The last time Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt in Nashville Derek Dooley was let go the next day. After last night’s 45-34 loss to the Commodores Vols coach Butch Jones ducked out of the media room before most reporters got there leaving QB Josh Dobbs to answer most of the tough questions. Fans were livid last night on Twitter after the game calling for the coach to be fired.
In year four of the Butch Jones year this was supposed to be the year that UT fans saw the fruits of great recruiting finally paying off. Year after year Jones beat out Alabama, Georgia and other top programs around the country to get some of the best four and five star prospects like Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Josh Dobbs, Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd, Todd Kelly Jr., Alvin Kamara and Kahlil McKenzie. In 2014 and 2015 the Vols ranked 5th in recruiting according to Rivals. In 2016 they slipped to 15th but still had a lot of talent compared to Vanderbilt who were ranked 51, 45 and 53 the same three years.
After starting 5-0 many Vol fans thought this year’s team was a team of destiny after rallying to beat Florida and Georgia in the fourth quarters in dramatic fashion. The team lost a nail-biter to Texas A&M on Oct. 8 then followed it up by getting thumped by Alabama at home 45-10. There’s not much shame in losing to the Crimson Tide but two weeks later UT lost to a bad South Carolina team. The Vols had been a double digit favorite but came out flat after a bye week. Tennessee came back with a vengeance with three straight wins against Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee Tech.
Despite the loss to South Carolina earlier in the year Tennessee still had the inside track on the SEC East title until Florida upset LSU in Baton Rouge two weeks ago. After the Gators clinched the Eastr we started to see signs of unrest from the fanbase who wanted a trip to Atlanta to rematch the Tide. Two days later Jones declared his team were “Champions at Life” when he tried to deflect a question from a reporter who asked him about not making it to the SEC Championship. The quote riled up fans on Twitter and was the subject of sportstalk shows all over the state. After all that when you throw in Vanderbilt’s upset of Tennessee it’s a recipe for disaster for Jones and the fanbase.
Injuries have played a big part in the Vols meltdown. Jalen Hurd also contributed to the mess by leaving after the loss to the Gamecocks. Coming into the season Hurd was thought to be a first or second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and was mentioned in early Heisman Trophy talk. Instead he walked away from the team during the season causing waves and leaving the fanbase with questions and very little answers.
Had Tennessee beat Vandy they were heading to the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl picks the second best team in the SEC and many Vol fans had taken solace in the fact that they could go to a prestigious bowl where they hadn’t played since 1991. To get to the Sugar Bowl they needed LSU to beat Texas A&M, Bama to bear Auburn and Florida State to beat Florida, all of which happened. But now with the loss to the Commodores Butch Jones is looking at the TaxSlayer Bowl, Belk Bowl, Music City Bowl or Independence Bowl. That’s quite a fall for a team that was thought to be a College Football Playoff contender in October.
The big question here is what does UT do with Butch Jones. Do they bring him back or let him go? Two years ago he played Tennessee against Michigan who was looking for a coach and got an extension through 2020. Last year, with a 9-4 record and a win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl Jones got a $500,000 raise. Now in a similar situation at 8-4 with an upcoming trip to a second tier bowl it will be interesting to see what UT does about their coaching situation.
If they wanted to get rid of Jones who is out there that can energize the fanbase and recruit at the same level of the previous coaching staff. The top up and coming coach, Tom Herman is headed to Texas. LSU knew they couldn’t get him and went ahead and made Ed Orgeron the head coach.
Louisville’s Bobby Petrino has shown signs of being a top tier coach but he also just lost to Kentucky at home. And when you have Lamar Jackson coming back under center it makes no sense for Petrino to jump ship now.
Jeff Brohm from Western Kentucky has his team rolling at 9-3 and is heading to the Conference USA Championship next week. Brohm’s team plays an exciting, high octane brand of football that puts points on the scoreboard. However, I’m not sure UT fans would get excited about a coach from Conference USA.
Art Briles is out there but he has a lot of baggage from a sex scandal at Baylor while he was the coach. In his last four years in Waco he had double digit wins in four of his last five years and was consistently in the top five and top ten of the polls. However, due to the scandals Briles is radioactive and won’t get a shot at a Power Five school right away.
Mike Gundy was linked to the Tennessee job when Jones got it. He’s been at Oklahoma State for twelve years and has had a winning record the last eleven seasons and has his team in the rankings every year. I don’t think he’s going anywhere. If he was going to jump he would’ve done it by now. As long as he can win eight games every year and every now and then get to ten he has a job for life in Stillwater.
Due to the lack of star power in the coaching pool out there I think Jones is safe for another year in Knoxville. 2017 is do or die for him and his staff though. If he doesn’t win the East and the Vols in the top ten at the end of the year Tennessee will have to make a change to keep the fans happy.