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Part 1: The oral history of the Tennessee coaching search

Tennessee coach Butch Jones
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports

In the first 121 seasons of Tennessee football, the Vols have had 25 head coaches (including Jim Chaney and Brady Hoke, the two interims).

The search for number 26 brought forth a level of insanity never seen before. There were a multitude of memorable moments in that search, but nothing will top the attempted hiring of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.

It sparked a frenzy of anger and activity in Knoxville, and sent shockwaves through the world of college athletics.

GN spoke with Vols fans, Knoxville, Nashville and national media members and even Tennessee politicians to learn how the Schiano fiasco occurred and how it could resonate for years to come.

So, sit back, grab a beverage of choice and find out what happens when people stop being polite and start painting the rock.

RELATED: Other stories in our series

Part I: The end of the Butch Jones era

Following consecutive seasons with nine wins, Tennessee floundered in 2017. Thanks in part to questionable coaching decisions, the Vols lost on the last play of the game at rival Florida. Two weeks later, the Vols suffered the worst home loss in program history, 41-0 at the hands of Georgia, another division rival. From there, it seemed like only a matter of time before coach Butch Jones would be dismissed by Tennessee athletic director John Currie.

But it took a while.

Rick Russo – WVLT-TV (CBS affiliate in Knoxville) sports director
I recall the hopeless feeling of a program seemingly spiraling out of control with no direction and, at least initially, no hope in sight.

Jim Scroggs – Tennessee fan
I thought the end of the Butch Jones era was like watching a large tree after a storm. It’s uprooted and kind of close to your house, but after about two to three weeks, it’s still there, trying to be a tree. You know you are going to cut it down at some point, but your schedule can’t really allow it to be an immediate fix.

Brian Rice – co-host, “The Erik Ainge Show” on 99.1 WNML in Knoxville

It became clear after the Georgia game that Butch Jones would not be back. Some may have tried to dance around it, but that was the reality. There wasn’t a path to a different outcome because there was simply nothing left on the schedule that John Currie could hang his hat on to bring him back.

Grant Ramey – Staff writer at GoVols247
I recall the end of the Jones era being obvious to everyone, and everyone questioning why Tennessee wasn’t acting when it was clear the current head coach wouldn’t be back in 2018.

Will West – Co-host, “Sports 180” on 99.1 WNML in Knoxville
When you drop ‘fake news…fell on a helmet’ and throw up the worst loss in Neyland Stadium history in the same week, you’ve pretty much fired yourself in my mind. But it just … kept … lingering. Week in and week out, we would be waiting on a press conference every Sunday. We had a plan in place with our engineering and production staffs as to how we would cover the press conference announcing Butch’s firing. They just never pulled the trigger. It was almost laughable.

Chad Withrow – Host, “Midday 180” on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville
The Jones era unofficially ended the moment a member of his staff proudly thrust a trash can in the air repeatedly during the season-opener, but officially ended for me when Tennessee no-showed in a 41-0 loss at home to Georgia. The fan base was officially out at that point and the calls to our show reflected it.

Caleb Loposser – Tennessee fan
I watched a team that looked lost, unprepared and seemingly played without passion. It was apparent Butch Jones had lost the team – to me, anyway. Last year, it was made apparent he just wasn’t a good in-game coach. I just hoped coordinators would make up for his lack of football IQ.

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