When this season began I swore to you that Butch Jones was not on the hot seat in Knoxville. In hindsight, it may seem foolish, but I was working with good info from a source that told me there were a number of factors that made it seem like Butch would safely make it to 2018.
Fast forward six weeks and boy have the tables turned. The Vols have suffered an embarrassing last second loss to Florida, sleep-walked into a near upset against UMass, and got obliterated by Georgia.
The fans were restless in Knoxville before Saturday, and then this happened.
And then there was this tweet that got the college football world buzzing.
Just got a text from connected source at Tennessee who said said that loss was "the nail in the coffin for Butch."— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 14, 2017
Now, don’t get me wrong. Butch Jones has not been very good this season. Not only is his team not winning in conference, but he is following up losses by saying incredibly stupid things. Clearly, patience has worn thin with boosters and his team is playing like they want to be playing for someone else.
But I do have to ask this question. Should losing to a 5-2 South Carolina team be considered bad enough to be “the nail in the coffin”? I mean Tennessee was in that game. They played pretty good on defense. They just got beat by a team that played a little bit better on defense.
Again, I’m not here to defend Butch Jones. I think that’s kinda impossible at this point.
I’m here to defend South Carolina. They may win ugly and the cracks in their proverbial foundation might be evident, but they do just keep winning.
If the point Benjamin Albirght’s source was trying to make is that Carolina was a more “beatable” opponent for Tennessee than Alabama is, okay fine. You can’t deny that, but if the thinking is that surely Tennessee can beat South Carolina, then that source needs to wake up and realize the Phil Fulmer era is long over and Tennessee just isn’t that kind of program anymore.
The SEC East has two juggernauts: Georgia and Florida. There is no excuse for them to ever be bad. Then there’s the division’s second class. It includes Carolina and as much as Vols fans don’t want to admit it, it includes them too. Those are schools where the right coach landing the right recruits can yield big results, but there isn’t really a geographical or brand name advantage.
Being in the second class isn’t a bad thing by the way. It points out just how great of a job Steve Spurrier did in Columbia and Phil Fulmer did in Knoxville. Carolina, as has been pointed out to me many times, is very comfortable in that second class. The administration and boosters want success as often as possible, but seem to understand that along with peaks come the occasional valleys.
Vol fans have never been willing to accept that the Peyton Manning years were the exception to their normal. Yes, it is a school that has won multiple national championships, but of course, most of them were in the 1950s.
You know who else won national championships in the 1950s? Maryland, Iowa and Syracuse. See any of them in the thick of CFP discussions right now?
Times change and sometimes a program that was once great has to tear everything down before it can be built back up. That’s where Tennessee is right now, and that doesn’t mean that Butch Jones shouldn’t go. Clearly it is time for a change in that locker room.
It means it is time for a program like Tennessee to stop talking about losses to Carolina like they are unacceptable. Vols AD John Currie cannot move that program forward until boosters and alumni accept that Tennessee is climbing out of a deep valley. They may be closer to another peak than they were when Derek Dooley was leading the charge, but that doesn’t mean the Vols are actually close.
The road ahead is going to be rocky too (pun intended), because its not like Tennessee is out recruiting their brethren in the SEC East’s tier 2. And Georgia is out-recruiting most of the country. At this rate, Tennessee needs to get over the idea that losses to South Carolina are unacceptable and come to terms with the idea that they might be a pretty regular occurrence over the next five or ten years.