Volquest.com is reporting that Tennessee's 2012 coaching search has ended and that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones will soon be announced as the next head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Caveats: First, this entire post assumes that Volquest is correct. This search has been so screwy that I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that they're wrong, and I wouldn't hold it against them. Second, in this post, I am not speaking for anyone else on this site. This is my opinion. I'm probably not alone, but I don't presume to speak for anyone else. Third, any "facts" that I reference should be taken with a grain of salt. Information is elusive during the reporting of coaching searches and comes from everywhere. It's all questionable. And fourth, this has nothing to do with Butch Jones. I have nothing against the man, and I do not want to be disrespectful of the guy. I'm not going to meet him at the airport and scream at him for taking the job. I may have taken the job if they'd offered me $3M to do it.
But I am exercising the right to voice my displeasure at Dave Hart and Jimmy Cheek, or whoever else was making decisions about the coaching staff the past three weeks.
In 2008, I was one of the last holdouts for Phillip Fulmer. But by the end, I'd concluded that there was just too much division in the fan base, and support for a winning argument that he could get it turned around was becoming scarce. And so I went along with it. His goodbye press conference was a sad day on The Hill even for many of those who'd wanted him gone much earlier. But we fans got in line and fixed our eyes on the next era of Tennessee Football.
Then came Lane Kiffin and his chest-pounding and rival-poking, and we got in line again. One of the worst dilemmas for fans is a choice to support a leader you normally wouldn't support because you want your team to succeed. At that point, you support the guy or . . . what? You want him to fail? I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I got on board with his plan. Having made the conscious decision to try to support the guy in control of our football program, I eventually made it to actually supporting him and defending him and his antics. It was Rumspringa, and I was all in. The only real problem with Kiffin was that he remodeled the house on a short term lease. Rather, he started to but left the project unfinished at the worst possible time.
Then along came Derek Dooley after an embarrassing coaching search that had the program publicly spurned by a a bunch of guys who we perceived to be B-List candidates. The first thing I remember about the Dooley announcement was sitting in front of my computer and trying to come up with a word that was the opposite of "splash." I thought I remembered writing it, but the archives say that I just went with this. I must have decided to hide my disappointment and to give another guy the benefit of the doubt. Basically, I came around again. We were angry at Kiffin, and Dooley was the anti-Kiffin, and so we dutifully got in line. We knew what he was getting into and what we were expecting of him, and we reduced our short-term expectations and gave him time to water the bamboo. And when it started to become clear that it wasn't going to work even after several seasons, we justified the whole experiment with the conclusion that because of the way and the when of Kiffin's departure, Dooley was really the best we could have done.
But we also found comfort in knowing that we were no longer in that situation. Dooley was terminated before the end of the season. We got in the coaching market early. Dave Hart spoke eloquently of his standards for coaches and programs, and we nodded our heads and said, "This time we're going to get it right." Then they released word of allowing the athletics department to reclaim some $18M of the funds that might have otherwise gone to academics, and we said, "They're serious this time. They're going to get it right." The administration was positioning itself to land an A-Lister. Good.
We were happy, because we knew the importance of this hire, not only for the long term, but for the short term as well, and it was beginning to look like the administration knew it as well. We knew that the hire absolutely had to be a home run because fan apathy was killing the program and was beginning to bridge the gap between seasons, eliminating all periods of hope. The choice was between an A-Lister, who would cure the apathy and for whom a downside, if there was one, would come two years later, and a B- or C-Lister, who would require a tiring fan base to again wait and see, and for whom an upside, if there was one, would come two years later. What do you want to defer, the upside or the downside? The downside, of course.
But we were in good hands. Dave Hart had been involved in a very similar situation at Alabama recently, and they'd hired Nick Saban. He had to have known that this hire had to hit. And that's why, in the beginning, it was Jon Gruden, and then everyone else.
What the heck happened? Things quickly deescalated, first to Charlie Strong, Mike Gundy, and Larry Fedora, and when we whiffed on those guys, we somehow ended up here, at today's supposed announcement that one of the few guys Derek Dooley beat is going to be our next head coach.
And now, on this site, all over Twitter, and all over the internet, there are people who are saying that they're done donating to the University. Done buying season tickets. Done going to games and buying apparel. And don't make the mistake of thinking that's just a few crazy people Talking While Angry. Because I'm guessing that the entire fan base has shifted in that direction in varying degrees. Some went over the ledge. But even the folks who will still be donating and going to every game aren't as excited about it and are likely to be less invested as they would have been had the program hired someone they immediately believed could create positive memories rather than someone they have to research on Wikipedia. Hope deferred makes a heart sick. Hope makes a good breakfast but a terrible supper. Whatever poetic phrase you want to use, our hope is waning.
We may never know for sure the details on how we got here. It's possible that the entire administration did everything they could to get an A-Lister. If so, fine. Tell us, and we'll get through it together.
But based on the only information we have right now, which the administration has to know is out there and therefore the only information we have to react to, they absolutely botched this. There are only rumors and unnamed sources that suggest that we made a real run at Jon Gruden. Sure, he's a Grunicorn, but if you're serious, you pursue the #1 coaching candidate on the planet. But if I'm correct, the only sourced information we have about our pursuit of Gruden is that we waited two weeks after firing Dooley to contact him and then it was only to tell him that we weren't interested in him. What? If that's the case, that's a worse decision that Dooley playing for overtime against Missouri, which is the point in time that I concluded he deserved no more time if he wasn't going to use it.
And so we offered Strong. And Gundy. Maybe Fedora, who might also have been in the Wikipedia category. And they all said no, and I just recently saw where Gundy suggested the offer he received from us wasn't that serious.
And so it's Butch Jones. A wait-and-see guy. Maybe there's an upside, but the administration has asked us to defer the possibility. There is no upside for this recruiting season. There is no reason to believe that he's the kind of hire that would cause Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, and/or Cordarrelle Patterson to think that just maybe they should stay another year. There's no reason to believe that the Orange and White Game is going to be packed out in anticipation of a turnaround. Or to think that donations or ticket sales or concessions or apparel sales will be up. Apparel stores like mine are going to have to diversify their offerings and bank on other teams or risk going out of business. The businesses on The Strip are going to want to renegotiate their leases to ride out the next couple of years.
Butch Jones may turn out to be a fantastic long-term hire. But the program also desperately needed a shot in the arm for the short-term at this point in the program's history, and on that criteria, the administration struck out.
I'm one of the two most optimistic voices on the most optimistic fan-based Vols website on the internet. I hope I am wrong about having to wait for hope to return. I hope that if we do have to wait, that we don't have to wait for very long. But I am so tired of hoping for a splash and being unable to find a word for the opposite.