Why has Tennessee not fired Butch Jones? Here are some of the possible reasons.
One of the most surprising things, through Week 8, in college football is the fact that Butch Jones is still the head coach at Tennessee.
Fans were distraught and upset with the team in Week 1, even after a double overtime win over a pretty good Georgia Tech team. Why? Because the Tennessee defense, led by former Penn St DC Bob Shoop, gave up 535 yards rushing.
Still, the Vols beat Georgia Tech 42-41, and followed that up with a 35-7 win over Indiana St the next week. 2-0 heading to Gainesville.
The first real noise about Butch’s job security began during the Florida game, where it was apparent that Tennessee, with better play calling, would have won the football game. There were coaching mistakes all over the field – most notably, not giving the ball to their stud RB John Kelly enough, especially inside the 10 yard line.
Personally, I initially found it odd that there hasn’t been a huge uprising against new offensive coordinator Larry Scott. But the issue is that Butch hired Scott in the first place. Larry Scott, if you look at his resume, has never been an offensive coordinator, or play-caller, in his entire career.
So, the Florida game really started the outcry against Butch. Then there was the 17-13 win over winless (at the time) UMass. Things got even louder.
Then came the game against Georgia. Georgia was only a 6.5 point favorite in Knoxville on the day that Peyton Manning was being honored by the school… and Georgia blasted the Vols 41-0 in their own stadium.
After that, people assumed that, with a bye week coming right after an embarrassing loss to a rival, Butch would be let go, and they’d bring in an interim, so the administration could begin looking for the next guy to lead the program.
The bye week came and went. Then South Carolina came in and beat Tennessee 15-9 in Knoxville. Again, people thought he’d be let go. He made it through prep for Alabama. Then his team went to Alabama and got smashed 45-7, including one of his players flipping off Alabama fans after their only touchdown of the game (a defensive touchdown, no less).
Here we are, on Wednesday of the following week, and Butch is still the head coach at Tennessee.
Why hasn’t he been fired yet? I’ve got your 5 reasons right here.
#1. If Tennessee doesn’t reach a bowl game, Jones’ buyout may be less
According to Austin Stanley at AtoZSportsNashville.com:
SOURCE: In the case that this Tennessee team misses a bowl game a negotiation would take place for Butch Jones’ buyout to be “reduced significantly”. There has been no talk, or expected discussion of firing Jones midseason.
Now, for a big school, with the amount of money that Tennessee has, I wouldn’t imagine $2-3M would be a big enough savings to prevent them from going ahead and moving forward with this decision. But let’s say the buyout drops from $12M down to $8M or $6M? That’s a big chunk of change. That’s a year’s salary for the next guy.
I’m curious if there is a clause in his contract that discusses this aspect, because I don’t see any reason why Jones’s new agent, Jimmy Sexton (the hire was announced in July) would ever leave money on the table, especially after one of his clients, Hugh Freeze, was fired with no buyout in July.
#2. The AD doesn’t want to give the interim a chance to win over the fans and/or locker room
Again, according to Austin Stanley at AtoZSportsNashville.com:
SOURCE: Currie and the other members who would be involved in the search are hesitant to give an interim coach an opportunity to win over the fan base. Example: Ed Orgeron at LSU last season. Orgeron’s success as the interim hampered the coaching search. This isn’t specifically about Brady Hoke, but whomever the interim would be.
I do not believe that the LSU situation would happen again. LSU hiring Ed Orgeron was just as much about LSU not having a backup plan for Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, and AD Joe Alleva being a hot head who wanted his hire done before Texas announced Tom Herman after he played them, as it was Ed Orgeron being from Louisiana and the fans & team being behind him.
Remember, Coach O lost 2 games to LSU’s biggest rivals in the same fashion that Les Miles did, so he did not prove anything last year by winning games he was supposed to win.
The biggest thing here is whether an interim could bring together the locker room. If Brady Hoke, or Larry Scott, or whoever, was able to fix the chemistry on the team, and get the players behind him, it could be very difficult on the players to bring in somebody else, and you could see a lot of transfers.
Now, you may end up with transfers anyway. Keeping Butch until the end of the season, and letting these things play out, could make a new coach even more welcome at the end of the season.
#3. Coaches talk, and you don’t want to be the program known for firing coaches too early
Narratives can change throughout a season. If you keep a flailing coach on for too long, they can earn sympathy points with the fanbase. If you fire them too early, the same thing can happen. It’s all about the vocal segment of your fanbase, and whether or not the coach has a good relationship with the media surrounding the school.
In this situation, people want Tennessee to fire Butch Jones now, but what if a midseason firing is seen as disrespectful to a guy like Chip Kelly, or Jon Gruden? It’s not likely something like that would matter – not with as much money as would be thrown around – but you never know with particular coaches.
If Tennessee fires Butch Jones in the middle of the season, with a 3-4 record after back-to-back 9-4 seasons (the best records in more than a decade in Knoxville), how quickly would they pull the trigger if it takes a couple of years to rebuild the program up correctly?
Things like that can take away from the advantages Tennessee might have in negotiating contracts with agents.
#4. Tennessee doesn’t have a plan yet
LSU’s debacle last season proved that, even if you fire your coach early, if you don’t have multiple options, you can get caught with no options.
A lot of the brass in Baton Rouge were convinced that they had Jimbo Fisher. They thought that 2 years straight.
It was never going to happen. They fell for the lies of Fisher’s agent.
On top of that, LSU thought they had something worked out with Houston coach Tom Herman, even though the narrative for the entire season was that he wanted to go to Texas. LSU was late to the party – had they started talking to Herman’s people, and offered the right amount of money early, they might have been able to make it happen. But you can’t get that deal done that late in the process.
The story out of Knoxville is that John Currie, going into this season, had no plan to start looking for Jones’s replacement.
The problem, though, is that things have fallen off so quickly, that he may not be able to hold onto Jones for another year, due to wavering fan and booster support. That’s what ends up getting coaches fired now. The empty seats in Neyland Stadium, and the pressure from the money guys behind the program, may have pushed Currie’s hand as to what to do at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean he has to do anything until he gets all his ducks in a row.
I’m sure that he’s been working on this coaching change as of several weeks ago – especially after the “walkout” during the UMass game. But if that’s when he started, then he doesn’t have a coach in place yet, so there’s no point in firing your coach.
Remember, Virginia Tech had Justin Fuente pegged and done before Memphis even finished their season – but it wasn’t made public until the last game of the season.
#5. You can gauge interest, and get a plan in place, without firing your coach first
If you think Tennessee isn’t already reaching out, via third parties, to other candidates, then you’re nuts.
I guarantee you their boosters, or agents, or even the AD and people inside the athletic office, are reaching out to other candidates. I’d wager they reached out to Chip Kelly, Bob Stoops, and Jon Gruden early on. I don’t include Les Miles because, honestly, I don’t think he’s too interested in moving anywhere from Baton Rouge. Once Alleva leaves, I’ve been told he may end up working for the athletic department at LSU. His family loves it down there.
After that, are there any other coaches, that are not currently coaching, that Tennessee should be talking to?
I don’t think so.
Say they’re interested in Dan Mullen at Mississippi St. Or Matt Campbell at Iowa St. Or Jim Bob Cooter with the Detroit Lions. Or Bobby Petrino, or Mike Gundy. Or whatever Group of 5 coach. Doesn’t matter the name.
If they’re currently coaching, it doesn’t matter how early Tennessee fires their coach. They can ask questions through back channels, and figure out who is interested in the job, put together a priority list, several names deep, and then start offering the job behind the scenes before ever letting Butch go, because it won’t matter until the season is over anyway.
#6. Butch Jones’s agent may be lining him up another job
Jimmy Sexton, Butch’s new agent, is the guy that runs college football.
Butch knows his time is up at Tennessee.
Ole Miss knows that whoever they hire right now, they’ll have to fire in a few years anyway, because, once the NCAA sanctions are handed down, there’s no way anybody will be able to win on a big scale for several years.
Think of Mike Shula coming in at Alabama in 2003 after their NCAA sanctions were handed down – it didn’t matter who the coach was. They were going to be a mediocre football team.
Back in July, Dennis Dodd, at CBS Sports, pointed out that Butch Jones is a realistic candidate at Ole Miss.
It’s not a super exciting hire for Ole Miss, but how exciting was Houston Nutt coming over from Arkansas? No matter the hire at Ole Miss now, it’s not going to be a superstar coach. Why not go with somebody that knows the SEC landscape, can recruit, and understands what his role is before sanctions are even handed down?
Moving off of Ole Miss, Sexton could be trying to land Jones just about anywhere (Oregon St, a Group of 5 team, etc). Tennessee would still pay him a bit of a buyout, but it saves Butch some embarrassment, saves Tennessee some money, and still gets done what everybody wants to get done.