Tag Archives: Butch Jones

Pondering and Power Rating the SEC

It took me a few days to muster up my enthusiasm for college football after the brutal, inexcusable loss in Baton Rouge, and now I am actually now looking forward to the games this weekend. With that, here are my power ratings on the SEC.

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Texas A&M
  4. LSU
  5. Auburn
  6. Kentucky
  7. South Carolina
  8. Florida
  9. Miss State
  10. Ole Miss
  11. Arkansas
  12. Tennessee
  13. Vanderbilt
  14. Missouri

Auburn has a better football team than LSU, but LSU deserves to be rated ahead of AU by virtue of its win on Saturday. That could right itself by season’s end. The Bayou Bengals could have a big letdown this coming Saturday at Ole Miss, and the Rebels had to gain some confidence by whipping Vandy. The bottom 4 teams are utterly miserable, at this point, but Auburn better watch out for Arkansas. The Tigers are beat up and have to be a bit demoralized after the loss to LSU. We’ll see what they’re made of Saturday.

Bama continues to dominate, but Georgia is for real and both teams could be undefeated entering the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs’ schedule certainly is not daunting although there are some potential pitfalls on there, especially Auburn at Auburn and Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Texas A&M is a sleeper and has an opportunity to make some noise before it’s all said and done. Watch out for the Aggies.

“Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.”

Kentucky? If it can get by Mississippi State, in Starkville, that could be a springboard to a very good season. The Wildcats could even make a New Year’s Day bowl game.

Conversely, if State beats Kentucky its record would be 5-2 and the Bulldogs might be poised for a run in its last 5 games. Games with Texas A&M and Alabama would loom large. The fact-of-the-matter is, State will not beat Alabama and it is doubtful to come home with a win in College Station. But win the others and that would put them at an impressive 8-4.

Cock-a-doodle-do! South Carolina is also sporting a 5-2 record and don’t forget that one of those wins came against a very good North Carolina State team. Georgia, Florida and Clemson are huge obstacles to a sterling season in Columbia.

Over in the other Columbia, the Missouri Tigers are truly stinking the woods up with a 1-5 record at its halfway point in 2017. There are a few potential wins left on the Tigers’ slate, most notably this Saturday versus Idaho and the following weekend at UConn. But Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Arkansas are winnable games for Mizzou.

Florida is a mediocre 4-3 and facing an almost certain loss to Georgia in that heated rivalry. Missouri, South Carolina, UAB, and Florida State conclude the Gators schedule and those games are all possible wins or losses. Don’t laugh at the possibility of a UAB victory in The Swamp. Bill Clark has the Blazers playing remarkably good football, especially when one considers that this team hadn’t played a game in two years before the 2017 campaign began.

We haven’t even mentioned Tennessee except by name. I don’t know if ‘dumpster fire’ is even an adequate description for what is taking place up on Rocky Top. But, historically, November has been the month when the Vols really tend to make hay. But Alabama might beat them mercilessly on this Third Saturday in October and that could complete the demoralization process in Knoxville. Butch Jones is probably coaching his last game as head man of the Vols.

After a 3-0 start the Vanderbilt Commodores have lost 4 straight games and are headed south with a bullet. The schedule is doable (South Carolina, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee) but it will have to pick up the pace to make a bowl game.

That’s my take on the Southeastern Conference here and today. A lot of football remains to be played and who knows what portends as we look down the stretch of the 2017 college football season. Good luck to you and your favorite teams!

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Image via Flickr/getmahesh

What We’ve Learned About SEC Football

We’re going into week five of the college football season. There have been some exciting games played in the SEC including Texas A&M beating Arkansas in overtime and Florida’s miraculous wins over Kentucky and Tennessee. But what have we learned so far?

Butch Jones

Tennessee is 3-1 but the Volunteers could just as easily be 1-3. They had an amazing comeback win against Georgia Tech and hung on for dear life against UMass. Georgia Tech is understandable. But UMass? I would have thought that after bungling the end of the game against Florida that Butch Jones and his team would have come out prepared against UMass. No. I was wrong. Jones didn’t have his team prepared for UMass.

Here’s what we know – Butch Jones is in over his head at Tennessee.

Sure he’s won nine games a year at Tennessee but he just as easily could have led his teams to double-digit win totals. Jones is a capable coach. He wouldn’t have had success at Cincinnati and Central Michigan if he couldn’t coach. But now that the Tennessee brand helps him land four- and five-star talent, he seems to have become complacent.

Alabama Is Still Really Good

We’ve been told about the demise of Alabama. They tell us that there’s a quarterback controversy. They tell us that the defense is on par with previous Crimson Tide units. We’re told that Nick Saban’s success at Alabama is the result of the SEC taking a few steps back.

Here’s what we know – Alabama is still really good.

Don’t believe the jealous rhetoric. The defense that everyone is questioning was strong enough to knock Deondre Francois out for the year. The quarterback controversy that we’re told about is wishful thinking. Jalen Hurts is doing what’s asked of him. And besides. When was the last time a Saban-led Alabama team was built around the quarterback? As for the quality of the SEC? Maybe it has taken a step back but Alabama is as good as it’s ever been.

Just ask Vanderbilt.

Where Have All The Coaches Gone?

Yes. The conference has taken a step back. The SEC East hasn’t fielded a competitive team in the SEC title game in what seems like forever. The SEC West appears to be Alabama And The Six Dwarfs. So what’s the problem?

Here’s what we know – The conference lacks quality coaches.

If you want to find the good teams in any conference, just start with the coaches. The SEC East has Kirby Smart, Jim McElwain, Derek Mason, Mark Stoops, Barry Odom, and Will Muschamp. While I think McElwain is a fantastic coach with tons of potential, that group is nothing to write home about. As for the SEC West, we find Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Dan Mullen, Ed Orgeron, Bret Bielema, and Matt Luke (for now). Saban is obviously Saban, Malzahn’s seat grows hotter each season, and Mullen was the hot new commodity until Smart and Georgia beat the Bulldogs down. As for Orgeron, Bielema, and Luke? Who in need of a coach would be beating their doors down? Nobody, that’s who.

This is the biggest problem in the conference. Only a couple of teams really want to invest in a football coach. It’s not acceptable for your AD to say, “Well, we can’t get Saban, or Fisher, or Swinney, so we might as well save a few bucks and go cheap.” This isn’t acceptable.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikipedia

 

 

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

Butch Jones Is A Victim Of The Pinkel Effect

When Gary Pinkel arrived at Missouri in 2001, he didn’t have much to work with on the roster he had inherited from Larry Smith. If you’re a Missouri fan, you know the story that has been etched in the tablets of Tiger folklore. Pinkel only had one scholarship defensive back. Pinkel didn’t step into a program coming off of probation, but he didn’t step into an enviable situation either.

Pinkel’s 73-37-3 record at Toledo was highlighted by a 1995 MAC championship to go along with three MAC West Division championships. His success in the MAC is what made him a viable candidate for the Missouri job. And once he left Missouri, he had proven his worth with a record of 118-73. Between his Big 12 and SEC tenure, he led Missouri to five divisional championships, six bowl game victories, and an impressive list of NFL draftees. His track record for placing defensive lineman in the NFL was truly – as he would say – remarkable.

Would anyone say that he is an underrated coach? I don’t believe so.

Let’s now look at a coach who went 27-13 in MAC with two divisional crowns; went 23-14 in the Big East with two divisional crowns; and gone 30-21 in his first four years in the SEC East with zero divisional crowns. This same coach has also had a steady stream of NFL draftees.

Would anyone suggest that this coach is underrated? Why yes. Yes they would.

This is precisely the case that Dennis Dodd has argued in defense of the job Butch Jones has done at Tennessee.

Dodd makes some solid points. Jones did inherit a mess of a program that was coming off of probation. Jones has had to deal with a Title IX investigation (but what school hasn’t?). Only Nick Saban has won more games than Jones as far as SEC coaches are concerned. And Jones’ players get drafted by the NFL.

Jones is doing good work at Tennessee. But given the resources and history he has to work with, should it be considered enough? I don’t believe Jones is underrated. If anything, he is overrated.

Now please, just stop what you’re likely thinking. No, I’m not lobbying for Jones to be fired. But, having said that, I will say that he should be on the hot seat. And let’s attribute this hot seat to Pinkel. We’ll call it the Pinkel Effect.

When Pinkel brought his Tigers into the big, bad SEC, they weren’t expected to compete. Not even in the SEC East. In his four years of SEC East competition, Pinkel won the division twice. That simply wasn’t supposed to happen. The SEC was supposed to teach Missouri how grown men play football. Instead, Pinkel and his merry band of developed 3-star misfits slapped the East in the face.

Jones, on the other hand, has recruited a steady stream of 4 and 5-star talent to Knoxville and has a couple of 2nd place finishes in the East to show for it. And remember, it’s not like competing in the East is anything like competing in the West. The East is diluted with overall mediocrity from top to bottom. And still, Jones hasn’t been able to do what Pinkel did at Missouri. Jones hasn’t been able to win the division.

If Jones isn’t able to break through the SEC East ceiling, he will be pushed off of Rocky Top. Will he be considered underrated or overrated at his next school?

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

And while you’re at it, Subscribe to our podcasts.

Five Way Too Early Predictions for SEC Football in 2017

I know we still have a while to go until we get our beloved SEC football Saturdays back, but I just can’t wait. SEC football is on my mind all the time. So here are just a few of my recurring thoughts about this coming season.

Georgia will be the team to beat in the East

Let’s be honest, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens was a little underwhelming. The worst moment of the season for the Dawgs had to be that last-minute loss to the Vols at home. Just when Jacob Eason had led them down the field to take the lead, Josh Dobbs and Jauan Jennings connected for an unbelievable Hail Mary. I fully expect Georgia fans to be able to put that pain behind them next season. Eason will have more experience, the defense will have more experience, and coach Smart will also have more head coaching experience.

South Carolina will have more than one good upset win

This past season wasn’t particularly impressive for South Carolina in its first year under Will Muschamp. But, the Gamecocks did manage to get a pretty nice upset win over the Vols. They were a huge part of why Tennessee never made it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks showed promise in most games, even many of the losses. The only game they might want to erase from memory is that Clemson thrashing at the end of the season. But with another year under Muschamp’s guidance and with his recruits coming in, I anticipate two upset wins out of the Gamecocks this season.

Butch Jones will get run out of Knoxville

This call may be a little early. But with all his press conference clichés, I think this might be the year Tennessee fans grab their pitchforks and run Jones out of town. Heck, after that Vanderbilt loss to end the regular season my dad had decided not to renew his season tickets for 2017. Guess he doesn’t want to be part of another championship of life. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that five-star heart. All this being said, the Vols may be in trouble next season. Their defense is a huge question mark and now they have a question mark starting at quarterback too. Just ask the Gators how well that second question mark works out in the SEC.

Alabama will win the West…again

No other team was truly a tough match for Alabama in the West last year, with the biggest challenges coming from LSU and Ole Miss. Ole Miss later lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury and its season tanked. The Rebels were more of a pretender than an actual contender. LSU had a slow start, but ended up in some good games under then-interim (now head) coach Ed Orgeron. But at the end of the day, Alabama was still dominant in the SEC. Alabama dominated all the way until the national championship game that it lost to Clemson. That loss may sting, but with quarterback Jalen Hurts having more experience, I expect Alabama to be number one in the West and headed right back to Atlanta again in December. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alabama still has Nick Saban.

But LSU will make it close

The LSU Tigers had arguably one of the most interesting seasons out of the entire SEC in 2016. Les Miles was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron led the team to a 5-2 finish (after starting the season 2-2 under Miles). Additionally, LSU dominated Louisville and its Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. On top of all this, Orgeron put together a top ten recruiting class in his first time recruiting as LSU’s head coach. With Orgeron leading, talent returning, and talent coming in, the Tigers are poised to finish second in the SEC West and maybe even give the Crimson Tide a run for its money.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Image courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr.

Best and Worst of 2016: SEC

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities

Ain’t it so?! Dickens nailed it as a preface to our first annual “Best of, Worst of” here at Campus Pressbox. This week we will take a look at the best and worst of the 2016 SEC football season.

There will be no particular template or structure that I will utilize in sharing this with you. I, obviously, did not see all of the games that were played in the SEC, however I do have an opinion on these matters and that is the way it is done on our website. We are all about opinions.

Let us proceed!

Best game.Tennessee at Georgia. October 1st . Georgia leads by 10 points entering the fourth quarter, falls behind, and comes back to take the lead with 10 seconds remaining. Yet, somehow, the Bulldogs manage to allow the Vols to run a short kickoff back for a decent gain and also tack a five-yard offside penalty on top of it. Mary was then hailed and she responded, in spades, as time expired.

Watch here.

Worst game.Florida at Vanderbilt. Same day as UT at UGA, folks!  That Dickens guy was pretty darn prophetic, huh? The score was zip-zip at the conclusion of the first quarter and it went downhill from there. Two touchdowns were scored and the teams combined for 501 yards of total offense. Final score: Florida 13, Vanderbilt 6. U-gly!

Best Coach. Nick Saban. Love him or hate him, he got it done again in dominant fashion. A 12-0 regular season record and another SEC Championship was tacked on to his resume.

Worst Coach. Butch Jones. No one got less out of more than the chief of the “Champions of Life.” Everyone had Tennessee winning the SEC East and some had them in the College Football Playoff. The Vols wound up in the Music City Bowl with an 8-4 record.

Best Coaching Hire. Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator, Auburn. He moved, laterally, from LSU to the Plains. The results? Auburn’s best defense since the Tommy Tuberville era. The Tigers were downright salty with a lethal combination of seasoned veterans and talented newcomers, giving up a mere 15.6 points per game.

Worst Coaching Fire. LSU’s complete bungling of Les Miles’ dismissal. The gruesome process began near the end of the 2015 season and continued through the Tigers’ last second loss at Auburn. A comedy of errors.

Best Uniforms. This selection, a tie, is highly subjective but you just cannot beat Auburn and LSU. The two sets of Tigers are both resplendent in burnt orange, navy blue and white, and purple, gold and white, respectively. Home or away.

Worst Uniforms. Here we go again. Poor Tennessee. The smokey grey gear that they pull out on Rocky Top, occasionally, is truly tough on the eyes.

Best and Worst Attendance. The Texas A&M Aggies averaged 101,917 fans per home game. Vanderbilt, again, shows up in the worst category averaging 31,242 for the season. To add insult to injury, there are, often, more fans supporting the opposing team than black and gold clad spectators in NashVegas.

That’s it, boys and girls! Now we turn our attention to February 1st and the conclusion of the first of three sports seasons in the Southeastern Conference, recruiting. Soon to follow is spring practice. And then? A mere four plus months remain until we kickoff the 2017 season!

More best and worst from Saturday’s Down South.

Huskers May Not Win Music City Bowl, But Vols May Lose It

You know what I’m going to miss this off-season? I’m going to miss Butch Jones press conference quotes. Seriously. They make great punchlines. Heading into the Music City Bowl, Jones managed to give us yet another great line.

Earlier this week, Jones told reporters that he’s had coaches calling him and asking how he managed this season with all the adversities the Volunteers faced. Were expectations for this team high? Yes. But just look at the resiliency. And after all, the Vols did win the championship of life already.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers faced a different kind of adversity this season. This summer the team tragically lost punter Sam Foltz in a car accident. During the first game of the season, the team lined up with just 10 men on the field for a punt in remembrance of Foltz. The referees called a delay of game penalty on the play, which Fresno State then declined.

Needless to say, while the Vols have faced injury adversity, the Huskers faced a completely different kind of adversity. This bowl game will be an emotional battle on both sides of the field.

But beyond this, there are statistics from the two teams’ performances throughout the season to compare. And there are also current situations and “x-factors” that may affect the outcome of this game.

On offense, both teams are not in the top in the country. But, neither team is in the bottom in the country either. As far as total yards gained on the season goes, the Vols are 60th while the Huskers are 93rd. The Vols averaged about 50 additional yards on offense per game, split pretty evenly between both rushing and passing yardage. As far as points go, the Vols averaged nearly ten more points per contest than the Huskers did. This gives them a decent advantage offensively.

On the other hand, there is a much larger separation between the two defenses. In total, Nebraska allowed over 100 less yards per game than Tennessee did. Most of that difference comes from the rushing defenses of the two teams. Although there is over double the difference in yardage on this side of the ball, the point differential is smaller. The Vols only allowed an average of 6.5 more points per game. At the end of the day, points do decide the turnout of the game. So on that front, I give the Vols a slight advantage.

The Vols also have an advantage in the fact that they have the players they’ve had all season. And while they are still a bit battered, that is just how they’ve been playing this year. They know they can win even without the same roster of players they began the season with.

On the other side of things, the Huskers are missing some players that they’re used to having. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. has been battling a hamstring injury for a while now and is not expected to start. Coach Mike Riley did express hope that he could be available if needed, though. Additionally, star safety Nathan Gerry and backup DB Boaz Joseph have both been ruled ineligible to play by the university.

But what makes trying to predict this game especially interesting to me is the fact that the Huskers did not beat any good teams. And as an SEC homer, I’d still like to think the Vols are a good team. At the same time, two of the Vols’ four losses came in conference play to teams that should not have been able to beat them. Those two teams are South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

So while I can’t say that I would pick the Huskers to win this game, I can say that I might pick the Vols to lose this one.

Watch the game on Friday, December 30th at 3:30 PM EST on ESPN.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image courtesy of Flickr user arianravan.

Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

A Coach’s Guide to Keeping SEC Fans Happy

It seems like there are always coaching rumors out there. Between angry fan bases tired of their current coaches and fan bases hoping to hire a top candidate, coaches are always a hot topic. But what can coaches do in their current jobs to keep fans happy? More specifically, how can SEC coaches keep their fans happy?

We’ve said goodbye to a couple long-time coaches over the past year, Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles. Now, fans in the SEC East are displeased with a couple of coaches that really haven’t done anything except be pretty darn successful. The two coaches that come to mind are Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Florida’s Jim McElwain.

Using these four coaches, I’m going to set forth some simple guidelines that should help keep these finicky SEC fans happy.

1. Get top recruiting classes.

Butch Jones has done well recruiting while at Tennessee, with fans (like my dad) excited over many of the players he’s brought in. Jim McElwain has only brought in two classes, but has gained a name amongst fans because of all the three-star recruits he brings. Both Georgia and LSU averaged top ten classes over the past five years, but both Richt and Miles were fired. Okay, so maybe recruiting won’t save your job. But as McElwain knows, not recruiting the best players will make people mad at you even if you are successful.

2. Hire and/or fire the right coaches.

This one is big. McElwain brought in Doug Nussmeier to be his offensive coordinator at Florida. This hire has drawn all sorts of criticism from Gator fans since the Gator offense still looks pretty miserable. Even many of those who want to keep McElwain (and fans should want to keep him) are calling for him to get rid of Nussmeier. Jones, who is also drawing criticism from the fans, is getting heat for some of his coaching hires. After the way the defense has played this season, it seems like Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator may not have been the best hire for Jones even though he was touted as a “great get” for the Vols.

3. Keep your players out of trouble.

In some instances, this may not actually be a priority. Just look at all the Baylor fans that want former coach Art Briles back. But overall, keeping players out of trouble is important. If your team is making headlines because of the crimes the players commit off the field, then nobody is going to be able to pay attention to what the team does on the field. Keeping these young men out of trouble also gives them a much better shot of succeeding at the next level. As we’ve all seen with Johnny Manziel, bad behavior in college can turn into bad behavior once you’re a professional. And if things get bad enough, you can lose your job.

4. Don’t just win your division.

This is where I’m really looking at you, Gator fans. Jim McElwain came in to a pretty decent program with a solid defense but an abysmal offense. In both of his first two years at Florida, he has managed to navigate the Gators to the SEC Championship Game as the East Division Champions. In his first year, the Gators actually swept SEC East play. But apparently for some spoiled and/or delusional fans, just winning the division isn’t enough. And maybe it isn’t enough in the grand scheme of things, but in the first two years that kind of success is unprecedented. Literally.

5. Beat your rivals.

I cannot say this enough. Beating your rivals is possibly the most important goal to keep in mind as a head coach, aside from those big rings. But we’ll get to those. One thing Les Miles was struggling with lately was beating LSU’s biggest SEC West rival, Alabama. And maybe there isn’t a coach out there who could really beat Nick Saban. But fans were willing to try to find one. On the other hand, Jones finally beat two of Tennessee’s three biggest rivals this year. The Vols claimed their first victory over the Gators since 2004. The Vols also beat the Bulldogs for the second year in a row. So even with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Jones did accomplish some goals this season. Beating Florida and Georgia may not have gotten them the SEC East Championship, but it did get the fans some bragging rights. And that is really Coach Jones’ saving grace after an otherwise disappointing season.

6. Win rings.

Miles and Richt are great examples of why this guideline matters. In his entire time at Georgia, Richt only had less than eight wins in one season. He won the SEC East and the SEC multiple times. But one big thing Richt could never do was taking home a big championship. As I’ve previously said of him, he’s always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Close but no cigar. Miles did bring a National Championship home to Baton Rouge once. And I’m sure Tiger fans will always be grateful for that. But he struggled to make it back to the big game once Saban emerged as the best coach in all of college football. And for the LSU football program, this was unforgivable. Miles was a consistently good coach, but the school let him go to try to find a coach great enough to give Saban a run for his money. Then LSU hired Ed Orgeron… Interesting choice given exactly why Miles was let go, but that’s another story for another day.

7. Don’t use clichés as staples in your pressers.

This last one is something that may not seem important to everyone, but the way a coach presents himself and represents the program at press conferences is extremely important. Most recently, Jones completely violated this guideline. And consequently, #VolTwitter exploded. Talking about his team a little over a week ago he said, “They’ve won the biggest championship—and that’s the championship of life.” Is he a motivational speaker or a head football coach? I get it—the young men did well for themselves. Amen! But you can’t use lines like this to avoid taking ownership of the fact that you have failed to bring a National Championship, SEC Championship or even SEC East Championship to the program. If you don’t accomplish your goals, acknowledge it instead of sugar-coating it. Show the players, fans and recruits that you still want to win actual championships.

 

Bonus: Beat Nick Saban.

This one needs no explanation. Just beat Nick Saban. Somebody, please do it.

 

This list is obviously not comprehensive, but in using two former and two current SEC coaches as examples, I would like to think I’ve pin-pointed some important guidelines for keeping fans happy. Some fans (Hi, Gators) may never be satisfied, but that doesn’t mean a coach can’t do everything in his power to try to appease them. Coaches Miles and Richt: I’m sorry the fans gave up on you because good wasn’t good enough. Coaches Jones and McElwain: I’m rooting for you. We’re all rooting for you.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Sean Davis, Flickr

Butch Jones is Winning the Championship of Life

When Butch Jones was hired in 2013 to be the head coach of the University of Tennesse football team, he brought with him all of the hopes and dreams that accompany all new coaches. Jones was going to restore the greatness of the Volunteer football program that hadn’t been seen since Phil Fulmer was leading the program to conference and national championship games.

But hopes and dreams don’t always turn out as planned.

Since arriving in Knoxville, Jones has collected an impressive array of talent. There have been high-profile recruits all over the field for Jones. Nevermind that much of that talent didn’t stick around Knoxville. Even with this level of attrition, there was still enough talent left that fans and the media began expecting and anticipating championship caliber years.

The fact-of-the-matter is that none of the championship expectations ever materialized. Since taking over the Volunteer program, Jones has lost the SEC East to Missouri and Florida. Both Missouri and Florida have each won the East twice. It’s far easier for Volunteer fans to accept losing the division to Florida as opposed to Missouri. Missouri is the team that Tennessee fans like to beat up on. But Missouri has had far more recent success than Tennessee. That has to be tough to swallow.

So what does Jones have to hang his hat on during his tenure on the Tennessee sideline? Life. In his recent press conference, Jones said that his team may not have ever won the SEC East, but in his mind, his team has won the championship of life.

This sounds ridiculous. Jones attempted to detract from his team’s on-field performance by talking about how mature his players are.  No, coach Jones, the perceived maturity of your players doesn’t balance the scales when weighed against the lack of high-level success.

Jones talked about this year’s senior class bringing Tennessee back. But Tennessee really isn’t back. The Vols haven’t won a divisional SEC East championship since 2007 and haven’t won the SEC championship since 1998. Tennessee isn’t back.

The graduation rate was also referenced by Jones. Yes, a high percentage of his players have and will graduate. We all know about the academic prowess of Joshua Dobbs. But the graduation rate of his players isn’t going to pacify the fans. As the years tick by, Tennessee fans won’t accept Missouri winning divisional titles even with the high graduation rate of Jones’ program.

Speaking of Dobbs, he had his coach’s back and defended the championship of life comment.

Dobbs should be commended for sticking up for his coach, but it doesn’t make Jones’ comment any less absurd. And in defending Jones the way that Dobbs did, Dobbs came off sounding just as ignorant as Jones. When Dobbs and his teammates look back on their time in Knoxville, wins and losses will matter. Dobbs’ record is what will define his Tennessee legacy. Not the relationships that he built or how he affected the people he came in contact with. And what will matter least in defining his legacy will be how much he enjoyed his experience at Tennessee. Dobbs will leave Tennessee with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Great. The fact remains that Tennessee never won as much as a divisional championship with Dobbs as the full-time starting quarterback.

Jones has to be savvier than this. He has to know that he can’t minimize the lack of championships being won in Knoxville. Especially this year. Tennessee should have run away with the East. The Vols had talent and depth and Jones should have been considered the gold standard of coaches in the East. Remember, Barry Odom and Kirby Smart have never been head coaches before this year and Will Muschamp is in his first year at South Carolina. Jim McElwain is a fine enough coach, but his Florida team doesn’t have an offense that anyone trusts. This is what Jones and Tennessee lost the division too. Jones continues to be unable to win a division that is often times referred to as “hot garbage.”

Jones seems content to take a We Are The World attitude as his team wins championships of life. He needs to acknowledge the reality of the situation. His teams haven’t been good enough to beat “hot garbage.”

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

And while you’re at it, Subscribe to our podcast