Saturday, September 30, 2017

Georgia Just Ended The Butch Jones Era

Well, I suppose the only good thing about Tennessee losing 41-0 to Georgia today was that it made it plainly obvious to everyone, even the most ardent Butch supporters, those who go to sleep clutching their “2013 Vols Football: Brick by Brick” shirts, that a coaching change is not only necessary, but imminent. Hell, the only thing Butch could’ve done to hurt his stock more this afternoon was if he had run through the T holding hands with Osama Bin Laden and then caught a copy of General Neyland’s game maxims on fire at midfield.
There weren’t any high points, obviously. For one, I think we’ve got pretty good evidence through five games that new offensive coordinator Larry Scott, a guy who had never called plays before until this season, was about the worst hire imaginable. Tennessee hasn’t scored a touchdown in 4 of their 5 first quarters this season, and the play calling has been stale, unimaginative, mind-numbing, confusing, and disastrous on pretty much every series. Quinten Dormady, who was erratic and inaccurate all day, played the worst game of his short career, completing just 5 of 16 passes for 64 yards and two interceptions. John Kelly had only 44 rushing yards on 16 carries, and fumbled away Tennessee’s best offensive play of the day after he had the ball ripped away from him at the end of 44 yard catch and run. Of course, it’s hard for Kelly to do anything when the offensive line got destroyed for three and half hours and literally couldn’t open up any holes. The defense, which held strong early, eventually started getting pushed around and blown off the line of scrimmage, which led to them giving up 294 rushing yards.
I don’t think this was Butch’s worst coached game, but in typical, conservative Coach Jones fashion, the Vols had back-to-back possessions in the first half where they had the ball on Georgia’s side of the field facing a fourth and short. You have to know that Georgia’s defense is really tough to move the ball on, and that when they're on offense, they'd prefer to keep it on the ground and control the clock. Possessions are going to be limited, and points are going to be hard to come by. Why not take some chances? You can’t get two yards? You’re coaching for your life here, why not pull out all the stops and go down shooting?
Of course, what’s even most infuriating is listening to Butch's press conference afterwards. After not making an opening statement, Jones took some questions and basically just deflected everything and blamed everyone else. Hey brah, you’re the head coach, and even though a 41-0 beatdown isn’t all your fault, and at the end of the day, everything comes back to you. You’re the one that sets the tone for the program, the one who makes all the important decisions, the one who picks the players, and the one who hires the coaches. Just once it’d be nice to hear him blame himself for a poor Vol performance. Something like, “Yeah, we lost in all facets of the game today, but everything comes back to us as coaches, which in turn comes back on me. I didn’t do an adequate job of preparing us to play this week, and I have to be better”. Instead, it’s just a bunch of platitudes, Butchisms, blame deflecting, and coach speak.
It’s not going to get any easier; after the bye week, Tennessee still has games against South Carolina, (who looks competent), Alabama (gulp), LSU (a physical team like Georgia), Vanderbilt (frisky and competitive), and Kentucky (ditto). At this point, a 6-6 finish feels probable. Assuming that’s the case, and with the Vols heading into a bye week, is there any chance Butch gets fired tomorrow or Monday? Seems unlikely, if only because Butch and his staff somehow inexplicably have a buyout over $9 million. Which means athletic director John Currie would have to gather every power broker and influencer around the football program together and have a sit down before anything could be done. There may need to be some budging and pushing on those who aren’t willing to spend the money just quite yet. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not the best strategy. Why not cut your losses, punt on this year, fire Butch, promote some assistant, get a head start on the other programs that are about to make changes, and spend the entire month of October trying to woo either Chip Kelly or Bob Stoops? And if those guys aren’t going to budge or aren’t interested, then you’ll know that when you continue your search in November. It’s not even October yet and this team already can’t accomplish any of their preseason goals. What’s the point of keeping him around?

So if Butch does get axed in the next few days, the first move should be to load up that dump truck with all the cash you can find, drive it to Chip Kelly’s house, and unveil it in his front yard. Bring Chip to Knoxville. It’s time to start winning big.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

Is Butch's "Hot Seat" Cooler Than We Think?

Two weeks ago when Tennessee went on the road to Florida, stunk up the joint for three quarters, blew multiple scoring opportunities, pulled off an improbable late rally to tie the game, and then followed up all of that by losing on a Hail Mary, it felt like the last straw for Butch Jones. And when they followed up that game by slogging through a 17-13 win over 0-4 UMass, a program that had won just EIGHT games since 2014, that felt like the nail in the coffin. And when Butch went on his “fake news” rant at his media session on Monday, saying, “Sometimes the negativity is overwhelming, and if everyone is Vol fans, how do we let our opponents use that in the recruiting process with fake news?”, it felt like something a desperate henchman in a crime movie would say to avoid being whacked by his mob boss.
I said “felt”, because, incredibly, conventional wisdom seems to indicate that Butch would keep his job as long as Tennessee doesn’t get blown out by Georgia tomorrow AND has another 8 win season. There’s been no leaked angry booster stories, no indication from the University that they're weighing their options, and no sense from them that there's anything above the normal pressure to win.
All of this, of course, is mind boggling to me. What has Butch done to warrant keeping his job? What are his accomplishments? I can only think of three; he’s stayed out of NCAA trouble, the talent level on campus is significantly higher than it was when he got there, and the “oh there was a robbery on campus? Just make sure you get his jersey number” jokes are no longer topical. That’s it. The on-field results, of course, have been a massive letdown. He’s 0-4 against Alabama, 1-4 against Florida, 2-2 against Georgia, 2-2 against Vanderbilt, 6-16 against ranked teams, hasn't won the East yet, and has overseen so many bungled games that simply saying “they Butch’d it” completely communicates to the listener/reader what kind of loss you're talking about.
This isn’t Vanderbilt or Kentucky, where an eight-win season jazzes up the fanbase and causes them to say things like, “Wow, we’re really making some moves here! Watch out SEC! WE’RE ON THE RISE!”. But if I'm wrong, and that’s all the program is now, then sure, Butch should stay. If everyone is content with losing to Alabama every year, playing sloppier than a my adolescent bedroom each time against Florida, and having multiple clock management/play calling issues every game, then I’ll stop getting on here every time Butch decides it’s a good idea to throw 4 straight times inside the five yard line when his best player is a running back who hadn't been stopped all day.
Or, we could all take a look in the mirror, remember that this program won a national title not that long ago, and realize that if Tennessee is going to be the football team we all think it can be, then a change at the top is absolutely necessary. Butch, by all accounts, is a nice guy who cares about the players, but at the end of the day, his most important job requirement is to win games and championships. 8 wins and blowout bowl win over a mediocre Big Ten team isn’t good enough.
And if a change is made, then the athletic department is going to have to be willing to open the wallet and spend the cash. Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, etc. didn’t start winning big by Butching it and going cheap on a guy from Cincinnati. If Chip Kelly is available and interested in coaching, and this program actually cares about winning, then write the man a check for $6 million. They can certainly afford to do it.
Seriously, I don’t mean to come off as so negative, but I can’t envision a scenario where Butch suddenly reverses everything and starts rapidly improving as a game coach. It’s Year 5 for the man, and he’s got all of his own players in there now. There's no reasonable excuse for this team or Butch to be still making same mistakes every single week. Hell, if Josh Dobbs-to-Jauan Jennings Hail Mary didn’t happen last year, then the Vols lose to Georgin in basically the same way they lost the Florida game two weeks ago, when a defensive back got caught out of position and allowed a receiver to run right by him. Eventually, you’re just that coach.
Predictions for tomorrow? Isn't the most likely outcome another roller coaster ride for three and half hours, one riddled with turnovers and head-scratching play calling that ends with a miracle comeback, which is then immediately undone by a back-breaking play that leads to a devastating loss, one that leaves every Vol fan feeling like a battered housewife? Why wouldn't it be? A variation of that game happens every single week with Butch. I'm sure glad this is what we have to look forward to each week!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who Would The SEC Football Coaches Be If They Were In The Game of Thrones Universe?

Last weekend, as I plopped down on my brother Nick’s couch to watch football, we started talking about the latest Butch Jones meltdown, this time at the hands of Florida. As I relived the massive screw-ups, poor play, and game mismanagement that have become staples of Butch's tenure, this thought randomly popped into my head: if Butch Jones was a Game of Thrones character, who would he be? It probably had something to do with the fact that Butch and the newest season of GoT have been by far the biggest letdowns in my life the last two months. Plus, Nick is the perfect person to ask for a question like this, because he’s one of the few people on the planet who is a bigger fan of Thrones than I am. So as we discussed the answer to that question, the conversation naturally moved onto attempting to fill out where the rest of the SEC coaches would fit in the GoT world. We ironed out the details over the rest of week, before finally settled on the following list.

One point of order: I’m comparing these coaches only to their show counterparts, so if you’re a book reader, please don’t comment on this and say something like, “TYRION ISN’T ^%#$+%  LIKE THAT IN THE BOOK YOU #$*&%$  @$$(#(%,!!!” I know you all are raging because George R.R. Martin is going to croak before he finishes The Winds of Winter, but instead of harassing me, hop on Reddit or 4Chan and spill your pent up Lady Stoneheart/"David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are literally Hitler” anger there.

So, without further ado, here’s the list of SEC coaches, and their Game of Thrones counterparts….
(Warning: spoilers, obviously....)
Ed Orgeron, LSU, is Robert Baratheon

One of the easiest on the list. Both men are fun, jovial, loud, energetic, and large, but they also literally have no business running a major college football program, or reigning over seven kingdoms. Robert spends his days drinking, whoring, and eating, while Ed spends his losing by 30 to Mississippi State.

Nick Saban, Alabama, is Tywin Lannister

This one is perfect. Both are intimidating, calculating men who dominate the entire sphere that they occupy. Saban is the best coach in college football, and when Tywin assumes his post as Hand of King during Season 3, his presence and political will control and influence all of Westeros for the next two seasons. Both men, however, have also been undone by their fatal flaw; in Saban’s case, it’s a running quarterback in the spread offense, while Tywin’s was his son Tyrion, who put him down with a crossbow.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M, is Robb Stark

The Sumlin/Robb parallels are uncanny. Both got off to extremely hot starts by dealing defeats to the Tywin of their world (Sumlin knocked off Saban in 2012, his first year at A&M, and Robb did it by beating Tywin on the battlefield). Sumlin was declared a genius by the media, and Robb was robustly crowned King in the North. However, as both men continued in their positions, their flaws began to undo them. For Sumlin, it was his inability to have a competent defense, while Robb was destroyed by his poor decision making, and trust in the wrong people. Sumlin’s terrible defenses were Robb’s Theon Greyjoy, Roose Bolton, and Walder Frey mistakes all rolled into one. Plus, A&M’s blown 34 point lead in the first week of the season at UCLA was basically the equivalent of Robb blowing off his marriage commitment to one of the Frey girls because he was star struck by another hot piece of ass. Sumlin hasn’t had his Red Wedding moment yet, but that can only be when he gets fired at the end of the season.

Bret Bielema, Arkansas, is Theon Greyjoy

Life was never better than it was at the beginning for these two. Bielema had four 10 win seasons and won three Big Ten titles at Wisconsin, while Theon, thanks to his father’s unsuccessful and foolish rebellion against the crown, was taken in by the Starks and basically raised as one of Ned Stark’s sons. Despite the fact that he was for all intents and purposes a prisoner, the Starks did more than could’ve been expected for him, and he spent all of his formative years building relationships in Winterfell. I’m not sure things could’ve been much better for him, considering the circumstances that got him moved to Winterfell in the first place. However, both men, due to their own egos, decided it’d be a good idea to betray the very thing that was the best for them. For Bielema, that was to leave the comfort of Wisconsin, and travel south to Arkansas, while Theon traveled back to the Iron Islands and allowed himself to be convinced that betraying the Starks and the North was his best course of action. We all know how that turned out, of course. Bielema, in 4+ years at Arkansas, is a disastrous 26-28 overall and 10-23 in the SEC, and his loss to Texas A&M on Saturday has probably sealed his fate. Theon, meanwhile, stupidly took Winterfell, got betrayed by his men, had his manhood chopped off by Ramsay Snow, and spent the last 4 seasons vacillating between Reek and his former self. Sheesh. 

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, is Davos Seaworth

Both men owe a ton to their school/king, and because of this, they’ve remained loyal, even when they could’ve gone somewhere else, or things didn’t look so good. And because of their loyalty, they’ve been well compensated. State gave Mullen his first head coaching job, and despite multiple offers to go somewhere else, he’s always stayed, even though it’s apparent that the Bulldogs (like Stannis) don’t have a real shot of actually sitting on the Iron Throne/winning the SEC. And he's been paid well for his loyalty, $4.8 million a year to be exact. Davos was raised by Stannis from a pirate smuggler to a knight, thanks to his help during Robert’s Rebellion, and remained loyal to him despite everything, from their defeat at the Blackwater to the ride north of the wall. Eventually, for his service and loyalty, Davos was elevated higher than he ever could've imagined, as Stannis named him Hand of the King.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn, is Tyrion Lannister

Both reached their highest highs early on, Malzahn during his first year at Auburn in 2013, and Tyrion during Season 2, when he ruled as Hand of the King in his father’s place. If Malzahn’s “Prayer in Jordan Hare” was Tyrion’s cutting off Pycelle’s beard moment, then Auburn’s miracle “Kick Six” against ‘Bama was the equivalent of Tyrion’s wildfire in the Blackwater. Unfortunately, neither have been able to reach those highs again. Auburn blew a double digit lead to Florida State in the national championship game, and Tyrion had his face cut open and lost his place as Hand when his father returned. Malzahn spent the next few years without a competent quarterback or respectable defense, and Tyrion sat around and got wine poured over his head, lost verbal sparring matches with his father, was falsely accused of murdering Joffrey, and had to watch Oberyn, his champion, have his head popped like a ballon. They both have made comebacks in recent years though. Malzahn made the Sugar Bowl last season, while Tyrion murdered his father, escaped to Essos, and got himself named Dany’s Hand of the Queen.

Jim McElwain, Florida, is Daenerys Targaryen

Both of these people inherited tons of talent, but seem incapable of being able to fully implement it into the winning strategy that their followers/fans want. McElwain has one of the 7 or 8 best jobs in the country at Florida, a place with rabid fans, a willing administration, and hundreds of in state quality football players. Meanwhile, Dany was gifted three dragons, whose only weakness appears to be the Night King’s cannon arm. Along the way, she picked up the Unsullied, the best fighting force in Essos, and the Dothraki, the best horseman in the entire world. And she had the support of the Tyrells and the Martells. And what has she done with this immense talent? Not much really. The same can be said for McElwain. Honestly, how impressive is it really to win the SEC East/conquer Essos? The East has been a dumpster fire of coaches the last 2+ years, and McElwain just happens to be the least incompetent. He’s an offensive-minded coach that still hasn’t been able to figure out that side of the ball, which has led to multiple unwatchable, clogged toilet bowl Gator offensive performances since 2015. The incredible thing about all of this, of course, is that he’s won the East twice. The fact that that’s a reality just goes to show you how terrible everyone else has been in that division. This has been shown to be true, because every time he’s faced a competent coach (like Saban or Harbaugh), he’s been completely embarrassed. The same goes for Dany. I mean, when your most difficult foes in Essos are slave armies and slave masters, how difficult is it to actually defeat them? Which is why she’s been exposed as fraud since she arrived in Westeros. Any sane person, with the army she had, flies on the back of Drogon, along with the two other dragons, and burns the Red Keep to the ground, kills Cersei, takes the Iron Throne, and begins to rule. Do you think Aegon the Conqueror, who also had three dragons, would’ve decided to negotiate with Cersei, allow her to stay in power, or trust her to keep her promise to march North? Why do that when your goal is the throne and the armies you’d be facing in King's Landing literally have no realistic chance of stopping you? And if you’re concerned about the white walkers, keeping Cersei around, with the little troops she actually has left, literally makes no sense. Instead, Cersei’s still in power, the Tyrells and Martells are nonfactors/destroyed, she's lost a dragon, and she banged her nephew, someone who, for what it’s worth, has a better claim to the throne than she does. Not great.

Kirby Smart, Georgia, is Euron Greyjoy

Smart is Euron because I’m not sure what to make of either of them yet. Euron showed up and had a few great moments and one-liners, but then he basically just vanished from the the second half of Season 7, before reappearing in the finale for what was basically just a quick cameo. Smart won on the road at Notre Dame, blew out Mississippi State, and has Georgia in the top 10. I’m keeping my eye on both of them.

Will Muschamp, South Carolina, is Stannis Baratheon

If Muschamp’s firing at Florida was Stannis’s Blackwater moment, then his hiring at South Carolina was definitely Stannis’s re-emergence north of the Wall. Muschamp seems like a capable defensive coordinator, but would you really want him coaching your football team? Probably not. Stannis is assuredly a fine battle commander, but is anyone delusional enough to think that he’d make a great king? Besides Davos, Melisandre, and Stannis himself, there really isn’t. If Stannis’s inability to inspire love and loyalty, as well as his foolish, constant belief in Melisandre was his downfall, then Muschamp’s putrid offenses have been his undoing.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky, is Mance Rayder

Both are free spirits and loud mouths who look extremely intimidating and imposing, commanding armies/football teams that are supposedly “up and comers”. But instead, at the first sign of trouble, they fold faster than an employee at an Abercrombie. Mance’s inability to deal with Stannis’s calvary was like that time when Kentucky’s defense suddenly forgot that it was important to not let Florida’s receivers line up wide open and burn them for touchdowns.

Barry Odom, Missouri, is Tommen Baratheon

Both guys inherited rocky situations that they were ill-equipped to deal with, and no one has any real expectations that they’ll be able to make it significantly better. Odom took over the program right as the entire school was being decimated by fake racism protests (enrollment has dropped 35% since all of that started). Odom is just a football coach, and what appears to be a mediocre one at that, but he surely doesn’t have the skill set to deal with a dying university in a football-crazed conference. Meanwhile, Tommen, a child, suddenly became, in name only, the most powerful person in all of Westeros, and was forced to navigate King’s Landing, a notoriously corrupt city with a million different agendas and players moving chess pieces. Tommen’s situation gets worse when his only buffer, Tywin, gets gunned down by Tyrion, which allowed his mother to slide into a powerful position basically uninhibited. All of this eventually lead to the High Sparrow, the hijacking of the Crown by The Faith Militant, Cersei’s walk of shame, the destruction of the Sept of Baelor, and ultimately, Tommen’s suicide. Neither of these guys, unfortunately, had a real chance from the start.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt, is Littlefinger

Mason, like Littlefinger, has high aspirations for himself/the football program. However, both, no matter what they do, have no real shot of reaching their goals. Mason coaches Vanderbilt, the worst football school in the SEC, and Littlefinger’s last name is Baelish. He’s the lord of a small, not-very-prestigious holding, and there isn’t any amount of scheming that will bring him his ultimate desires, which are Sansa and the Iron Throne. The same goes for Mason. James Franklin did about as well as anyone could possibly hope to do at Vanderbilt, and even he couldn’t manage to be better than 9-4. Littlefinger worked his way up to have a seat on the Small Council; Mason got Vanderbilt to bowl eligibility last season. Realistically, that’s the best either can do, based on their circumstances. Anything higher than that leads to things like Littlefinger getting his throat cut, or Vanderbilt appearing on CBS and losing 59-0 to Alabama.

Matt Luke, Ole Miss, is Guy Who Helicoptered Cersei

Remember that guy? The one who ran out and showed off his package to Cersei during her walk of shame? The one who bragged about it loudly, and then had his head smashed into the wall by the Mountain as he relieved himself? Not a super memorable couple of scenes, but when I described it, you remembered it, right? Since Luke was always going to be a stop-gap, one year plan, his SEC run is basically nothing more than a forgettable character who gets three scenes before he meets his demise.

Butch Jones, Tennessee, is Mace Tyrell

Yes, at long last, we’ve reached the originator of this question, the Life Champion himself, Butch Jones. Why Mace Tyrell, might you ask? Because Mace is a bumbling fool who is the Liege Lord of a great and powerful house. Sounds an awful lot like Butch, right? From his uncomfortable song in Braavos, to his uninspiring speech in front of his men before they attempt to rescue his son and daughter from the High Sparrow, to his ridiculous garb, everything about the man screams, “Everyone else knows I’m in over my head except for me!”. You laugh at Mace Tyrell, and you know what he is. It sucks to have to root for him when he’s on the sidelines making all the major decisions for your football team.

Who is the Jon Snow of the SEC you might ask? Oh, that’s simple, that’ll be Chip Kelly when he takes over at Tennessee in 2018 and revitalizes the program and returns it to it’s former glory. Azor Ahai!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tennessee Just Pulled Off The Butchiest Loss Of Them All

Of all the bad Tennessee losses since 2015 (and there’s been a whole lot of them), this is by far the Butchiest. It had everything you’d ever want from a Butch-coached game; five million mistakes negating what was an absolute dominant performance by the Vols, terrible play calls at the most inopportune times, the entire fan base convulsing in frustration over and over again, the classic “we should send a dump truck full of cash to Chip Kelly’s house” texts I sent to my friends, a miracle comeback, and finally, a 66 yard hail mary on the final play. Just perfect.

For the thousandth time, what the hell are we waiting for? Is there anyone out there still defending Butch? This game was an absolute abomination, and coaching malpractice to the highest degree. Tennessee outgained Florida, tied in the turnover battle, won the time of possession by 5 minutes, and spent almost the entire 3rd quarter in Gator territory,  and they still lost.

The bomb to Tyrie Cleveland will be what everyone remembers, and Tennessee defensive back Micah Abernathy screwed up terribly by being way out of position, but the game completely turned during that 3rd quarter when the Vols had a 1st and goal from the one yard line and came away with nothing. We can thank Butch, offensive coordinator Larry Scott, and receiver Josh Palmer for that, as they wasted that golden opportunity by having a false start, a dropped pass by Palmer, a swing pass to John Kelly that lost yards, and an interception caused by Palmer when he stupidly forgot that he was running a slant pattern, which allowed a Gator defensive back jump in front of him for the easiest turnover of the night. Great sequence! 

John Kelly (19 carries, 141 yards) was awesome running the ball from about the second quarter on; why not just turn and hand it to him three straight times? But instead, they decided to throw three consecutive passes from the five yard line, two of which targeted Palmer, who is realistically their 6th most dangerous offensive weapon. The play calling was inexcusable and horrendous.

Positives? Besides Kelly, who was a monster and the best player on field, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot. Dormady showed some poise, but he threw three picks and isn’t anywhere close to being the best quarterback for this offense. The defense did their part until Abernathy let Cleveland run by him, and this might’ve been the worst performance I’ve ever seen from Tennessee’s kicking game. Three missed field goals and a kickoff out of bounds just can’t happen.

And what's so frustrating is that this Vol team is extremely talented! The offensive line is probably the best Butch has had since he’s been there, Kelly and Callaway are both NFL players, and the defense is a solid group that does an excellent job of forcing turnovers. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have beat this inferior Florida team that runs a clogged toilet bowl offense by three touchdowns. Hell, if UF coach Jim McElwain (who is far from being even a good coach) and Butch switched places, Tennessee wins 31-10 and the fan base is looking forward to a matchup with an undefeated Georgia team in two weeks. Instead, it’s Butch’s 4th devastating loss to Florida in five tries. 

Sure, Tennessee could still win the rest of their non-conference games, beat Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Missouri, and then win one of the South Carolina-Alabama-Georgia-LSU games and finish 8-4, but would that make you feel any better about Butch? Another 8-4 season with god knows how many blown games? Is 8-4 all we expect?

Which is why the only good thing about the loss was that it's become obvious to everyone that there should be a new coach in Knoxville in 2018. About the only good thing Butch has done in his 4+ seasons is restore the talent in the program, which makes the job infinitely more attractive than it was when he accepted the position in December of 2012.

There’s no reason Tennessee, a program that can afford to pay a coach 5+ million a year, in a division, the SEC East, that’s full of a bunch of coordinators and gym teachers masquerading as FBS coaches, couldn’t hire someone like a Chip Kelly to come in and start winning big almost instantly. They’ve got the talent, resources, fan support, and desire in the athletic department to do it. So why not fill up a dump truck full of cash, drive to Chip Kelly’s house, dump it in his front yard, and beg him to come coach this team next season?

So without further ado, here’s my wish list of candidates to replace Butch. Start at the top, keep the dump truck full, and drive it around until someone says yes. 

1. Chip Kelly
My top choice. He’s an offensive guru, he won big at Oregon, a place with almost no in-state talent, and he’s just 53, meaning he’s still in his coaching prime and would be able to hang around for a few years. Plus, he could team back up with his former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to bring that legendary up tempo attack east. Nick Saban has bitched and moaned for years about playing offenses like the one Kelly runs, mostly because he's struggled to stop them. If beating Saban is the goal (and ultimately, it should be), then you won't find a better man for the job than Kelly. 

2. Bob Stoops
Stoops, who won a national title at Oklahoma in 2000, also won the Big 12 ten times during his eighteen years there. He also has SEC ties, dating back to his days as Florida’s defensive coordinator. Plus, he's only 57 years old, and he beat Saban in the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season. Of course, he did abruptly retire this summer, and sources have said that he doesn’t plan on coaching again. Hell, maybe he just needed a season to recharge his batteries. Those OU people are nuts. It doesn’t hurt to call! 

3.Bobby Petrino
Yeah I know, he’s a snake and more shady than Marshall Mathers, but the guy has won a lot of games at Arkansas and Louisville, and he runs an exciting offense that scores a lot of points. 

4. Jon Gruden
Yeah, he’s not coming to Knoxville, but his name always has to be on the list when Tennessee has a job opening. I’d put him higher if I thought there was an actual chance of him coming to Tennessee, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’d be the perfect college football coach. High energy, kooky personality, likable….. 

5. Dan Mullen
Mullen has been in the SEC since 2005, and he’s been able to make Mississippi State relevant year in and year out. The only problem is that he shockingly makes $4.8 million a year. Not sure he’s leaving that for a little bit more money, even if Tennessee is far superior program. 

6. Mike Gundy
Honestly I’d hire him just for the mullet. Gundy is 107-50 at Oklahoma State, and like Kelly and Petrino, runs an up tempo, high scoring attack. He does make 4.2 million a year, but Tennessee could top that amount if they really wanted him. However, it could be difficult to pry him away, since Oklahoma State is his alma mater. 

7. Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre has built both San Jose State and Colorado back into respectable programs, he’s both played and coached in the SEC, and he only makes $2.2 million per year. 

8.  PJ Fleck
Fleck is only 36 years old, and he’s never spent time in the SEC, but there probably isn’t a more energetic guy in college football than him. He had Western Michigan in a New Years Six bowl game last year, and if I had to bet on an under 40 coach to be wildly successful, I’d pick Fleck. I’d have him higher, but he is in just his first year at Minnesota, and I’m not sure he’d leave. 

9. Les Miles
While he’s far from my first choice, but he did average 10 wins a year at LSU, and his recruiting was always first rate. He’s 63, but he still seems to be interested in coaching. At worst, he’d keep the talent rolling in, and he wouldn’t inexplicably blow 4 games a year. 

10. Derek Dooley

Just kidding. Though even I’m not sure Dooley is capable of blowing the game today like Butch did.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

How The Hell Are The Vols 1-0?

The offense was abominable for most of the first half, the defense couldn’t tackle and gave up more than 500 rushing yards, the Tech offense controlled the ball for TWENTY THREE MORE MINUTES, and yet, Tennessee somehow found a way to win despite the entire fan base giving up on the program 500 different times during the night. 

I have no problem admitting I was one of them. After Dormady played one of the worst first halves ever played by a Tennessee quarterback (he was 8-20 for 53 yards), I thought they should’ve rolled the dice and started the second half with redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. They didn't have anything to lose, though not that it would’ve mattered, considering the receivers couldn’t have caught the Black Plague if they were all dropped in medieval Europe. The defense, after a stellar first two possessions, suddenly couldn’t get off the field. Tech drove the field on them all night, scoring touchdowns on drives of 12 plays for 86 yards, 16 plays for 75 yards, 11 plays for 80 yards, and 7 plays for 75 yards.

I still have no idea how Tennessee won. Dormady got into a little bit better of a rhythm in the second half, and for as bad and uncomfortable and stiff as he looked in the first half, the final drive of regulation, a 7 play, 93 yard push that was capped off by one of John Kelly’s 4 rushing touchdowns, was extremely impressive, considering every Vol fan watching had already given up on him.

A few plays, and this game turns out totally different, of course:
  • Defensive back Rashaan Gaulden made an incredible chasedown tackle to force a fumble when Tech was on their way to a game-clinching touchdown. 

  • After Kelly's tying score with less than a minute and half in regulation, Tennessee inexplicably allowed the passing inept Yellow Jacket offense to drive their way into field goal range by throwing the ball. Luckily, Tech’s kicker Shawn Davis, who had shanked an attempt badly earlier in the half, kicked the ball lower than Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz, which allowed Tennessee’s Paul Bain to swat it out of the air. 

  • After the Yellow Jackets scored their touchdown in the second overtime to make it 42-41, they ran a terrible, incomprehensibly dumb two point play. Rather than attack the soft middle of the defense and pick up five yards like they had been able to do all night, they instead tried to run off tackle and right into the waiting arms of the Tennessee defense. Great moment for me, of course, but what the hell was that? You’ve been blasting them off the line of scrimmage all night, why not just do that again? If any of these plays turned out differently, then Tech wins the game and someone finally breaks down buys the domain for “”.

I don’t think Butch really did anything to change the narrative around himself (having a trash can that defensive players dunk turnovers into is so Butch it hurts), but a loss, particularly with as bad as they looked for large stretches of the game, probably sends the entire season into a tailspin. But a victory, as well as a few standout Vol players, at least appeases the fan base enough to think that there’s no way they’ll go into Gainesville in two weeks and blow it against a Florida team that may have the worst offense in the SEC. No way that happens, right?

Other positives:
  • John Kelly was awesome last night, piling up 128 rushing yards on just 19 carries to go along with his aforementioned 4 rushing touchdowns. He seemed to get stronger throughout the game, and that’s due in part to his offensive line, who started winning some battles upfront in the second half. It was really concerning in the first half when they struggled to block Tech’s three man fronts, and seemed incapable of opening a hole bigger than a crawlspace, but to their credit, they didn’t give up any sacks, and they only allowed the Yellow Jackets one tackle for a loss. 

  • After a dreadful first half by the entire Vol receiving core, sophomore Marquez Callaway stepped up in the second half, hauling in 4 catches for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 50 yard TD catch and run in the 3rd quarter, and an acrobatic leaping grab that went for a long gainer on the Vols final TD drive of regulation. With Jauan Jennings reportedly out for 12 weeks with a wrist injury, and the return of Josh Smith still up in the air, Tennessee is going to be relying heavily on Callaway. Let’s hope he’s up for it. He’s certainly looks talented enough.

  • It’s difficult to praise anyone on the defense, but sophomore linebacker Daniel Bituli looks like he’ll be a monster going forward, as he totaled 23 tackles and forced a fumble in the first half that led to Tennessee’s first touchdown.

I have no idea how the rest of the season is going to turn out, but I know for a fact it's not going to get any easier for Butch. And I know last night won't be the last time I send my dad texts like, "is it acceptable to fire a coach in the middle of the third quarter", or "Kelly-Helfich 2018". The balls in your court Butch. Keep proving us wrong.

Monday, September 4, 2017

2017 Tennessee Football: 9-4 Again?

Last year, I declared that 2016 was the most important Tennessee football season in almost 20 years. I thought this because Butch, then heading into his fourth year on the job, had finally assembled a veteran, talent-loaded, top ten team with a favorable schedule, and that anything worse than winning the SEC East would be a massive disappointment, and potentially, a fireable offense.

We all know how it turned out, of course: a series of extreme highs and painstakingly frustrating lows, all which culminated in a 4-4 conference record and a waste of the most talented Vol team of the last decade. Sure, I’ll never forget the 21-0 comeback against Florida that squashed our 11 year streak of misery, or the Dobbsnail Boot across Georgia’s nose, but along with those glorious moments came the 7 turnover game against Texas A&M, the bizarre Appalachian State game, ‘Bama’s 49-10 drubbing in Knoxville, the inexcusable South Carolina and Vanderbilt losses, the 500 different defensive injuries, Jalen Hurd’s confusing midseason , and Butch finally proving to everyone that he’s a gym teacher incapable of guiding the program back to national prominence.

So now we’re in 2017, and I’m not sure there’s all that much for anyone in Vol Nation to be excited about. Last year’s quarterback, Josh Dobbs, is in the NFL now, and while Butch has yet to formally announce the new starter at that position, it’ll more than likely be junior Quinten Dormady, who has just 39 career pass attempts. There’s also a new offensive coordinator, Larry Scott, who was Tennessee’s tight end coach last season. Scott, who has never called plays before, sports a sterling resume:
  • ·         Played offensive tackle at South Florida from 1996-99
  • ·         Had a plurality of different high school coaching jobs in Florida from 2001-04
  • ·         Grad assistant at USF in 2006
  • ·         Tight end coach at USF from 2007-08 and from 2010-11
  • ·         Offensive line coach at USF in 2009
  • ·         Running back coach at USF in 2012
  • ·         Tight end coach at Miami from 2013-15
  • ·         Interim head coach at Miami in 2015 (went 4-2)
  • ·         Tight end coach at Tennessee in 2016
  • ·         Whoops, that’s it

Yeah, because that’s going to beat Saban!

Other departures include one of the best pass rushers in school history, Derek Barnett, as well as their all purpose yards leader from last season, Alvin Kamara. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cam Sutton, and last year’s leading receiver Josh Malone are also all gone to the NFL. Darrin Kirkland Jr., an All-SEC freshman team performer at linebacker in 2015, is out for the year after having surgery on his meniscus, and receiver Josh Smith and defensive tackle Shy Tuttle are both game time decisions for tonight’s opener against Georgia Tech.

On offense, Tennessee will be relying a lot on junior running back John Kelly to be an absolute monster and cornerstone piece of their attack. He’s certainly talented enough to throw up Kamara-like numbers, but it’s concerning that they’ll be depending this much on a guy who only has 138 rushing attempts and 6 catches in two seasons of college ball. Wide receiver is even more of a problem area. Sure, Jauan Jennings has great hands, but he’s not exactly a speed guy, or someone that demands safety help over the top or double teams. Yes yes, I know he “burnt” Jalen Tabor, but if you go back and watch that touchdown, from the Florida game, he doesn’t really explode to the end zone. If anything, it seems surprising that he didn’t get caught by one of UF’s defensive backs before he crossed the goal line, considering he's running at the speed of an overweight jogger trying to burn off too many Diet Cokes. 

And if Josh Smith does miss significant time, then the Vols will be begging for one of the inexperienced guys from the Marquez Callaway-Jeff George-Tyler Byrd group to step up and start making plays. Not great.

And then there’s the offensive line, a unit that was leakier than Travis Henry's condoms last season. If they aren’t any better, then it won’t matter how great Dormady and Kelly could be, because everything they’ll try to do will get blown up behind the line of scrimmage before it even gets going. I was critical of Josh Dobbs last year because of his inaccuracy as a passer and his recklessness with the football, but to be fair, it'd be difficult for anyone to look composed behind that offensive line. I mean he was pretty much running for his life every single week, and the only reason Tennessee ended up being a competent offense last season was because Dobbs was a super athlete who could escape the pocket and make plays. Dormady isn’t a statue, but he’s also not close to the athlete Dobbs was, so if they can’t block for him, he’ll either guide the Vols to single digit points every week, or get carted off the field with like 15 different fractures by the Florida game. If the hype is correct, true freshman guard Trey Smith should help, because from all accounts he's an animal who absolutely whoops everyone that's ever been put in front of him. Let's hope so. 

Defense isn’t as up in the air. Sure, losing Barnett, Reeves-Maybin, Kirkland, and Sutton isn’t a great thing, but they’ve got enough talent and experience on that side of the ball to be a quality unit. Senior Todd Kelly Jr. led the team in tackles last season, and the Tech game will be the 36th game of his college career. Linebacker Colton Jumper is limited athletically, but he plays hard, and he was probably the Vols second best front seven player after Barnett last year. The Kahlil McKenzie-Shy Tuttle-Kendal Vickers-Alexis Johnson defensive tackle rotation has a chance to be really good if they can stay healthy, and defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, linebacker Cortez McDowell, safety Nigel Warrior, and defensive back Rashaan Gaulden are all somewhat experienced players who were highly sought after before they chose to come to Tennessee. On paper, they should be able to push people around and generate a consistent pass rush. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, of course.

The schedule, like most years, is brutal. Playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta isn’t really a road game, but I wouldn’t say it’s a neutral site game either. In conference, they have road games against Florida (The Vols have a tortured history in Gainesville, and have only won three times there since 1971), ‘Bama (probably the best team in the country), Kentucky (a supposed dark horse in the SEC East), and Missouri (they put up 72 points on Saturday). Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt all come to Knoxville, and besides Vandy, which of those games are definite wins? Georgia should be better in year two under Kirby Smart, LSU looks like a competent, bruising squad (they absolutely dominated BYU on Saturday night) and South Carolina beat Tennessee last year and scored one of the more impressive wins in the country over the weekend, a seven point victory on a neutral field over a veteran NC State team. Oh, and the Gamecocks’ head coach Will Muschamp is 3-0 against Butch. Good luck!

And finally, there’s Butch. Entering his fifth year in Knoxville, the only thing he’s proven so far is that he likes platitudes and slogans, and that no matter what the expectations are, he can always underperform them. I think we have pretty good evidence that Tennessee is never going to win anything substantial with him at the helm. Last year was pretty damning; how do they, with as much talent as they had, beat Florida and Georgia and still not win the East? How do they blow the Vanderbilt and South Carolina games? How do they look unprepared and flat in almost every first half?

I’d love for Butch to prove me wrong. Seriously. Jones seems to be a nice guy who tries to do things the right way, but hugging babies, rolling out new catchphrases every week, and recruiting players with “five star hearts” shouldn’t be his top priority, or the main selling point for him keeping his job.
The Vols should win tonight. They’ve got more talent than the Yellow Jackets, and they’ve had an entire off-season to prepare for Tech’s unusual triple option attack. Of course, there’s a lot of things they haven’t done during the Butch era that they were supposed to do…. like win the SEC East. So I’d basically believe any outcome. Winning by three touchdowns seems just as likely as losing by three touchdowns and giving up 400 yards rushing.  

Regardless, 9-4 and another January bowl game victory against a middling Big Ten team seems about right for this squad. And if that’s the case, then Butch’s seat keeps getting hotter. I wonder when it will explode.