Vols legend Leonard Little discusses the Butch Jones era
Four regular seasons are now in the books for Butch Jones at Tennessee.
A 45-34 loss at Vanderbilt capped off the regular season in Year Four for Jones. To say the least, it’s never good for a Tennessee head coach to lose to Vanderbilt, especially twice (2013 and 2016) in four years.
Jones has done many good things during his first four years in Knoxville, but there are also elements that continue to arise calling into question the direction of the program under the two-time MAC championship coach.
Former Tennessee defensive end and SEC champion Leonard Little discussed the current state of Tennessee football with Saturday Down South. Little gave his thoughts following the loss to Vanderbilt, 50 games into the Jones era on Rocky Top.
“I would like for Coach to have the right to correct it,” Little said. “When he took the program over four years ago, it was in a terrible condition. He does have the program going in the right direction, I will say that.”
The losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, with the SEC East championship on the line following wins over Florida and Georgia in the early stages of conference play, have overshadowed any success in the 2016 season.
Little sees discipline issues as a factor that may have sparked a 3-4 finish after a 5-0 start. The finish is completely opposite of a season ago, when the Vols started 3-4 before closing 5-0.
“One of the biggest differences in this year and last year is the penalties, and we’re not really disciplined. It has shown that we are not a disciplined team, and we are not as disciplined as the last three years. That’s one of the things I’ve seen from afar.”
Injuries have been a well known factor for Tennessee’s struggles after the 5-0 start.
Conceding the injuries, Little added: “But also I’m not sure if there is a disconnect from the players running the scheme and the coaches coaching it, but when I look at them play and see running lanes as big as 10 yards, that’s really concerning.
“It’s concerning because either the players do not know what they’re doing or the coaches aren’t teaching them well enough going into the game. The biggest thing I take out of the injuries is, with the backup players stepping in, you’re always taught as a backup player to prepare like a starter. I don’t know if these guys prepare like that. It just seems like these guys do not really know what they’re doing out there or can’t adjust to what a team is doing to them.”
When taking the job on December 7, 2012, Jones had to place an immediate focus on recruiting and upgrading the roster with playmakers and quality depth. After four seasons, is there still a lack of talent to compete for an SEC East championship? And, even after injuries, was an SEC East title run and possible Sugar Bowl bid out of the realm?
“Not really,” Little said. “There’s still enough talent to get to the SEC East championship. Even with guys getting hurt, there was still a chance to go to the SEC Championship Game if you take care of South Carolina and Vanderbilt. I think we had enough talent still there to beat those two teams.
“We were kind of in a position, in 1997, that Tennessee was in this year. We needed Florida to lose two games. They lost to Georgia and LSU, so we had to go out and win the games that we played, especially after losing to Florida. We knew we had to win the rest of our games to get where we needed to get and needed Florida to lose, too. We had to have the same mind-frame as this year’s team, and I’m not sure if they had that same mentality.”
Injuries heal. Only time will tell if Tennessee, under Jones, can recover from this season’s finish.