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 is the full “championship of life” quote from Butch Jones today.
He was asked about his emotions during Senior Day: pic.twitter.com/8EaoK8H7Ht
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) November 21, 2016
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.
I suspect the reaction will be different but anyway here’s the full answer from Josh Dobbs on Butch Jones’s “champions of life” comment. pic.twitter.com/KcxU9HDCMy
— Patrick Brown (@patrickbrownTFP) November 22, 2016
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons