Before it is all said and done …
Some of the loudest critics of Butch Jones haven’t considered what the coach has done at Tennessee.
For just $20 million or so, he raised us up from the football dead. He reconstructed the roster, changed the culture and gave us two seasons of nine victories each.
His version of Tennessee once had an actual winning streak. His program was nationally ranked. So soon we forget.
Opinions differ about when the recession was identifiable. The offensive scheme wouldn’t work without a mobile quarterback. In-game adjustments were minimal or absent. The offensive line was never as good as it looked in photographs. There were days when the Vols were defenseless.
One reader said in 2015 that Butch was coaching on borrowed time. Errors in the Oklahoma game were compounded by explanations. Clock management was fuzzy. He called time at a very bad time in the Florida game.
And, there was that anonymous chart about when to kick an extra point. Maybe there was a typo.
I got an earful about struggles against inferior opponents. The Vols nipped Appalachian State in overtime and avoided disaster – on Jalen Hurd’s recovery of a fumble.
Recruiting sounded good. Dropouts reduced values. Development became an issue. What happened in strength and conditioning was undoubtedly a blunder, a give-in, allowing key players to make decisions above their pay grade.
Changing other assistants appeared to be a positive step. There is no proof. Could be selections were based on sales skills instead of ability to instruct.
Some believe Dave Hart, in the beginning, should have suspected that Butch’s background was inadequate for jungle leadership.
Butch isn’t from royalty, some famous coaching tree. He grew up in Saugatuck, a tourist town on Lake Michigan, not exactly a gridiron hub.
There are art galleries, the marina, unusual stores and the scenic view from atop Mount Baldhead. If you are looking for football, think elsewhere, Texas or Ohio or …
Butch was not a Notre Dame all-American. He walked on at Ferris State. Injuries ended his wide receiver career and turned him into a coaching aide as a college junior.
He worked his way up at Division III Wilkes University. Only a few know where that is.
He returned to his alma mater, moved on to Central Michigan as tight ends coach and advanced to calling plays. His only at-bat in the big leagues was at West Virginia – for a short-short.
Butch has personality. He was convincing in interviews. He returned to Central Michigan as head coach, replacement for Brian Kelly. He again replaced Kelly at Cincinnati. He resents the implication that he rode on Kelly’s coattails.
Incidentally, both places declined under Jones but he bounced back at both places. There is the haunting memory that as Cincinnati coach, he lost to Derek Dooley.
Incidentally 2, when compared to Dooley, Butch has been a rousing success.
Tennessee fans demand more but they are not impossible. They are passionate, thank goodness. They would like to win a few championships. They expect the Volunteers to be competitive against all who come this way. No excuses.
Tennessee last won the SEC East 10 years ago. Alas, Phillip Fulmer’s career was overshadowed by what have you done lately? The answer was not enough. Only recently has he been forgiven.
The “good old days” at Tennessee may not resonate as much with Butch as they do with mature fans (and power brokers). He can only imagine what it was like here at the peak. He has said, more than once, that Tennessee is much better than when he arrived. Correct he is, but that is a poor measuring stick.
Some of the other stuff Butch said worked against him.
“The best coaching staff in the country” was an obvious exaggeration. Brick by brick was neatly descriptive until it backfired. Critics and ESPN snickered at his “champions of life” and “five-star hearts.”
Butch really needed a speech-writer and stage manager to signal when to stop.
Good times? Choose the highlights. The 2016 Hail Mary victory over Georgia would be the easy pick except for the defensive error that created the scene. Worst times? Last year at Vandy, the inexplicable exhibition against UMass and what Georgia inflicted last month come to mind.
You didn’t ask but I still like Butch. He works at his job. You get to decide how much effort matters without meaningful results.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org