You ever wish life came with a mulligan. You know, a chance to do it over and do something different. Alas, it doesn’t work that way, but in the College Football world sometimes it does.
There is more than one fan base out there hoping their athletic director and administration hits the reset button and changes coaches after the season is over. It seems all but guaranteed that will happen at Nebraska where Mike Riley is dead man walking. The Athletic Director who hired him was abruptly fired a few weeks ago because the Nebraska Administration (with a small nudge from big money boosters of course) determined that he screwed up hiring Mike Riley and so he shouldn’t be given a chance to hire his replacement. A new A.D. is already on the job having come from Washington State and you can bet he’s been told more than once if he wants to be there come September 2018, then Mike Riley had best not be.
Two jobs are already open at Oregon State and Texas-El Paso. I’m sure the fan bases at Oregon State and UTEP were sick of the on-field product they were seeing, and maybe it’s just because I live here, but I’ve never seen a fan base more upset, or more delusional than Tennessee.
The general thought amongst the locals is that it’s not a question of if, but when, Head Coach Butch Jones is fired. That may be, but I don’t think new Athletic Director John Currie wants to do that. He’s not really the reactionary, emotional type. If John Currie had been the A.D. at West Virginia in 2007 he wouldn’t have been one of those guys who got liquored up after the Fiesta Bowl and thought it was a good idea to hire Bill Stewart as the permanent head coach. Now, his hand may be forced by the people who bankroll the athletic department and the people who sit in the stands each Saturday. There absence sometimes speaks volumes.
The dwindling attendance was part of what did in Phillip Fulmer, but mostly what did in Phillip Fulmer was…Phillip Fulmer. Blessed with an ego bigger than Tennessee, Fulmer deserves all the credit in the world for a 4 year stretch in the 1990s where his team was 45-5 with two SEC Titles and a National Championship. But, he also deserves blame for getting fat and happy and not recruiting as well as he once did and not surrounding himself with quality assistant coaches.
Consider that when Fulmer had now Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe calling the plays, his record was 73-15. Without him, he was 77-35, and had two losing seasons in his last three years. He made the fatal mistake of hiring Dave Clawson from Richmond to take over as offensive coordinator in 2008. The result was a disaster. Clawson has turned out to be a quality head coach at Bowling Green and Wake Forest, but in 2008 he had the dumbass idea of flipping lineman around on every play so that they all played different positions depending on the play. I’m not a football coach, but that just sounds dumb.
And that’s my point. There is no substitute for a quality staff of assistant coaches. None. The Head Coach is the face of the program, but the 9 guys on staff are a gazillion times more important than the Head Coach.
So, it’s not that I believe Butch Jones needs to go, but everyone on his staff does and if I’m John Currie that is what I tell him. Jones has made some curious staffing decisions. When he first arrived he brought most of his buddies from Cincinnati with him. That’s fine, I get it, but it’s not the way to run a rodeo. You need someone who knows the territory. His first offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian was in over his head and he finally realized that taking a position coach job in the NFL. He was preceded at Tennessee by Jim Chaney, whom Jones did not retain. Chaney is now the offensive coordinator at Georgia. Enough said.
Likewise his first Defensive Coordinator John Jancek was a buddy from Cincinnati who was also in over his head. He also reportedly suffered from a case of wandering eye off the field and that’s not looking for other jobs, but the other kind of wandering eye that most American males suffer from.
He hired guys who were primarily recruiters like Willie Martinez. Martinez could recruit them, but sure couldn’t coach them as his defensive backs were consistently torched for big plays. Jones was smart enough to send him packing and in all ironies, Martinez went to coach DB’s at Cincinnati. Guess who isn’t good this year. You got it, Cincinnati.
The best part of his team last year was the defensive line so what does Jones do? He moves the Defensive Line coach to an Administrative position equivalent to an NFL Director of Player Personnel. In his place he hires fired Michigan coach Brady Hoke who last year coordinated one of the nation’s worst defenses at Oregon. Enough said, the Defensive Line is struggling this year and they haven’t faced Alabama yet.
The entire defense isn’t good and that’s on Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop. Shoop somehow was a hot commodity in the coaching ranks after Vanderbilt and a couple of years at Penn State. His defense was woefully unprepared for the last second play where the Volunteers lost at Florida and if Paul Johnson hadn’t had a brain freeze and ran the last second option play to the boundary side of the field in the Second Overtime, Tennessee would have lost to Georgia Tech in a game that Shoop had 10 months to prepare for, but couldn’t seem to figure out Tech’s triple option offense.
Jones also canned his strength and conditioning coach and replaced him with former L.A. Rams strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson. Seemed like a good move because the 2016 team was neither mentally nor physically tough. It hasn’t been. This year’s group is just as soft and key players are again getting injured.
The biggest train wreck on the team is the Offensive Line. Jones canned last year’s offensive line coach who is now the offensive coordinator at Division II Concord University in Athens, West Virginia. The Offensive Line wasn’t great last year, but they were at least serviceable. This year’s version is atrocious. They seem uninterested, consistently get pushed around, when they do look engaged, they commit stupid penalties, and are in two words poorly coached. When you are bad up front, you are bad and they haven’t played Alabama yet.
Jones hasn’t forgotten how to coach and he certainly hasn’t forgot how to recruit. That’s his strength so he needs to play to his strength and get coaches who can actually coach. He needs coaches to hold players accountable and coaches who are more like drill sergeants than soccer moms. Jones’ career record is 83-51 which is a winning percentage right at 62%. Tennessee fans revere native son Johnny Majors, but through 4 seasons and 6 games at Tennessee Majors record was 24-26-1. Jones is 33-24.
Jones strength is recruiting, but even he needs to take a step back and look at how and who he is recruiting. He’s obsessed with winning in February. He’s obsessed with 4 star and 5 star players. That’s fine, but more than once you are going to get a 4 star player who is a 10-star jackass. Put boots on the ground and find players who may have just a little less talent than the 4 star, but will work their asses off. You’ll win with those players. Evaluate them not by what Rivals (whatever the hell Rivals is) says, but what you see. And, if a kid is knucklehead in high school he’s going to be a bigger knucklehead in College. Jones was obsessed with landing Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano from New Jersey to come to Tennessee. He did, but I swear to you that when that kid announced his decision to attend my school on a billboard in New York’s Time Square, I would have said no thanks. The result, the entitled Gaurantano was a pouty little 2nd grander when he didn’t get the starting job and when he did get his first start, he showed his ass last week by throwing his helmet off on the field when his final pass was knocked incomplete in a loss to South Carolina.
And Jones needs to understand that a war with the local media is not something you are going to win. Hey, you don’t have to be friends with them, and as a former local media member, I would strongly encourage you to not be friends with them. At the same time you can’t dictate to the local media how to do their job like Jones tried to do two weeks ago. He chastised the local press for asking about an injury to one of his 4 stars turned average player Shy Tuttle that rumor had was the result of a fight with a teammate. After telling the locals that they need to evaluate what to expect from the media (whatever that means), Jones told them Tuttle fell on a helmet. That one is right out oft he dog ate my homework playbook.
So, after all that evidence why do I say Butch Jones doesn’t deserve to lose his job? Because it’s ridiculous to think that changing head coaches is suddenly going to make Tennessee a National Championship contender. The fact is this roster is built for about 7 wins. The Volunteers lost 6 players selected in the 2017 NFL draft including first rounder Derek Barnett. They lost their quarterback to the NFL, and the position has been unstable all season. This was essentially a year to regroup for Tennessee anyway. That’s college football. It happens.
Tennessee fans have some kind of delusion that if they get rid of Jones, then the white knight named John Gruden will come into town to save U.T. football from mediocrity. Gruden is a former U.T. Grad Assistant, his wife went to school here, his son is currently enrolled here and Gruden was spotted in the stands last week while taking a break from preparing for the Tennessee Titans game on Monday night in Nashville for ESPN. What delusional Vol fans don’t get is that Gruden is not a college coach. And want to guess what Gruden’s career record is? The savior of all things Tennessee is 100-85 as a head coach, just 15 games over .500.
Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result to be different. The answer is not always hitting the reset button on the head coach, but you can bet there are plenty of colleges getting ready to do it and I suspect Tennessee is one of them.