I want to believe Tennessee tight end Ethan Wolf. I really do. But I just can’t.
“We’ve never had any type of conflict in the locker room in the past and we don’t now,” Wolf told GoVols247.com. “Everybody’s on the same page, high spirits.”
Sorry, Ethan, I tried. But I just don’t buy it.
In the past month, the Vols had a former starting offensive lineman, Venzell Boulware, leave the program. They had coach Butch Jones offer a flimsy excuse why Shy Tuttle suffered an injured orbital bone (the ol’ fell on a helmet excuse). They had starting guard Trey Smith suffer a facial injury, reportedly during a practice altercation that led to the suspension of starting defensive end Darrell Taylor. There’s also the Vols’ listless performance against UMass and the 41-0 loss to Georgia.
The Vols don’t have a locker room problem? If you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Maryville that you might be interested in.
This isn’t anything new for Jones. His tenure is full of talented players who became disenchanted. It’s easy to say one or two of those players just weren’t tough enough, but too many have left to simply dispel their ability or dedication to the game.
At some point, team chemistry is Jones’ fault; you can’t blame the players anymore. Either they don’t believe in him as a coach, they don’t trust him as a person or both.
Former UT running back Jalen Hurd is the most obvious example. He left the Vols last season on the verge of becoming UT’s leading career rusher. During an interview on “Sports Talk” on WGOW last fall, his stepfather said he was promised he could play another position. Regardless if that was the best move for Hurd, it never happened and he lost faith in Jones and subsequently left the team.
That’s not to say that Jones and his team can’t change course. But if it is as bad as it seems, it’s probably too late to save the 2017 season. And it’s probably too late to save Jones’ job.
Any argument to keep Jones past this season has to begin with his ability to oversee a cohesive locker room. Jones will have many of the same players next season. Unless there’s some “Kumbaya” moment in the near future, the Vols likely would have the same issues next season under Jones.
The win/loss record ultimately will determine Jones’ fate, but the constant stream of public embarrassments certainly won’t help Jones.
(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)
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