Once again Butch Jones transformed himself into a human piñata.
The beatings came this week through columnists across the state of Tennessee. How could the Volunteers get two rings from a season that ended so abysmally?
In fairness to Jones and his program, the Battle at Bristol rings were primarily provided by the event organizers so there wasn’t much cost for Tennessee’s athletic department, other than a few trinkets that were added to the order. Moreover, it was the largest crowd in college football history, so I get it. The Vols got rings and a trophy for beating a non-conference opponent in front of a record crowd.
However, awarding rings for winning the Music City Bowl is a little hard to stomach for longtime Tennessee fans that believe jewelry should result from championships. The backdrop in our society is also worth noting. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a large group of Americans who believe too many get too much for too little. Hence, the term “participation trophy” is thrown around quite a bit these days.
This isn’t the first time Jones has opened himself up to criticism based on seemingly accepting mediocrity. You’ve surely heard of prospects with “five-star hearts” and the 2017 Tennessee team as “champions of life.” Those missteps are embarrassing but understandable. Either Jones had a misguided message or he just misspoke in the heat of the moment when his program was being questioned.
However, the Music City Bowl rings took a group of people making a well-thought-out decision to spend nearly $40,000 to dole out rings that were priced at $220 and probably not worth that. How many Tennessee player truly treasure those rings? How many thought it was a bit silly? Hopefully most felt the rings were trivial. They should have expected much more out of the 2016 season.
If I were a member of Tennessee’s football program, I’d just as soon forget the 2016 season. An SEC East title was on the line. Nope. A Sugar Bowl berth was on the line. Nada. How about a trip to Nashville with rings on the line? You bet. Someone call Jostens and get me sized up.
One has to wonder if Jones gets it. He’s shown he can recruit. He’s shown he can adequately handle many aspects of a football program. But can he continue to grow Tennessee’s program without the fans’ complete belief in him? That belief clearly waned after last season and yet rings have now been awarded for three straight seasons.
Via social media, I’ve seen some of the most loyal fans begin to question if Jones can win a championship at Tennessee. Keep in mind, these are not anonymous message board posters, but people I know. Radio show callers have expressed much of the same sentiment.
Jones’ approval rating will rise over the next three months. He’ll recruit well, as he did recently by picking up a highly rated quarterback. Also, fans tend to grow more optimistic as the season grows nearer.
Then, things get a bit tougher. The Vols will play Georgia Tech, Florida and Georgia in the first month of the season. A 2-1 record in the stretch would probably be acceptable. If the Vols go 3-0, it may call for some “Champions of September” rings if the current trend continues.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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