Tennessee jumped in line for the coaching carousel on Sunday, firing Butch Jones a day after the Volunteers got rocked in Missouri 50-17. The loss completed a hard-to-believe collection for Tennessee (4-6, 0-6):
Tennessee's most recent game vs each SEC team:
Alabama – L 45-7
Arkansas – L 24-20
Auburn – L 55-23
Florida – L 26-20
Georgia – L 41-0
Kentucky – L 29-26
LSU – L 38-7
Mizzou – L 50-17
Miss State – L 41-31
Ole Miss – L 34-3
SCar – L 15-9
Texas A&M – L 45-38
Vandy – L 45-34
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 12, 2017
There’s more than a little bit of happenstance and stars aligning there. Has to be when you’re talking about a team that was 8-3 and likely headed for the Sugar Bowl last year until it lost at Vanderbilt in the regular season finale (and thus “won” a return trip to Nashville to play Nebraska in the Music City Bowl). But when a coach is already on the hot seat and people start noting that you don’t have an active winning streak against any team in the conference, the end is all but guaranteed.
If you want a little local flavor from how this move was received, I’d direct you to this column from Joe Rexrode of the Tennessean:
Don’t threaten to pull the credentials of specific reporters because it won’t work unless you have a reason much stronger than not liking the commentary. Don’t threaten the access of young reporters for comments that qualify as mild criticism at most. It’s embarrassing. Protecting your players, I get. Always thinking about recruiting and how media coverage affects it, I get.
Freaking out because of personal shots is counterproductive. You like to talk about avoiding "energy vampires," right? This is an "energy flesh-eating zombie," and you created it.
(Hey, I’ve seen that term before.)
More likely your interest in Tennessee’s move lies with the fact that there’s now another top-20 (all-time, not right now) program in the same market Nebraska may be in soon enough. Two of the top three teams (again, usually) in the SEC East are out there looking for coaches and Pete Thamel of Yahoo broke a little news while breaking down where things stand for both programs.
According to Thamel’s sources Florida is still very much in the market for Scott Frost, but a “thorough vetting of [Chip] Kelly has begun. That includes calls to NFL executives to do general background on Kelly and exploration of his NCAA issues at Oregon.”
I don’t think Tennessee and Florida having made their respective calls already gives either school much of an edge (if any) over the field, but what is noteworthy is that the Gators seem to be on the right track here. If Florida was to land either Kelly or Frost, it’s the sort of hire that would reverberate throughout the conference. That under-the-breath “damn” from your rivals is what you want, but there aren’t a ton of those guys out there and Florida seems to be after two of them.
I’m not sure Tennessee will be able to compete on that same front for the “splash” hires of this round of coaching changes and it may not want to. As Thamel notes in his story Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie, who came from Kansas State, seems to prize experience and a longer history of winning, similar traits new Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos appears to value.
That might make things even more difficult than competing for the hot new candidate because “proven” options all have pretty good jobs elsewhere. Is someone like Utah’s Kyle Whittingham jumping to Tennessee? TCU’s Gary Patterson? The sales job that will have to happen in Knoxville is significant if that’s the preferred direction.
But there’s a good deal of selling that has to happen either way at a place like Tennessee. Either the AD sells an established coach on the merits of the job, and that hire is then easily “bought” by the fan base (to the degree than any fan base can ever totally agree on anything). Or, if you can’t sell a proven coach on the job, you then have to sell Tennessee fans, who are preparing for their fourth coach since the end of the Phillip Fulmer era, that this latest up-and-comer is different from the ones that came before.
Not an easy job. While I love to play fantasy AD and think “this coach would be great here,” I’m really glad I’m not an actual AD.
The Grab Bag
- Tennessee lost four commits after announcing the Jones news on Sunday.
- Good and in-depth look at how Auburn smashed No. 1 Georgia.
- Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com writes that the time is now for Dan Mullen to make his move from Mississippi State.
- ICYMI: The Hail Varsity staff offers some final thoughts on the Minnesota game, Nebraska volleyball smashed Rutgers and JD Spielman provided a silver lining on Saturday.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.