What we have here, right before our eyes, is the maturation of Butch Jones as a football coach. Some might call it learning on the job.
He survived the off-season — recruiting, community visits, SEC media interrogation and a crazy day at ESPN — without shooting himself in the foot. He had one little blunder, saying last season was not a disappointment. He amended that statement. Sort of.
When Butch talks, he is a lightning rod that attracts a lot of snap, crackle and pop. He is a natural at creating difference of opinion.
Let’s guess Tennessee has two million football fans of varying degrees of intensity and influence. A relative few are happy as larks, whistling Rocky Top, chirping about the upcoming season, delighted with the new Atlanta stadium seat assignments and concession prices.
Others (not a majority) have concluded Butch can’t win all games, just can’t get the job done to their satisfaction. They are already waving their arms for attention. They will want to fire him as soon as Georgia Tech scores a touchdown.
A larger group remembers how it was a few years ago and accepts how it is. They are lukewarm optimistic but their big dreams are on hold. This is who we are, not bad, not bad at all.
There is another group that frowns on 4-4 against Southeastern Conference foes, says that is simply not good enough and that third place in the East just won’t get it. Alas and alas, nobody has a clue what to do about that.
I know where I stand. I do not want Butch fired.
I’ve already seen that show. Before the curtain goes up, the director had better know how he is going to make all things better. Firing Phillip Fulmer was a terrible idea when measured against Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. That was one weird walk through the wilderness. There was no map, no script.
There is a sharp difference of opinion about whether Butch is actually sitting on the proverbial hot seat. Sports Illustrated says he is but that it is not all that hot. CBS warns of blisters.
Anthony Darelle “Booger” McFarland, colorful analyst for the SEC Network and sometimes ESPN, was pro-Tennessee last season but now says the outlook is abysmal. That got my undivided attention. I had no idea football players learned such words at LSU.
SEC media (writers, broadcasters, bloggers, talk-show hosts and maybe a few fans with connections), meeting in executive session, didn’t give the orange team much respect. Poll results were confusing.
Butch recruits nationally ranked classes and spends millions on position coaches, mentors, tutors, trainers, publicists and nutritionists. Are we to believe all those prep stars, so nurtured, fail to develop and thus fade into obscurity?
There is obviously a difference of opinion about the upcoming team. Some think it will be better than last year. Fans stumble when trying to explain why. OK, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will surely do more to win and new assistant coaches are thought to be upgrades. Will Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano really be better than Joshua Dobbs? The offensive line looks promising but who will play defensive tackle?
I and the law of averages say there will be fewer injuries. That will be a blessing.
There has been one wonderful breakthrough in the evaluation of the main man doing year 5. Butch is on the list to be considered for national coach of the year. The Dodd Trophy promotions committee says there is more to great coaching than winning games.
“The Dodd Trophy, college football’s most coveted coaching award, celebrates the head coach of a team that enjoys success on the gridiron while also stressing the importance of scholarship, leadership and integrity.”
Imagine that — plus points for graduation rate, commitment to service and charity in the community. Wow!
“Coach of the year” sure sounds good. Butch has the second segment of criteria down pat. His chances for first prize will take off if the Vols take off. What he and we need is to start 5-0. We can worry about Vanderbilt later.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is [email protected]