I have 4,342 songs on my iPod.
When I go to sleep at night, I put it on a docking station and hit "Shuffle." For hours upon hours, nights upon nights, those songs play through, one-at-a-time until it gets to the end. Then, I start it over.
This morning when I woke up, Kenny Chesney's "Touchdown Tennessee" was playing. Now, I'm normally not much on signs, but that's the only Tennessee-related song out of 29 days worth of music on that iPod. And it came after a fretful night full of frustration and short of sleep. It probably meant nothing, but it certainly made me feel a bit better about the uncertainty facing our program and the man we've chosen to be its savior.
In case you didn't know, Tennessee's 19-day coaching search turned up Cincinnati coach Butch Jones on Friday morning. It was all but done Thursday night, ending an embarrassing run that began with GRUDENMANIA!, turned to Oklahoma State lifer Mike Gundy, wound its way to Louisville and overpaying for Charlie Strong -- who ultimately stayed with the Cardinals -- and finished just three hours north in Cincinnati. Thrown into the mix were overtures for an uninterested Jimbo Fisher and a coach in Larry Fedora who has spent just one season at his current job.
For weeks, we were told that coaches around the country were calling the Tennessee job the "best out there," and we wound up with one of the few coaches Derek Dooley beat while at UT, a guy who really doesn't have any ties to the South and somebody who surely doesn't make Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier shake in their boots.
On the surface, we believe athletic director Dave Hart and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek botched it, and you can't really dispute that. But here's where many people may be wrong: All we know they botched was the search, not the hire.
Tennessee fans are up in arms about this hire, and wrongfully so. It's fine to be frustrated about the process and frustrated about how it was handled. It's also fine if Jones wasn't your choice to be our next head coach. What's not fine is going to Twitter and acting like a bunch of rednecks toward Jones, or rescinding your fanhood and stopping your support of the program.
Either you're a Vol or not. Some of us need to quit with the threats and just leave, already. This program has been great before, will be great again, and it doesn't depend on your support.
Look, Jones wasn't your number one choice. I get that. He wasn't mine, either. He wasn't Tennessee's, either. The Vols tried to go after Gruden, and the money didn't work out for whatever reason -- whether it was Dave Hart's ego or Gruden's. They tried to break the bank to get Strong, who stayed in Louisville and became one of the highest-paid coaches in the country after coaching just two games against ranked opponents in his entire career. They even reportedly made another run at Gundy after he told them no the first time. Like everywhere else Hart and Cheek turned, they were rebuffed.
At the end of the day, Jones -- who wasn't contacted until Thursday morning -- jumped at the opportunity to coach UT. He WANTS to be here. If that doesn't mean something to you, look in the mirror. It should.
The vitriol directed at Jones is sad. We've already fired him before giving him a chance. He deserves better than that.
Tennessee fans are great at revisionist history. We like to think that we've built this prestigious program that anybody would be proud to come be a part of. That's great that we all believe that, but, historically, it simply isn't true. Our history and tradition have been built internally since General Robert Neyland. Sure, we convinced Johnny Majors to come marching home from Pittsburgh once upon a time, but he was a Vol through and through. Beyond him, you have to go all the way back to 1954 when we "stole" a successful coach from another program, convincing Bowden Wyatt to leave Arkansas after an 8-3 season.
Not only that, but look at the SEC coaches and what they were before they came to their current jobs. We act like every SEC program goes out and gets The Greatest Coach Of All Time, and we just fail and are coming up a step behind. It's simply not true.
- Les Miles was 7-5 at Oklahoma State.
- Will Muschamp was the defensive coordinator at Texas.
- Steve Spurrier had tons of success at Florida but was a fired NFL coach.
- Mark Richt was Florida State's offensive coordinator.
- Kevin Sumlin had gone 12-1 at Houston, but was a year removed from 5-7.
- Gus Malzahn just finished one very successful year -- his only one as a head coach -- at Arkansas State.
- Hugh Freeze had success, but only at Arkansas State.
- Bret Bielema has gone to three consecutive Rose Bowls, so there's one at Arkansas.
- James Franklin was Maryland's offensive coordinator.
- Mark Stoops was Florida State's defensive coordinator.
- Dan Mullen was Florida's offensive coordinator.
- Nick Saban had wild success at LSU and was plucked from a bad situation as Miami Dolphins head coach.
- Missouri's Gary Pinkel is a similar circumstance as he was hired away from Toledo in 2001 after a great run there, culminating with a 10-1 record.
So, that's two guys who were stolen from BCS conference schools and two more who had great success in the SEC but struggled in the NFL. If there's one SEC coach you can compare this hire to, it may be Missouri's Gary Pinkel -- who has had a pretty good career at Mizzou.
But we're all sitting here acting like we were EXPECTED to go out and take one of the nation's best coaches from one of the nation's best teams. That simply doesn't happen.
What we did was went out and got a head football coach who has won four conference championships in six seasons. Granted, they were at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but the man has won wherever he has been. He's followed Brian Kelly, so the programs he has inherited were in good shape, but he's kept them there, and in the case of Central Michigan, took them further than Kelly did.
As I wrote last night, I'm not concerned that Derek Dooley beat Jones with a ton more talent and an athletic budget that quadruples that of Cincinnati's. I'm not concerned whether or not he's a good coach [all we've seen from him is winning]. I'm concerned about whether or not he can convince the nation's best players to come play for him over the likes of Saban, Muschamp and Richt. To do that, Jones needs to hire a staff full of good recruiters.
Like everything else in his career, guess what? He gets it. He's already reached out to former Vol great and current Southern Cal wide receivers coach Tee Martin about joining him on his new staff at Tennessee, according to GoVols247. He knows he has to hire a great staff, one with recruiting ties to the South. With that move, that tells me "maybe this guy gets it."
In-state talent Vic Wharton -- a player in the 2014 recruiting class -- already tweeted about how the fans may not like Jones, but recruits would. This year's Elite 11 top quarterback Asiantii Woulard -- who recently decommitted from South Florida after they fired Skip Holtz -- has already tweeted about Tennessee this morning, and many of the nation's top schools want him to visit. Jones was among the first to offer scholarships to current UT players Nathan Peterman, LaTroy Lewis and Kenny Bynum. Maybe the man knows talent. Maybe he gets it. Maybe he will have better players with a strong recruiting staff and more resources to recruit to.
I know we don't want "maybes," but that's what we were going to have, regardless. I wanted Jon Gruden as much as anybody, but how do we know he'd have done all the stuff the right way in recruiting, compliance, 20-hour rule, etc.? I would have liked his chances, but there were questions. Charlie Strong would have probably recruited his tail off, but Jones is a more proven coach than Strong. He's 2-1 in his games against Louisville, and he just won Big East Coach of the Year instead of the man we nearly overpaid to bring to Knoxville. There are questions with Jones, but don't act like he's the only one who brings them with him.
So, give him a chance, guys. Seriously. You may think, "Tennessee is better than Butch Jones" and you may be right, but you certainly don't know that. What we do know is this is the best coach that we have gone out and gotten outside of the family since 1954. We know he's won everywhere he's been.
Do we know he'll win here? No, we don't. But we don't know he'll fail, either, and we're already acting like he's going to.
I'm a Tennessee Volunteer, and if Jones is our head coach, I'm a Jones fan.
If you've never heard that Chesney song, interspersed between verses about Tennessee football, there are cut-ins of John Ward calling some of the most memorable plays in UT history, little audio snapshots of our glory days. There's enough in there to bring a tear to your eye, especially the way the past decade has gone. I don't know if Jones is the savior who can lead us back to those days, but I'm willing to give the man a try.
Welcome to Big Orange Country, Coach Jones. If the initial reception of your tenure is any indication of how this is going to go for you, I'm sorry you came.
For you. Not us.