Before I explain why Tennessee needs to go ahead and make a coaching change, I want to make a couple points clear.
First, this article is predicated on the assumption Tennessee does part ways with Butch Jones, whether that be as soon as this week or as late as the conclusion of the season. Also, I am not going to go over reasons I believe Butch Jones should or should not be fired, as those have been discussed ad nauseam. My only goal is to explain why, if a change is inevitable, it should occur now.
That reason is recruiting.
Tennessee currently has the sixth-ranked class in the country for 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings, with one five-star commitment and nine four-star commitments.
Retaining a recruiting class is always the paramount goal in the immediate future of firing a coach, but beginning this year, it becomes even more difficult than before - because there is now an early signing period in December.
Beginning December 20 and running through December 22 of this year, recruits can now sign their letters of intent instead of having to wait until February. Players who know exactly where they want to play college football can get ahead of the curve and declare their allegiances to their universities.
So let’s theorize one of Tennessee’s top recruits is sold on the Tennessee football program - and not necessarily Butch Jones - and has made up his mind that he wants to come to Knoxville. Making a coaching change in October lets that recruit know that Tennessee wants to win at a rate better than it is achieving right now and gives him an opportunity to see who the new head coach will be well before the early signing period.
Conversely, if Butch Jones is fired after the season, there would be a whirlwind of change surrounding Tennessee occurring just weeks before recruits are able to sign.
Now, it is possible some recruits would simply wait until February as has been the procedure in the past and they would all stay committed to Tennessee and everything would be fine. But having some of the best recruits in the country dangling for another six weeks in the midst of a coaching change is extremely dangerous and could result in several players flipping to other schools.
Some programs have already begun trying to poach players from Tennessee. Four-star cornerback and Tennessee commit Jaycee Horn received an offer from Clemson on Monday. Three-star wide receiver Jatavious Harris announced Monday that his “recruitment is now open to all schools,” though it appears he is still technically committed to Tennessee.
With a recruiting class as good as the one Tennessee currently has, the Vols will certainly want as many players as possible to sign before Christmas and leave little doubt heading into the traditional National Signing Day.
Additionally, Tennessee - again, predicated on the assumption Butch is fired - will most likely not be the only attractive job open in college football or even in the SEC. Texas A&M is unhappy with Kevin Sumlin and LSU looks like it may have made a mistake in hiring Ed Orgeron. So in addition to recruiting, Tennessee can get out in front of other schools which will also want the top coaching candidates available.
There are plenty of reasons for Tennessee to make a coaching change soon. UT should rip off the bandage now and salvage what it can of this season while better positioning itself for the future.