The University of Tennessee hired Cincinnati football coach Butch Jones to become UT’s new football coach today. A lot of people have a lot to say about that, including me.
First, I am a UT alumnus and a big football fan. I have been for decades. And if you follow college football at all, you’ll know I’ve been pretty depressed over the past few years with the state of Tennessee football. Coach Phil Fulmer won us a national championship in 1998 and he’ll forever be remembered fondly for that, but the program fell down a few levels at the end of his watch, resulting in two out of three losing seasons. After he was fired, the idiot AD hired the recently fired Oakland Raiders coach, Lane Kiffin, who had a losing record and who I immediately hated. All he did was come in, make enemies around college football, insult people, take us to a 7-6 record and leave after one season to go coach USC. Half the players left and the cupboard was bare. Three years ago, then, we hired Derrick Dooley, who I hated immediately. He came from Louisiana Tech, a WAC school, where he also had another losing record, 17-20. And here he was ready for the big time??? All he did was come in and lose. Three straight losing seasons. Humiliating losses. This year’s defense was the worst in the history of the school, dating back to the 1800s. He was a nice guy, but in way over his head. So Dooley got fired with one game left in the season.
So here we are. UT’s new AD looked around for a prominent winner and nobody wanted anything to do with us. Why has UT football fallen so low? How did this happen? We have one of the largest stadiums in the country, seating over 102,000, the best facilities, a rabid fan base, etc., et al, but no one wants to come coach us. WTF? First, we allegedly went after Jon Gruden, who won the Super Bowl, but didn’t seem likely to leave Monday Night Football to coach a college team. I thought that was wishful thinking. Then we talked about FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, but that was just talk. Meanwhile, other schools — including three SEC schools — were hiring coaches like crazy! Why were we taking so long? Make a freakin’ hire, and make a good one!
Apparently, we talked to a number of coaches and offered the job to Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, who turned us down, and more recently, to Louisville’s Charlie Strong, who also turned us down. WTF? Who turns down a major SEC school to stay at their schools, especially one in the Big East like Louisville? I thought TCU’s Gary Patterson might be an interesting hire, but no one talked to him. I also like the job the Boise State coach has done, but apparently he wasn’t considered either. So one day after Charlie Strong turned us down, the news is released that UT has hired Butch Jones away from Cincy. To say there’s a mixed reaction amongst the fan base is mild. It’s pretty hot on the Knoxville News-Sentinel sports boards right now. Here’s my take.
- He’s a winner. He has a 54-27 record as a head coach at the college level.
- He wins championships. Out of his six years of coaching, he’s won his conference championship (or tied for the win) four times. That’s a pretty good track record.
- He took Cincy to some good bowl games and won 19 games over the past two years, beating some solid Big East teams.
- He’s young and following in the footsteps of Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, who coached before him at Central Michigan and then at Cincinnati, before leaving to coach the Irish. Maybe he can emulate his track record, who knows?
- He was West Virginia’s offensive coordinator when they won 10 games two years in a row and threw up lots of points in a spread offense. Exciting.
- He was UT’s fifth choice, behind Gruden, Oklahoma State, Louisville & North Carolina’s head coaches. That’s worse than Dooley, who was our fourth choice several years ago.
- The Big East is no longer a power conference, and is basically a joke as a conference now that most of the good schools have left it for the ACC or Big 12. The level of competition he’s faced won’t come close to what he’ll face in the SEC. Pitt & Syracuse? Please! Try Florida and Georgia back to back, mixed in with a little Alabama and LSU. We also have to play South Carolina and the rest. He’s not battle tested in a real power conference.
- The word is he can maintain good levels of play, but can he rebuild? He’s never had to, following Kelly the whole time. Can he recruit at the SEC level? Can he rebuild a once proud school into the type of football team people are clamoring for? Only time will tell.
- This is the one that really annoys me, and if you read what people are writing online, this gets a lot of UT fans: Dooley beat the hell out of him head to head in 2011. That was Dooley’s only victory over a ranked opponent and Cincy was embarrassed by middling SEC talent. That’s truly worrisome, since Dooley couldn’t beat anyone else worth a darn.
I guess when it comes down to it, I’m cautiously excited. I think it’s a much better hire than Kiffiin or Dooley were. He’s a proven winner. I think he has potential. He wins championships. But he hasn’t won against consistent top 25 talent like he’ll face in the SEC, so my enthusiasm is tempered by that a bit. It also worries me that he was UT’s fifth choice. He was actually going to leave for one win Colorado yesterday before UT came calling. He clearly wants to move up in the conferences and he’s capable. He was signed to a six year deal. Our three best offensive players are all juniors and word is they’re all leaving for the NFL draft this year. That’s horrible. If he can talk them into staying, UT could field a winning team next year, provided he hires a solid defensive coordinator. If they leave, we’ll have another losing year next year, but I’d expect about 7 wins in two years and 8 or 9 in three, followed by our formerly expected double digit win seasons at Year Four. Those are my expectations. I want to make it back to a bowl game in two years, and to a good one in three. A BCS-type bowl in no less than four. If he hasn’t been able to do that in four years, never mind his six year contract — it’ll be time to find someone else. Hell, Auburn just fired their coach who only won them a national championship two short years ago. It’s win now or else, and keep winning. That’s pressure. But that’s what the big bucks buy. My take for three years has been if Florida, Bama, LSU & South Carolina can all hire high profile, national championship winning coaches, why can’t UT??? Maybe this guy can do it for us. I sure hope so. As always, Go Vols!!!