As a five-touchdown underdog, Butch’s best option is to negotiate.
Nick Saban’s football persona is that of a stone-cold killer. Critics have called him merciless. That is their explanation for 59-0 over Vanderbilt and 66-3 over Ole Miss.
Somewhere deep inside is undoubtedly a swath of kindness. You know he doesn’t want Butch to be fired. Nick and Butch are friends. They belong to the same fraternity.
Perhaps there is a way to get Saban to understand …
Long, long ago, in 1928, a relatively new football coach at Tennessee, young Bob Neyland, then only a major, ran a little con job on mighty Alabama.
He asked the famous Wallace Wade for an opportunity to test his inexperienced but promising team against the bully Crimson Tide, always on a winning streak, twice champions of the Rose Bowl.
Coach Wade, with just a hint of a smile, said “I suppose we could accommodate you on the third Saturday in October, come on down.”
On that fateful day, Neyland played his second smart card. He asked Wade to cut the game short if Alabama built up too big a lead.
“You could just let the clock run during timeouts.”
Shortly thereafter, the Volunteers unloaded the first stack of bricks for the foundation of what became one of the great college rivalries in the country.
Picture this: A boastful man in the stands, with an artsy A on the front of his cap, had a great wad of folding money, hundreds, maybe thousands. He dropped a few fives and didn’t even bother to pick them up.
In a loud, haughty voice, he offered odds that Alabama would score more touchdowns than Tennessee would make first downs.
He was still waving his arms and soliciting suckers when Vol sophomore Gene McEver returned the opening kickoff 98 yards. Witnesses insisted that the rich man vanished, disappeared, perhaps evaporated right before their eyes.
Tennessee upset Alabama that day, 15-13.
It would be a better story to say never again would the Volunteers be taken lightly. That wouldn’t be true. But, Neyland went 12-5-2 against Alabama. Phillip Fulmer teams won seven in a row.
Butch Jones, being a skilled orator, known for arranging wise words into memorable sayings, should try to make a deal with Nick Saban. The man must have a heart. He could turn the game over to red reserves without being accused of shaving points. National playoffs are on the horizon. Subs need experience.
Just think what a touch of kindness and mercy would do for Nick’s reputation. Little children would write love letters. Tennessee moms would send cookies, platters of then, and maybe an upside-down cake. Jaundiced sportswriters would be deeply touched. They would do a “Chicago” and vote twice each in the polls.
Butch’s best chance is something for nothing. His battered and beaten Volunteers are no match for Alabama. Butch’s team appears bewildered. It is for sure disappointed. The offense is inept. The defense couldn’t stop a mediocre South Carolina running game with the best back injured. The Gamecocks absolutely dominated the second half.
Until the end, that is.
The Vols created a highly unlikely closing opportunity. They actually hit a big play. Alas, as is customary in the clutch, they failed to execute.
Someday, when we look back at the first half of this season, even as we forever fret and complain about poor play against Southeastern Conference foes, I do believe we’ll remember one positive.
These Volunteers didn’t quit. They missed blocks and tackles. They false-started and committed real fouls. They dropped passes and endured turnovers. They were confused about assignments. Even Trevor Daniel sometimes outkicked his coverage.
But, this team never gave up.
I hope we can still say that after Saturday. Surely Butch can help.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is [email protected]