Last night might have been Butch Jones’s worst loss as a head coach at Tennessee. It was his own personal Derek Dooley moment, a defeat as embarrassing and frustrating as the 2011 Kentucky game. The Vols, favored by two touchdowns coming off a bye week against a vastly overmatched South Carolina team that was starting what should’ve been a senior in high school at quarterback, were absolutely horrendous and stunk so bad on offense that it would’ve made Pig Pen blush.
Is it safe to say that Josh Dobbs’s second half performance against Florida was the greatest example of quarterbacking blue balls of all time? I think so, considering he’s regressed badly since then, going from looking like a Heisman candidate to a guy who might lose his starting job by the end of the season. It all culminated yesterday in what was perhaps the worst game of his career: 12-26 passing, 161 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions, and a fumble. And I’d even argue those numbers don’t do justice to how poor he played, as he missed multiple open receivers and looked incredibly lost and uncomfortable for a guy that’s now played in thirty-two college games. I mean, that last interception he tossed was such a bad throw that it reminded me of the pass Brandon Harris threw against Wisconsin that might have cost Les Miles his job.
It’s the same old crap week after week after year after year with this team. For the eighth straight game, the Vols slogged through an ugly first half that saw them look unprepared, undisciplined, and disinterested. It was the same predictable, “Hurd right, Hurd left, incomplete pass, punt” offense we’ve seen all season, helped by another porous, terrible performance by their incompetent offensive line. The team hasn’t gotten any better this season, and they make the same mistakes each and every week. Besides Derek Barnett (who finished with three sacks), and Evan Berry (who had a kickoff return TD), who were the standouts?
All of this points right back at Butch. I hate that I was right about this (I wrote a scathing review of Butch just last week), but how much more do we need to see before it becomes abundantly clear that this guy is never going to truly get the Tennessee program back to where we all want it to be? How many years does he need? I’m not a huge Jim McElwain fan, but when you compare his year and half at Florida to Butch’s three and half on Rocky Top, it’s embarrassing. McElwain is 11-2 in the SEC (Butch is 12-17), is on his way to back-to-back East Divisions titles (Butch hasn’t come close), and turned what was an abysmal Gator offense in 2014 under Will Muschamp into a competitive, legitimate unit in less than a year (Butch has been there since 2013 and they still have no idea what they’re doing on that side of the ball).
How about another SEC coach, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, a guy that’s been at his job as long as Butch? Did I mention that he’s been sharing the same state as Nick Saban, probably the greatest college football coach of all time? Malzahn is 17-12 in the SEC, won the conference in his first year, and has presided over an offense and a team this season that has gotten drastically better from the beginning of September to the end of October.
And don’t give me this crap about how these guys inherited more talent or better situations than Butch did. Florida went 7-5 in 2014, and Tennessee and Auburn were 5-7 and 3-9 in 2012, respectively. And honestly, four years in, all the Dooley guys are gone. This is a roster recruited, picked, and coached entirely by Butch. And these are the results? Sheesh.
So how will the rest of the season turn out? Not well. For one, this lost definitely cost them the East. Florida’s got road games at LSU and Arkansas, but I don’t see them losing both those games, something they’ll have to do for Tennessee to win the East. The Gators are a legitimate football team and are undefeated with Luke Del Rio under center. And why should we be confident in Tennessee at all? They suck in the first half every week and are two plays away from being 3-5. And when you look at their remaining four games, I only see two definite wins; Missouri, a dead team, and Tennessee Tech. The other two? Kentucky is half-decent and could still theoretically win the division, and Vanderbilt is at least feisty. Are those definite victories? Not with how Tennessee has played. I suspect they’ll lose at least one of those and finish the year 8-4, a major disappointment for the level of talent and amount of experience they have on the roster. And even if they do somehow miraculously win the East, should the fan base feel great about Butch and the program by going to Atlanta and losing to Alabama by 30+ points again? I know I certainly wouldn’t.
And where does this leave Butch? If they finish 8-4 he’s not getting fired, but how should we feel about the fifth year of the Coach Jones experiment? He’d be 5-7, 7-6, 9-4, and if my prediction is correct, either 8-5 or 9-4 in four seasons. Not horrendous, but nothing to brag about either. He’ll have a brand new quarterback (which might actually be a good thing), the loss of ton of starters, a new offensive coordinator, and another brutal schedule that includes road trips to Florida and Alabama. Sounds like a lot of uncertainty and another less than desirable 7-5 or 8-4 campaign to me. I think at a certain point we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that Butch is a middle of the road coach who has put forth an average performance at one of the 15 best jobs in the country. He’s recruited well and increased the talent, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a poorly coached team that’s performed at their best when the coaching staff has been the least involved. The wild comebacks, when they’ve, in the words of Barry Switzer, “out-talented” and “out-athleted” their competition have involved things you can’t coach, like Dobbs running around like a man possessed, Jauan Jennings having the hands of a god, and Alvin Kamara being untouchable and unable to be covered.
I know he’s sketchy and has a checkered past, and the evangelical portion of the fan base would hate him, but is there any doubt that Bobby Petrino would win a ton of games in Knoxville? He rebuilt Louisville in less than two years, and we’d eliminate our offensive concerns because he’s scored a ton of points everywhere he’s been. Move on from Butch, and contact Petrino and see how much money he wants. The boosters, the athletic department, and the fan base are desperate for a winner. They’d foot the bill for $6 million a year if they knew Tennessee was going to start playing an exciting brand of football that led to victory after victory. And here’s a hot take: I think Petrino would take it because his ACC division is much tougher than Tennessee’s SEC East. Think about it; Petrino has to compete each and every year in division with Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney, two of the top 10-15 coaches in the country. Why not come to SEC East where the best coach is probably Jim McElwain, a borderline Top 20 guy? Petrino would dominate these guys and make Tennessee the favorites in the division every single season.
Get off your moral high horses people. No one’s defending Petrino’s past behavior, but in the words of Colin Cowherd, a lot of people have made mistakes on a motorcycle.
It’s time to get back to where this program should be. It’s time to move on from Butch Jones.