Our current crisis isn’t really about dearly departed Butch Jones. It is about Tennessee football, rich in tradition, elite for decades at a time, back in the ditch, maybe the worst team in the Southeastern Conference.
Our infamous oh-for-six is an ouch! Never has Tennessee lost eight SEC games in a single season. LSU and Vanderbilt can set a record, muddy more minds and break more hearts.
The shortcomings and disappointment of the past five years weren’t really Jones’ fault. He did what he does very well. He polished his best sales pitch and took all night to keep saying the same thing three different ways.
Butch wore out Dave Hart in the beginning. The athletics director bought it. He seriously misinterpreted, miscalculated or honestly thought a square peg would fit into a round hole.
Dave expected Butch to do something he couldn’t do. Butch didn’t know much about SEC football. He had never coached at this level. He had seen very little of this different world.
Now we know what we suspected earlier, that he was much better at talking a good game than coaching one. He is 14-24 against SEC foes. Enough already.
Remember the launch? Jones and Hart met at 10 on the night of Dec. 6, 2012. They talked until 6 a.m. about the goal and how-to-do-it of bringing a once dominant program back to life. The previous athletics director and his two picks had buried it.
Butch projected the illusion that he knew what he was doing. He said it’s mostly about players – recruiting, developing, mentoring.
Butch recited minor-league accomplishments, where he had been, what he had done, conference co-championships collected. He just happened to mention that Nick Saban had no SEC experience when he came into the SEC.
Hart was more trapped than intrigued. Hot-wire Tennessee fans were restless. They were very tired of losing. They were ticked about public turndowns. Some were shocked that Jon Gruden didn’t want the job.
A few were beginning to wonder if Hart was big enough to solve the problem.
Hart really needed a coach. Butch sounded like one. He had cropped hair. He had a mostly clean reputation, if you ignored whispers of occasional eruptions and possible player abuse. He was not too big for his britches. Come on down!
No windows were blown out by the excitement but some fans were optimistic. Some wondered what exactly is a Butch Jones? One expressed succinctly that he had to better than Derek Dooley.
I preserved other comments:
“I like my first impression of Butch. Hope he can coach, too.”
“Tennessee will win a national championship with CBJ – but not this year.”
“Butch Jones sounds a lot like Lane. The difference may be that Butch means what he says.”
“Wonder if we should wait until he beats Alabama a time or two before putting up a statue.”
We realists are still waiting.
The summation of the Butch years is simple. He produced a stream of successful recruiting classes without comparable results. A fortune was wasted. Talent evaluation was in error or coaches failed to develop the prep stars. It appeared some actually regressed.
We know for sure that too many went away. A disproportionate number were injured. Somewhere under the cloak of secrecy is an actual explanation. There were too many outs for bad luck.
Returning Tennessee to championship contention won’t be as difficult as it was when Butch accepted the challenge. He improved the roster and culture. Some of his wise sayings can be framed. Facilities are fancy. Phillip Fulmer and Peyton Manning are available as counselors or at least ornaments. Could be some of the fog has lifted from the high chairs.
The search is on. It will be brief. There is no confusion about the critical need to restore order, cost be damned. As Butch might say, it is totally unacceptable to have Vanderbilt snickering behind our backs.
After all, we are Tennessee. Oops, questionable verb choice. We were Tennessee.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is email@example.com