The time of Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones has been correctly labeled as the Error Era of Tennessee football. Mark Nagi called it the dysfunctional decade.
More than once I have been advised to just leave it alone, forget it, maybe it will go away.
If you are a glutton for punishment, you can revisit who made which mistakes. You undoubtedly know leadership was ineffective. You could flip a coin and decide who was worst. You can count how many years were spent wandering in the wilderness. The record against SEC foes was 23-49.
I never thought I would bother with this but time, even if it doesn’t heal, crusts over certain shortcomings.
During an extensive search for something really good Butch did for Tennessee, I found several satisfactory memories. On Nov. 1, 2014, at South Carolina, the coach sent forth Robert Joshua Dobbs for his first start at quarterback. He threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 166 and three scores.
As good as that reads, it was not decisive.
Tennessee trailed by 14 with 4:52 remaining but got even with 11 seconds to spare. The Vols managed to kick a field goal in overtime. The coach called Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett aside and said it would be OK if they knocked the Gamecocks out of three-point range. South Carolina kicked toward a tie from 58 yards. The kick failed.
Butch Jones’ 2015 team faked us out. The Vols found ways to lose to Oklahoma, Florida and even Arkansas. When they fell behind Georgia, 24-3 in the second quarter, the season smelled like spoiled fish.
It turned out the team wasn’t dead. In an amazing flurry, it won that game in the second half. It gave good effort against Alabama and won the next six.
Butch prevailed in the historic Battle at Bristol, September 10, 2016, without doing all that much. Virginia Tech contributed five turnovers. A large number of affluent fans bought into the summer hype. Some were seated close enough to see the game.
Two other inexplicable things happened that season. Tennessee stopped the gosh-awful losing streak to Florida. Success was slow developing. The Vols trailed 21-3 at halftime. Unhappy fans booed. Dobbs lost a pick on the first possession of the third quarter. I think I recall more boos.
Tennessee scored the next 35 points. Fans cheered.
A week later, the Vols had Georgia in vice grips but committed the unpardonable sin. They got beat deep on a pass with 10 seconds showing. Bulldogs celebrated all over the place. That was a mistake.
The penalty, 15 yards, another small one for offsides on the kickoff and an eventual 20-yard return by Evan Berry gave UT a last chance at the Georgia 43.
Dobbs avoided the rush and threw the ball far down the field. Jauan Jennings outjumped other end zone contestants. Georgia lost, 34-31. I do believe it was the happiest moment of Butch Jones’ time at Tennessee. Alas, happiness didn’t stay all that long.
After circling 9/10ths of the decade, I have finally arrived where I was originally going. Good men recruited by Butch Jones contributed to 2019 Tennessee improvement. If anything good happens this fall, they will be part of it.
Trey Smith, Ty Chandler, Josh Palmer, Kivon Bennett, Brent Cimaglia, K’Rojhn Calbert and several others who can play chose Tennessee while Butch was coach.
They heard and perhaps believed his theatrical rhetoric about brick-by-brick foundations, five-star hearts and championships of life.
Austin Pope, JaQuain Blakely and Jarrett Guarantano hung in there through the transition and reboot. Matthew Butler, Theo Jackson, Deandre Johnson, LaTrell Bumphus, Riley Locklear and Shawn Shamburger improved instead of giving up or moving on.
Jeremy Pruitt re-recruited some who had said they were coming to Tennessee before Butch was fired. Recruiting was not Butch’s worst weakness.
One of the major administrative mistakes of the Error Era was his puffy contract. I suppose buyout payments will eventually end. Interesting fragments of his influence remain. Don’t even try to calculate the cost.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.