By Alex Norman
We are nearly 2 ½ seasons into the Butch Jones era of Tennessee football and one thing is becoming abundantly clear.
Jones’s game day limitations are costing the Vols. Dearly.
In 2013 it was the Georgia and Vanderbilt games. In 2014 it was the Florida game.
And this season it is the Oklahoma and Florida games (and who knows what’s to come).
Jones talks about analytics. But I’m trying to figure out what numeric system says that kicking a meaningless extra point is the better call than going for two with 10 minutes remaining when up by 12 at Florida?
Jones (and defensive coordinator John Jancek) also thought rushing only 3 guys was the right call on 4th and 14. The numbers tell us that won’t put any pressure on the quarterback. Will Grier had all day to find his receiver, on what would turn into the 63 yard game winning touchdown for the Gators. In fact, Tennessee only rushed 3 guys on Florida’s three 4th downs over the final 2 drives, and got burned each time.
I could go on and on. The two timeouts that Jones called on the day that allowed Florida to regroup and then convert on two other 4th downs… The Vols getting off only 4 offensive plays on their last possession, despite 1:26 being on the clock AND having two timeouts at their disposal…
Plain and simple, these are mistakes that a head coach in the Southeastern Conference should not be making on a consistent basis.
Maybe the other issue with Jones is that he never seems to take responsibility when things go wrong, as they have been doing. When your coach makes $3.2 million you would expect, if nothing else, that he would start every press conference following a loss with a simple, “This loss is on me” type statement.
For all his talk and bluster and clichés about being the steward of Tennessee football, Jones rarely puts a loss on his shoulders, or when he does, it comes a couple of days too late. This is a Dooley-esque approach that eventually wears thin on a fan base, and perhaps most importantly, on a roster that is filled with his guys…
Publicly, Jones’s players are saying all the right things. Kicker Aaron Medley posted this tweet following the Florida loss.
“I would take a bullet for Coach Jones… That man has changed my life in so many ways. Believe in him. Our time is coming!”
But how much longer are Tennessee fans supposed to wait? Over the past 7 football seasons the Vols have won between 5 and 7 games. No team in the nation has a longer streak of mediocrity. With Georgia, Alabama still on the schedule, as well as improving Kentucky and a Missouri team the Vols have never beaten, it appears that the Vols are heading down that road again.
Butch Jones has done a lot of good things at Tennessee. No one disputes that. But eventually he is going to have to prove that he can be good at the most important part of being a coach. And that is coaching.
There are no easy answers. It may come down to Jones putting his ego aside and making adjustments to his game plan as necessary. In losses to Oklahoma and Florida, the Vols had some very suspect play calling, especially on offense, in the fourth quarter. In each of those games Tennessee had a chance to put the game away with a first down or two. In each of those games, Jones (and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord) chose a conservative philosophy that would have made the GOP happy, choosing to run the football and punt, never seriously trying to move the chains.
Perhaps Butch Jones is what he is at this point. He is 47 years old and has been a coach at different level since 1990. The good coaches are the ones that can change their philosophies when necessary, be it for their personnel or their conference or the down and distance or whatever it may be.
But if Jones can’t change? The Vols will need to recruit at a 1980s Miami Hurricanes level to make up for his mistakes.
And even that might not be enough to bring Tennessee back…