I’ve taken heat lately for saying Butch Jones should have to win nine regular-season games in 2017 to keep his job.
I don’t usually take such a hard stance. After all, there’s a lot that can happen during a season. The most obvious is injuries, which certainly played a role last season. Then, there’s just bad bounces. Georgia saw that happen last season, when a “Hail Mary” touchdown pass turned a win over Tennessee into a heartbreaking loss.
But I’m not buying any of those excuses this season. Jones’ leadership – or lack thereof – is partially to blame for some of those injuries as the Vols spent last offseason with their strength and conditioning program in flux.
As for tough breaks, they go both ways. The Vols certainly needed some good fortune to beat Appalachian State in the opener last season. Teams have to take the good with the bad and vice versa.
There’s also the reasoning that the Vols could show improvement and still win just eight games. What if the Vols beat Alabama to end that streak in 2017? What if they also beat Georgia and Florida to begin a streak against those two bitter rivals? But the chances of winning all three of those games, especially against Alabama, is slim, if not impossible.
The bottom line with my “ultimatum” on Jones has nothing to do with injuries, bad breaks or who the Vols beat. It’s all about improvement. Jones has won five, six and eight regular-season games twice in his four seasons at Tennessee. He has missed two golden opportunities to win the SEC East.
My ultimatum is simply about progress. I understand this could be considered a rebuilding season because the Vols lost a handful of NFL-caliber players. But that shouldn’t matter in any coach’s fifth season. If a coach can’t win nine games in his fifth season at a program like Tennessee, he’s simply not a good fit.
Georgia is picked to win the SEC East in Kirby Smart’s second season as coach. Florida won the SEC East in each of Jim McElwain’s first two seasons. Shouldn’t those also be considered rebuilding years? Sure, Jones had a tougher challenge in rebuilding, but it’s time for significant improvement.
For the sake of Tennessee’s fan base, I truly hope Jones wins nine regular-season games. The Vols don’t need change – unless Jones fails to prove he can return the Vols to national prominence. That has to start this season.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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