Tennessee Vols athletic director John Currie could have a big decision to make in regards to Butch Jones in the coming weeks/months.
Barring some sort of miraculous turnaround, Butch Jones won’t be the head coach of the Tennessee Vols in 2018.
It’s not that Jones has done a terrible job at Tennessee — he’s certainly been better than his predecessor. It’s the fact that Jones pretty much peaked in 2015-16. Under Jones, the ceiling for Tennessee football is a nine win season.
Florida and Georgia haven’t exactly been stellar over the last several years, and the Volunteers haven’t been able to take advantage of that. Given the way Tennessee has recruited under Jones, they should be dominating the SEC East. Instead, however, they’re struggling to remain in the conversation.
Vols athletic director John Currie is all about winning. I’m willing to bet he’s seen what the rest of us have seen and he’s ready to make a change.
But how he goes about making that change is extremely important. Tennessee can’t screw this next hire up, and if Currie handles this the wrong way, it could quickly go south.
Obviously Jones hasn’t been fired yet. That would be pointless right now. It’s not like he’s lost total control of the team. Sure, there are some unhappy players, but guys aren’t getting playing time and they just lost to a bad Florida team. Of course, they’re unhappy.
I know Vol fans want to see action on the coaching front. But trust me, the best thing, right now, is for Jones to continue as Tennessee’s head coach. Unless the whole thing just implodes.
Tennessee is in a much, much better position to hire a good coach than they were in 2012. Recruiting has been good and the Vols have a solid roster. They also have a tremendous 2018 recruiting class, which Jones has assembled, that’s full of unsigned commits. It’s very important to keep that class together. Jones remaining as the head coach, for now, is what needs to happen to keep that recruiting class somewhat together.
Even if Jones knows he’s going to get fired, I think he’ll do right by the recruits. I may question his coaching, but I do think he cares about the players.
But here’s where it gets tricky. There are several programs that could be firing their head coach at some point this season. Oregon State, Arizona State, Nebraska, UCLA, Texas A&M, Missouri and Pittsburgh are all schools that could be looking for a head coach soon. Ole Miss will also be looking for a head coach, after being forced to let Hugh Freeze go this past summer.
Currie will want to be out in front of those programs — especially Texas A&M and UCLA.
That’s why this is such a delicate situation. Currie doesn’t want to fire Jones too soon, and risk putting the program in even more danger, but he doesn’t want to wait too long either.
If the Vols drop games to Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, then perhaps you look at late October. That gives Currie plenty of time to send out feelers and be ready to move at the end of the regular season on a coach (unless that coach is Chip Kelly or Bob Stoops, but those probably aren’t likely).
But what does Currie do if the whole thing implodes?
That’s simple — you tab Phillip Fulmer as the interim coach.
I don’t know how great the results would be — Tennessee’s offensive scheme right now is completely different from what Fulmer ran — but there would at least be a steady hand over the program.
Plus it would be a hit with fans. Attendance wouldn’t suffer, and it would give Fulmer the opportunity to have a proper send off as Tennessee’s coach.
And who knows, maybe the team would play inspired and pull an upset or two.
Regardless of what does end up happening, I know I don’t envy John Currie. He has a huge decision to make in the coming weeks/months and it’s a decision that will be either scrutinized or celebrated for years to come.
Let’s just hope he gets it right.