Rocky top. Rocky down. Rocky out. After nearly five seasons and a mediocre 34-27 overall record, Butch Jones’s dispirited coaching tenure at Tennessee is now over, the school announced on Sunday. Assistant coach Brady Hoke will reportedly fill in as interim head coach.
The Volunteers are 4-6 this season after losing five of their last six, and have yet to win in SEC play. After getting blown out by 5-5 Missouri 50-17, Tennessee has now lost its most recent matchup with every SEC team. Earlier this season, the Vols fell to now-3-6 Florida and were shut out by Georgia in a 41-0 loss. Two weeks ago, they lost to Kentucky for only the second time in 33 years. A week prior, at home, Tennessee dropped an ugly 15-9 game to South Carolina after a last-second comeback fell short. It was an encapsulation of Jones’s tenure: close, but not enough.
In 2014, Tennessee extended Jones’s contract through March 2021, and reports suggest that his buyout will be around $8 million. Jones is the second SEC coach to be fired before the season’s end. Two weeks ago, Florida parted ways with Jim McElwain.
Recruiting, Jones’s biggest strength, turned out to be the biggest indictment on his coaching acumen, as Tennessee’s talent made Jones’s flaws as a coach all the more apparent; the recruiting rankings were never commensurate with the results. Since Jones assumed the job in 2012, Tennessee’s recruiting classes have landed in the 247Sports composite Top 25 rankings every year. In 2014, the Volunteers had the seventh-best class. In 2015, the fourth-best class — above programs like Georgia, Ohio State, and LSU. But despite plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, the Vols are ranked 117th in scoring offense and 74th in total defense this season.
As average as the Vols were overall, their work inside the SEC left even more to be desired. During Jones’s tenure, their conference record was a dismal 14-24. Their most prestigious bowl victory was likely in the 2016 Outback Bowl against Northwestern or the year prior in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa — but neither of those games bring in the hardware that Tennessee desires.
In the end, Jones produced mediocrity at a program that perceives itself to be elite. Given the SEC East’s lack of competence in recent years, there was a window for Tennessee to take control of the division, and at the very least, reach the conference title game. Yet, under Jones, the Vols didn’t make it there even once.