georgia, Jones was greeted Monday night at the Touchdown Club of Memphis by questions about his job security.
Jones called his job being in jeopardy “nonsense” and added that he and his staff will have to “put blinders on” and tune out criticism as they go forward.
“That’s part of being a head football coach,” Jones told Memphis’ WATN-TV. “I think that kind of comes with the territory. That’s nonsense. It’s out there, but again, you put blinders on and you go to work each and every day.”
Jones is correct in saying it’s part of being a head coach, but he is incorrect by saying it is nonsense.
It is now time for the University’s big-money boosters to take a page out of Alabama’s book and spend money on an elite head coach and restore prominence.
There is a reason it’s called the Third Saturday in October and why the two most storied SEC schools are rivals and compete against each other.
It’s time for Tennessee to follow Alabama’s lead and regain power with an elite head coach.