Dennis Dodd of CBS published an article questioning whether Butch Jones has been underrated in the job he has done at Tennessee. I encourage you to go read it first, so you can see some of the things he says about Jones.
On the whole, the case Dodd makes is built on a house of cards. But let’s dissect it. First, I want to start with simple factual inaccuracies.
Derek Barnett was selected 14th in the 2017 NFL Draft, not 25th. Tennessee’s former running back is Jalen Hurd, not “Jalen Heard.” Those are mistakes that would be unacceptable in a 100-level journalism class.
Dodd goes on to call Tennessee “not a state where a load of high school talent resides.”
Tennessee currently has the tenth-ranked 2018 recruiting class in the country according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, with seven of the Vols’ 11 commits being in-state players. The NCAA also released a study yesterday which ranks Tennessee sixth in the country in percentage of players recruited by Division I schools.
States w/ highest % of HS football players recruited by a DI school:— NCAA Research (@NCAAResearch) May 31, 2017
4-8. (DC), MD, TN, SC, NC pic.twitter.com/IkFSc68V2w
Now we can begin to dissect the meat of Dodd’s argument, which essentially centers around the fact that Tennessee has done about as well or better than could be expected given the shape of the program prior to Jones.
"I can't say it, but you are right," Jones said. "The story hasn't been out. Name me another college football program four years in, in as competitive a conference that we're in that faced all the adversity and challenges that we had. Plus, all the expectations we faced year in, year out.
OK. Jim Harbaugh was hired at Michigan - a school with higher expectations than those at Tennessee - prior to the 2015 season, with the Wolverines coming off a 5-7 record in 2014. In his first two years, Harbaugh has compiled 20 wins compared to just six losses, a win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl and an appearance in the Orange Bowl. And he did so in a Big 10 that has certainly been on par with, if not better than the SEC in the past couple years.
Dodd goes on to quote stats which Butch Jones would be quick to give you as well.
“In the SEC, only Jones, Nick Saban and Jim McElwain have won at least nine games the last two seasons. In the last three years, only Saban (40) has won more games than Jones (25) among SEC coaches.”
Of those 25 wins, only 16 have come against Power 5 opponents. And the fact that only three coaches have won nine games the past two years, in my opinion, speaks more to the lack of depth in the SEC than the coaching prowess of Jim McElwain or Butch Jones.
As I mentioned, the crux of Dodd’s argument is that Tennessee is simply not an elite SEC program and Jones has done better than one should expect. He uses this basis to suggest it is illogical to expect Jones to have won an SEC title in his first four years.
I don’t think many Tennessee fans hold that against Jones at all. But to not reach the SEC Championship Game when Tennessee has been inarguably the best team in the SEC East each of the past two years is unacceptable.
Dodd also neglects the situations in which Tennessee has lost games under Butch Jones. A blown 14-point lead in the second half against Oklahoma. A blown 13-point lead in the second half against Florida. A loss to South Carolina with two weeks to prepare. A loss to Vanderbilt with a Sugar Bowl berth in the balance.
There is a case to be made for Butch Jones being under appreciated. I think any Tennessee fan would choose him over Derek Dooley in a heartbeat.
And I don’t want this to come across as a scathing review of Butch Jones. He’s a good man who I truly believe is doing his best to win at Tennessee.
But the bottom line is this - Butch Jones is not underrated.