KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – All is not right in Big Orange Country.
Even the most ardent Vols fan would have to admit that the football program is not in a good state right now following Saturday’s 41-0 loss to Georgia. To many, the die has been cast in terms of Butch Jones’s future at Tennessee.
Remember, though, that there still are seven regular-season games left, including four contests at Neyland Stadium. Except for the Alabama game, every other contest is winnable for Tennessee.
Kentucky? Missouri? South Carolina? Southern Miss? Not exactly a gauntlet. The Vols already have played three of their toughest four or five opponents. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say Tennessee finishes 7-5 or 8-4, which would put Butch Jones’s job status in serious question. If the Vols rally and end up 9-3, Jones isn’t going anywhere. If the Vols finish 6-6 or 5-7, athletic director John Currie probably has the decision made for him.
So let’s go full high school debate team here. You certainly know the reasons Jones should be dispatched. I’ll present the counter-arguments as to why Jones still will be the Vols’ coach in 2018.
(Keep in mind I’m simply presenting the reasons why it might not be as easy a decision for Currie and the Tennessee power players as you might think.)
Dollar bills, y’all …
It wasn’t long ago that the Tennessee athletic department was hemorrhaging money. When Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008, he received a $6 million buyout. When Derek Dooley was fired in 2012, he received a $6 million buyout. Heck, former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin received a $300,000 “longevity bonus” only a few days before Lane Kiffin bolted for USC in 2010.
While Dave Hart was athletic director, lawsuits related to Title IX and gender discrimination cost Tennessee more than $3.5 million. It also cost Tennessee more than $600,000 to get Hart to leave a year early.
Those money woes are in the past, and the athletic department is on strong footing under Currie. But you’d think the last thing Currie wants is to ask the big-money players for more big money. GN’s Jimmy Hyams says firing Jones and his staff, when all is said and done, could cost Tennessee more than $25 million.
Tennessee athletics is in the black again, but could head back to the red if a move is made.
Between 1977 and 2008, Tennessee had two coaches. If Jones is fired, that will mean four coaches in nine years.
Most successful programs in recent times have had coaches in charge for eight years or more. Look at Alabama under Nick Saban, Florida State with Jimbo Fisher, Clemson with Dabo Swinney, Oklahoma with Bob Stoops, etc.
Yes, those guys had success sooner than has happened at Tennessee under Jones, but sometimes there is something to be said for letting one guy build the program and stay with them.
Currie has been the athletic director since April 1. He has proven that he is not afraid to make changes with the firings of the baseball and men’s tennis coaches. But football is a different animal. The football program drives the engine, and the engine at Tennessee is an expensive one. The 2017-2018 budget is more than $130 million.
An athletic director forever is tied to the hiring of a football coach. Make the wrong choice and it not only hurts your legacy but puts your future at the school in jeopardy. Look no further than Mike Hamilton’s firing of Fulmer and subsequent hirings of Kiffin and Dooley. Those moves produced such dreadful results that Hamilton’s departure was inevitable.
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