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Player development (or lack thereof) heart of problem for Butch Jones

Tennessee coach Butch Jones
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports

I spoke with a former Tennessee football player who confirmed what I’ve been thinking for more than a year about Butch Jones’ tenure in Knoxville. This former player wasn’t angry nor overly passionate about the current state of UT’s football program; that isn’t easy to find. When I asked what is wrong with Jones’ coaching, he had a simple answer: player development.

No, that’s not as scintillating as some other coaching misfires. It’s more exciting to hear how other former UT coaches met their demise. Phillip Fulmer lost David Cutcliffe twice and discipline waned in the final seasons. Lane Kiffin bolted in the middle of the night. Derek Dooley liked recruiting about as much as a root canal. With Jones, it’s just plain old player development.

For the record, this former player should know what he’s talking about. He won a national title at Tennessee as one of the better players and currently is a coach himself. He wasn’t angry; he was simply apathetic. He was beyond the point of caring about Jones or believing he actually can turn things around. Simply put, Jones is lacking a fundamental skill that will not allow a coach to succeed.

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Player development is the key for any great coach. Only truly special players come in as true freshmen and have a big impact. And even then, they have room to grow.

Name one player who has improved greatly under Jones. On the flip side, there are several players who looked woefully average under Jones at UT and have gone on to have successful careers.

That list is long; I doubt I need to remind you.

The lack of player development also is evident in Jones’ decisions on where to play some of his players. Perhaps recruiting promises have affected Jones’ personnel calls. In that regard, the former player I spoke to said, “Just look at (defensive tackle) Kahlil McKenzie. He’d be an offensive lineman under Fulmer.”

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Maybe McKenzie would be an offensive lineman when the Vols were more talented in years past. But I doubt he would have improved very much under Jones, no matter what position he played.

(You can follow Dave Hooker on Twitter @TheDaveHooker)

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