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December 7th A Date Which Will Live In Infamy For Vols?

Judging from the ol’ MrSEC.com inbox, Tennessee fans aren’t a happy bunch this morning.  Apparently landing Butch Jones from Cincinnati wasn’t the preferred option on Rocky Top.  (Though in reality, we all know this is still part of the Vols’ master smokescreen and that Jon Gruden will be introduced any minute now.)

This week we’ve broken down the track records of the new SEC coaching hires who have actual head coaching experience to go on (sorry, Kentucky fans).  We’ll do the same with Tennessee’s new hire now.  And on paper, the hire is probably not as bad as the reaction Jones’ hiring is bringing.

Before we dive into a breakdown of Jones, let’s look at two things we got right yesterday.  One, obviously as you saw here first, Jones was offered the job by Tennessee.  Two, as we suggested yesterday, UT would panic.  Turned down by Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong on Wednesday, the Vols raced to end their search Thursday night/Friday morning.  In doing so they apparently passed up on reported interest from Nebraska’s Bo Pelini who has SEC experience, a better record in tougher conferences, and, yes, anger management issues (which might have hurt his chances with UT’s brass).

Why the rush?  Because Tennessee — like many school’s athletic departments — worries too much about what’s being said in the media, on messageboards, and on sites like this.  The discussion outside seeps in and influences the decisions inside.  So when fanbases scream to get something done, donors scream, too.  When donors scream, ADs jump.

Tennessee’s Dave Hart jumped at Jones, though his hurried move has certainly landed him someone with a better resume than Derek Dooley, the Vols’ last rushed hire.

A few notes on the Volunteers’ new head coach:

 

*  Jones wanted the Tennessee job.  The way things were going that in itself should be a plus for the UT faithful.  But in this case, Jones really wanted the gig in Knoxville.  This offseason Jones has reportedly been chased by Kentucky, Purdue and Colorado.  He let it be known to Tennessee officials that he wanted the Vols’ position from the get-go.  When Strong said “no, thanks” to UT on Wednesday, Jones let the Vols know once again of his interest.  He also backed away from an offer at Colorado.  Sports fans always claim that they want a coach “who wants to be here.”  Well, Jones wants to be in Knoxville.  And he turned down other opportunities in the hopes of landing in Knoxville.  Three years ago, we don’t recall any other schools liking Dooley enough to make him offers pre-Tennessee.

*  Much will be made of Jones’ head-to-head 45-23 loss to Dooley, arguably one of only two “good” wins during the Vols’ last coach’s tenure (the other being NC State this year, a team that also fired its coach).  The trouble with gauging coaches on one game is, well, it’s stupid.  To put this in perspective for Volunteer fans, should Tommy Bowden (Clemson), Ralph Friedgen (Maryland), Joe Glenn (Wyoming), or Rip Scherer (Memphis) have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this week ahead of Phillip Fulmer?  Fulmer lost to all of those coaches.  I think most UT fans would still agree that Fulmer was a better coach overall.  By a hundred wins or so.

*  Speaking of Fulmer, a number of former Volunteer coaches have been spreading the word to Knoxville media and fans that Tennessee’s academic standards have been raised to the point that UT’s coach is now at a disadvantage.  (Funny, James Franklin doesn’t seem to be having much trouble with Vanderbilt’s academic standards.)  Fulmer and Dooley have let it be known the Vols were having a hard time on the academic side of things.  Several ex-Vol assistants have said the same thing, like Kevin Steele.  Trouble is, Steele — who voiced the academic concerns to a Knoxville booster club this fall — was set to accept a spot as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator before giving up 70 points to West Virginia as Clemson’s D-coordinator last year.  At that point his salary offer was snipped and he declined.  So he has a bone to pick with UT.  Ditto Fulmer and Dooley who were fired by the Vols.  Fulmer was working the phones hard this week trying to shimmy his way back into his old job.  The fact that Steele was ready to take the Tennessee coordinator spot before the salary cut and the fact that Fulmer was angling to get the head coaching job back sure seem strange considering how “tough” they’ve said Tennessee is academically.

*  Don’t discount the Fulmer factor as part of the reason the Volunteers rushed to fill their vacancy after Strong’s turndown.  A number of high-level boosters who gave Fulmer the heave-ho following his second losing season in four most likely did not want to run home to Papa and beg him to return, as some fans had begun to suggest.  Plus, Fulmer did finish 29-21 over his last four seasons.  Just because the Vols didn’t remarry well, it doesn’t mean their first divorce was a mistake.  (Quick aside: What if Fulmer had been rehired and had failed to win?  Would UT have canned a Hall of Fame coach twice?  And given him another buyout?)

*  UT’s AD will lose some power over the handling of this search.  Perception is reality and the perception is he botched things.  You can flirt with and be turned down by 20 coaches if fans like the guy you finally hire.  Many Tennessee fans do not like Jones.  Hart said at his presser announcing Dooley’s dismissal that he had “a plan.”  Well, that plan — as we said early on — included Jimbo Fisher (wouldn’t talk, expect him to get a raise at Florida State), Mike Gundy (talked, will get more power at Oklahoma State), Charlie Strong (talked, got a huge raise at Louisville), and Larry Fedora (decided not to talk after initially angling for the job).  Worse than that, we’ve been told Hart had a yes from Strong but made the ultimate sales mistake in leaving town without him and allowing Cardinals AD Tom Jurich to have the final word.  Strong picked Louisville over Tennessee.  We doubt Hart will be given so much power the next time the Vols make a major coaching hire.

*  Jones’ forte is offense.  His last three Cincinnati teams averaged 27, 38, and 31 points per game (albeit against Big East competition).  The last two years his teams have finished ranked #31 and #36 nationally in rushing.  The Volunteers have been better on offense than the Bearcats (with better talent, of course), but they’ve also been a pass-first squad.  So Jones’ arrival in Knoxville could be good news for Missouri where current Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has become a hot target.  Unless Jones wants to shake up his offense, Chaney’s time at UT may be up after four seasons and two head coaches (he was hired by Lane Kiffin).

 

So will Jones succeed at Tennessee?  No one can say for sure, obviously.  All hires are gambles.  But his resume isn’t a bad one.  Comparing him to the man above him on UT’s list, Strong, Jones’s resume is pretty good.  Strong was just 1-2 head-to-head in three meetings with Jones.  Strong’s career mark is 24-15 in three years at Louisville plus a game as interim coach at Florida.  Jones’ career record is 50-27 in three seasons at Central Michigan and in three seasons at Cincinnati.  Strong has ties to the SEC in recruiting, but Jones has won or shared four conference titles in six seasons as a head coach.  CBSSports.com also named Jones the Big East Coach of the Year this year ahead of Strong, for whatever that’s worth.

Jones has a more established head coaching record than Malzahn at Auburn.  He has more experience than first-time head coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky.  Hart said he wanted someone with head coaching experience.  While that’s no guarantee of success, Jones has more experience than two of the other three new SEC coaches hired… and more than Strong.

Ultimately, in a state that produces few NFL-caliber players, Jones will sink or swim based on recruiting.  The immediate worry for Vol fans?  He has no ties to the South and will have to put down ties quickly.  But we said the same thing about Arkansas’ new hire, Bret Bielema earlier this week.  It was a bit surprising to us to find that Rivals had ranked Bielema’s last two complete classes at Wisconsin pretty evenly with Jones’ last two singing classes at UC.  In 2011, Wisconsin’s class was #40 while Cincinnati’s was #49.  Last February, the Bearcats actually had the #50 ranked class while the Badgers came in at #56.

So Bielema comes from a bigger conference and has the bigger name, but he’ll face the same challenge as Jones — convincing top players from other areas to cross state lines and enter a state that can’t produce enough NFL players on its own.  As we said in connection with Bielema, Vanderbilt’s Franklin has proven that an outsider coach with no recruiting ties to the SEC can succeed in that area.

Whether Jones can do what Franklin has done is anyone’s guess.

 


20 comments
mike cromwell
mike cromwell

i never kept up with cincinnati but in the last few years i have looked at their games and their opponents and felt many  times that cincinnati had a chance at winning a lot of their games and they usually did i believe it was a good hire and as a tennessee fan we have to get onboard and back butch and give him the chance to bring us back as contenders

 

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

Yes I believe the fact that AD Hart worked at Bama a short time he's out to sabatoge the UT football program for years to come...

VolTN
VolTN

 @badbadhoggie Yes, he doesn't care about being successful and wants to lose the chance to get another job as an AD down the road because he has a vendetta. 

JamieThornton
JamieThornton

Congrats Tennessee fans on your hire of Derek Dooley...............uh, I mean Butch Jones. I think you guys had the chance to take Kirby Smart and bring back that big orange crush D. But best of luck with the second coming of Dooley 2. I've seen so many Vols fans that are ticked off on twitter and I don't blame them. This is a guy who looked like he would have a job with Kentucky or Colorado. Wow. 

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

 @JamieThornton

 If u say Butch is a reach as far as coaches go, how can you say kirby smart would be better?  Coaching D at bama isn't rocket science for sure and Sabans past diciples have a sketchy track record as Head Coaches...

JamieThornton
JamieThornton

 @badbadhoggie The guy is a great coach. come on. seriously. Like Muschamp, Mullen, and Strong. You can even go back to Bob Stoops at Florida. The guy is on that level and all are great head coaches. It doesn't take rocket science to know Kirby Smart is a genius, but I should not have to even say that. 

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

Your right Jamie, why would the vols hire a proven head coach instead of Kirby Smart...oh yea...one of them is a head coach the other coaches defense, but has never been a head coach...but then again i should not have to even say that should i?

Dnayew
Dnayew

As a Gator fan, I'm thrilled that Hart rushed into this decision. Jones is an 'ok' coach. But is he a better coach than Steve Spurrier, Will Muschamp and Mark Richt? No way. So in essence, The Vols are getting a guy who might be better than Dooley and may be able to beat Vandy, Mizzou and Kentucky (something Dooley was NOT able to do), but as far as contending for an SEC Title or even a realistic shot of coming out the East? Not a chance.

 

How did the Old Ball Coach put it?  "You can't spell Citrus without UT"  

Catfish
Catfish

 @Dnayew

 i don't think you have to worry about us making the citrus bowl

Dnayew
Dnayew

 @Catfish  Sorry... Guess I should update that:

 

"You can't spell Music Cit y Bowl without UT."

 

;)   Just playing around.  All in good fun.  ;)

etsu2k4
etsu2k4

Not a big fan of this hire but I have reached my fill of Dave Hart. I think he did Pat Summit wrong and this hire just smells of desperation! Fire Dave Hart!

HoustonVol
HoustonVol

I have no issues with this hire. I felt that Jones should have been higher on the list than he was. I have stated many times that I think that TN needs to move more northern in their recruiting. The more that USCe, Clemson, UGA, UNC and now Georgia St, USF, UCF, etc. develop programs, the tougher it will be to recruit the top talent out of North/South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to build a championship level team. TN has always had to recruit nationally, but that was usually for the skill players, and usually able to fill the cubbard with players within a 300 mile radius of campus. That is not working any more. The Slide of Fulmer started when UGA hired Mark, and continued when USCe hired Spurrier. If UNC ever gets their program on track, the job becomes that much more difficult. So not having southern recruiting times may turn out to be a blessing. So Welcome Coach Jones.

RockyMtnVol
RockyMtnVol

Its not the Xs and Os, its the Jimmy and Joes.......CBJ has demonstrated sideline management, able to take his team into the 4th qtr, and by the way, Louisville had to beat Cincy in overtime in the the rain to win.......so, I beleive he has the coaching pedigree, another point, Brian Kelly taught him everything and you see what he did with ND, they were not ranked in the begining of the season and now look. CBJ has one thing to prove, he can develop SEC caliber players and he won't be out coached on Saturday, I'm not saying he will win every Saturday, but don't lose to bad decisions by coaches and players. The SEC is well, the premium league until someone one (ND) or another conference proves otherwise. I don't believe for a second that CBJ was nieve to his decision......he knows what he wants, play in the best and most competitive league in all off College Football.........Go Vols and Go SEC!!!!

ChrisHendrix
ChrisHendrix

Yes- it should be Know not no - fat fingers!!! Love your site!

ChrisHendrix
ChrisHendrix like.author.displayName 1 Like

Sir, I no I'm a nobody and that you do this for free- and I choose to come and can choose to not read it- but I admire the work you do and really love your site- and I'm sure this was an easy pun too good to pass up- but I sure wish you wouldn't tie the hiring of a football coach to the sacrifice of so many on respectful day!!!!! Their sacrifice was too great to cheapen in any way!!!!!!

mikec1000000
mikec1000000 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Obviously, Coach Jones has had success.  He is an offensive minded coach.  Regardless of what happens around the country at other schools or in other conferences, in the SEC, defense wins championships.  Coach Jones most important decision will be who he selects to run the defense.  I've said several times that Coach Dooley's undoing was hiring Sal Sunseri and switching a fragile team from a 4-3 to a 3-4.  Coach Sunseri may be a good coach, but no team adjusts well to a defensive scheme change until they have the personell and the time to do so.  Defense will be the key to Coach Jones' success or failure at UT and that begins with his selection of a Defensive Coordinator.

VolTN
VolTN

 @mikec1000000 This is the smartest thing I've seen all morning.  Absolutely 100% correct.  Head coaches can be great or bad but it all comes down to the staffs they bring with them.  Dooley could have kept his job if Wilcox would have stuck around or if he could have brought in another coordinator with the same philosophy.  I can't understand why Dooley would change the defensive scheme in a year where it was make or break.  Unless he was forced to take on Sunseri for some reason.

VolTN
VolTN

Gotta wait it out.  The guy is hired, it's over and done with.  No amount of fan complaining is going to turn this ship around.  He's going to be given some time to prove himself.  At this point, let's see if he can get the job done.  Anyone saying right now that he absolutely will fail  is the same person saying that Gruden was in the bag.  Go Vols!



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