Update: At the time this was written in late September, Tennessee was 3-1 and had just narrowly beaten 25 point underdog, UMass. Over the next 6 games under Jones, Tennessee went 1-5 including losses of 41 (Georgia), 38 (Alabama), and 33 (Missouri). He was fired on November 12th and Tennessee finished 4-8 and 0-8 in the SEC.
On some level, I think I’ve known all along that things were never going to end well for Butch Jones at Tennessee. I wanted him to succeed so badly that I’ve done everything possible to ignore the indicators and focus on the positives.
But it’s time to face facts, take a good look at what Jones has (or hasn’t) accomplished with the talent at his disposal and it’s time to ask how many more games he should be coaching this season. The miscues, instances of personnel mismanagement, bad decisions, and the losses that fall on him the Head Coach are staring us in the face.
The longer he’s employed, the more examples there will be to add to this list.
- Overall Record: 33 – 23
- In-Conference Record: 14 – 20
- Record vs. Ranked Opponents: 6 – 17
- Record vs. Rivals (Alabama, Florida, Georgia): 3 – 11
- Record in Games Decided by One Possession: 8 – 12
- Record in Bowl Games: 3 – 0
1. The Justin Worley Read Option
Worley clocked a 5.03 forty and rushed 71 times for -71 yards in his career. He was almost never kept the ball and when he did, he was hardly a threat. The only result was an immobile QB behind an inexperienced O-Line opening himself to significantly more hits. Not surprising that Worley missed the final 4 games of 2013 and 6 games 2014 with injuries. Josh Dobbs was perfect for the system but he only got the opportunity after Worley’s season-ending injury and Nathan Peterman’s ineffectiveness.
2. The Jalen Hurd Read Option
At 6’4, 230 lbs, Hurd was a great downhill runner. He was at his best when he had a head of steam, could lower his shoulder, break tackles, and pick up extra yards falling forward. Every hand-off Hurd took was four yards behind the line of scrimmage, flat-footed, he usually had to break tackles or elude defenders just to keep from losing yards. He was still good enough to run for 1,100 yards (4th in the SEC) in 2015 but could have been among the nation’s top rushers in a system that didn’t take away his greatest strength. Hurd transferred midway through the 2016 season, citing the read option system as a primary reason for the decision.
3. Alvin Kamara was Indefensibly Underutilized
Kamara was, at worst, the most talented offensive player Tennessee has had since Jason Witten. He was incredibly versatile as a runner and receiver. He had breakaway speed in the open field, quickness and change of direction, great patience and vision. Kamara eluded and ran through tackles every time he touched the ball. In spite of his once in a generation combination of skills and his 6.3 yard per carry average at Tennessee, he only recorded double digit rushing attempts in 10 (of a possible 24) games and 6 were against non-conference foes. He never caught more than 8 passes in a game and has already exceeded that number in the NFL, hauling in 10 catches during his 4th game with the Saints. He’s flourishing at the next level and Butch didn’t even start him until Hurd was gone. In first game as the number one option against Texas A&M, he accounted for 350 all-purpose yards and three TD’s. If he’d been unleashed like that for 2 full seasons, I might not be writing this.
4. Wide Receiver U?
Jones’ recruiting classes from 2013 through 2016 included 7 Four/Five Star Recievers (Marquez North, Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway). But the Vols haven’t had a 1,000 receiver or even had someone finish top 10 in the SEC in yards and receptions since 2012 (Justin Hunter). Josh Malone caught 50 passes for 972 yards in 2016 and Pig Howard hauled in 54 catches for 618 yards in 2014. No one has surpassed 500 yards or even averaged over 3 receptions per game since then. Staying true to form so far in 2017, Marquez Callaway has 3 touchdowns and is averaging 24.8 yards a catch this season. The best player on the field has only 8 receptions on the season and 0 in Tennessee’s last two games (UMass and Georgia).
Indefensible Losses/Blown Leads
2013 – Vanderbilt | Final: 10-14 | Favored at home, scored only 3 points after the 1st quarter. Allowed a 92 yard touchdown drive in the final 4 minutes of the game that gave Vanderbilt the win.
2014 – Florida | Final 9-10 | Tennessee led 9-0 for 3 quarters, gave up 10 points in the 4th, and blew multiple chances to get into field goal range in a one point game.
2014 – Missouri | Final 21-29 | Favored at home, allowed 2 4th quarter TD’s to go down 15. Cut the lead to 8 with 2 minutes to go. Butch called timeout with the clock stopped on the drive then lost another challenging a blatantly correct call during the onside kick. Only 1 TO left, Missouri ran out the clock.
2015 – Oklahoma | Final: 24-31 (2OT) | Led for 3 quarters, but went scoreless over the last 44 minutes of the game. Totaled only 12 yards of offense in the 2nd half. OU scored a pair of 4th quarter TD’s on 80 & 60 yard drives. Vols got the ball back with 40 seconds, 2 timeouts, needing 35 yards to have a shot at a field goal. Butch elected to kneel out the clock and Tennessee lost in OT.
2015 – @ Florida | Final: 27-28 | Favored on the road, Tennessee scored early in the 4th to take a 27-14 lead (elected to kick the extra point instead of going for 2 to make it a 14 point game). Florida went on an 86 yard TD drive, Tennessee went 3 and out on 3 runs up the middle and punted. Florida then took a 1 point lead with a 63 yard touchdown against on 4th and 14. I don’t even want to try to describe how horribly Jones handled the last minute and a half so I’m just including the video.(skip to around 2:38:00 if video doesn’t automatically start there)
2015 – Arkansas | Final: 20-24 | Touchdown favorites at home, Evan Berry’s 96 yard opening kick return covered more yards/points than Tennessee could put up in the 2nd half (80 yds of offense, 3 points) the Vanilla play calling on offense, zero run D. Lost to a team with half the talent.
2016 – @ South Carolina | Final: 21-24 | Favored by 17.5 coming off a bye. Team was barely awake, completed only 12 of 27 pass attempts, 3 turnovers, and again lost to a team with half their talent.
2016 – @ Vanderbilt | Final: 34-45 | Vandy’s roster had 10 total Four Star recruits. Tennessee had 16 in its 2015 recruiting class alone. Vandy would finish the season 5-7, averaging 19 points and 166 passing yards a game. They hung 45 points and threw for 415 yards.
2017 – @ Florida | Final: 20-26 | First and goal from the 1 with a chance to put the Gators away, Tennessee threw the ball on 4 straight plays rather than let John Kelly run for a yard (averaged 7.4 YPC in the game). Florida got the ball with 50 seconds left and threw a 63 yard TD as time expired to win.
No crushing loss is complete without a post game press conference that feels like a falling through trap door when you thought you’d already hit rock bottom. This is Butch Jones at his best. He makes sure everyone knows that he doesn’t understand what happened or why it happened which is as good as a guarantee that it’s going to happen again.
Butch’s Best Press Conference Quotes
Two Point Decision (following Florida, 2015)
He defended the call not to go for two claiming he had “great confidence” in Tennessee’s defense. He also referenced a situational chart he uses that pointed towards kicking the extra point rather than trying for a 14 point lead. Trusting your defense and not going for two is like not bothering with car insurance because you’re a good driver. And the situational chart is useless if it’s WRONG.
“Ready vs. Prepared” (following South Carolina, 2016)
After sleepwalking to a 21-24 loss coming off a bye week, Butch told reporters that “We learned about the value of being ready vs. the value of being prepared.” Preparedness (noun): the state or quality of being ready; readiness.
“Five Star Hearts”
“Only looking for five star hearts”. Turn away 5 star because they only grade out at 4 stars according to Butch’s situational chart? That’s what led to decommits on signing day.
“Champions of Life”
“They’ve won the biggest championship – that’s the championship of life”. Great stuff, Tony Robbins. When you’re done coming up with useless cliches, maybe think about how to win an SEC East championship.
8 Wins (the week after losing to Vanderbilt, 2016)
“I’m not gonna sit here and talk about (not winning the SEC East). We just won our eighth game. That hasn’t been done here in a while.” It hadn’t been done… since the year before.
I think it’s pretty clear. It’s time to move on from Butch Jones. Now.
(skip to around 2:38:00 if video doesn’t automatically start there)
2015 – Arkansas | Final: 20-24 | Touchdown favorites at home, Evan Berry’s 96 yard opening kick return covered more yards and yielded more points than Tennessee could the entire 80 yard, 3 point 2nd half. Vanilla play calling on offense and zero ability to stop Arkansas’s run game kept Tennessee from winning a conference game they had to have.
2016 – @ South Carolina | Final: 21-24 | Favored by 17.5, Tennessee came in off a bye week on a 2 game losing streak. They barely showed up, completed only 12 of 27 pass attempts and turned the ball over 3 times to lose to a team with half the talent coached by this blunt object of a human.
2016 – @ Vanderbilt | Final: 34-45 | Vanderbilt had 10 total four star recruits on their roster. Tennessee had 16 four star or higher signees in its 2015 class alone. Vandy would finish the season 5-7, averaging 19 points and 166 passing yards a game. They came in much more prepared, outworked, and outcoached the Vols throwing for 415 yards and hanging 45 points to hand Tennessee an embarrassing loss.
2017 – @ Florida | Final: 20-26 | First and goal from the 1 with a chance to put the Gators away, Tennessee threw the ball on 4 straight plays rather than let John Kelly run for a yard (he averaged 7.4 yards per carry in the game). Florida got the ball with 50 seconds left in the game and threw a 63 yard TD as time expired to win.
To wrap things up with a nice orange bow – Butch does either doesn’t understand his team’s strengths and individual talents or he does but is incapable of finding ways to consistently finding ways for them to impact games. His teams go back and forth between taking 2 quarters to wake up and starting hot then going into hibernation in the 3rd and 4th quarters. No matter how anemic the offense has been or how easily opponents seem to march down the field when it matters, this coaching staff rarely seems to adjust, pivot, throw any kind of counter punches or do anything to give their teams a shot in the arm when needed. In critical situations, he has the decision making of a hung jury and handles the clock and timeouts as if he’s unfamiliar with the concept of time. Oh and don’t forget that no crushing loss is complete without a post game press conference that feels like a trap door when you thought you’d already hit rock bottom. The only possible way to make things worst is by broadcasting the fact that you don’t understand what just happened and therefore have no way of preventing it from happening again.
Are You Kidding Me? WTF Did He Just Say?
Two Point Decision (following Florida, 2015) – He defended the call not to go for two claiming he had “great confidence” in Tennessee’s defense. He also referenced a situational chart he uses that pointed towards kicking the extra point rather than trying for a 14 point lead. Car insurance? I have no need for it because I have great confidence in my driving skills and ability to avoid accidents. Well you left your car parked in a war zone and someone took a flame thrower to it, so now what? And Alex Trebec has note cards for every question but he doesn’t start every sentence with “the card says” when giving a correct answer. At least act like you have the competency to assess a situation and make a decision. Growing a mustache wouldn’t hurt either.
Ready vs. Prepared (following South Carolina, 2016) – After sleepwalking to a 21-24 loss coming off a bye week, Butch told reporters that “We learned about the value of being ready vs. the value of being prepared.” Preparedness (noun): the state or quality of being ready; readiness. No you didn’t because those are the same fucking thing.
Five Star Hearts – Turning away 5 star athletes because they only grade out at 4 stars according to Butch’s situational chart? That’s what led to decommits on signing day.
Champions of Life – “They’ve won the biggest championship – that’s the championship of life”. Great stuff, Esop. When you’re done coming up with fables maybe think about how to win an SEC East championship.
8 Wins (the week after losing to Vanderbilt, 2016) – “I’m not gonna sit here and talk about (not winning the SEC East). We just won our eighth game. That hasn’t been done here in a while.”
It hadn’t been done… since the year before. This is Adam Sandler giving an interview about his work on Paul Blart Mall Cop 4 and saying that it’s been a while since he churned out an unwatchable piece of shit that hopefully no one saw (but Adam what about The Do-Over, The Cobbler, Grown-Ups 2, Jack & Jill, The Ridiculous 6, and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star – all single digits on Rotten Tomatoes except for the last two that were literally 0%).
We’ll always have Marquez’s North one handed grab to beat South Carolina in ’13 and Jauan Jennings’ Hail Mary against Georgia last year. But sometimes that just isn’t enough to keep things together.