As I write this on Sunday morning, I am still a combination of many negative emotions. I’m an Atlanta Falcons fan who lived through the Super Bowl and this still hurt me.
Tennessee finds itself at a crossroads. Anyone who watched that game Saturday could see Tennessee was the better team. Tennessee, or any team for that matter, may never have an easier opportunity to win in The Swamp than Saturday. The final play was horrible and heartbreaking, but there was a myriad of mistakes which led to that moment and were worse, at least in my estimation.
Tennessee had first and goal inside the one-yard line in the third quarter with Florida up 6-3. Tennessee’s coaches called four straight passing plays, the last of which resulted in an interception.
On the Vols’ last possession, they again had the ball in a goal-to-go situation and John Kelly did not get a carry. Tennessee threw three incompletions — one of which was to Kelly and probably should have been caught, but John Kelly is the last person to blame for that game — and kicked a game-tying field goal. We all know what happened after that.
You can watch that game and dissect it 50 different ways. But Saturday was a microcosm of what Tennessee football has become: a program which is now irrelevant at best and an embarrassment at worst.
Butch Jones is in his fifth year as Tennessee’s head coach. He has not won the SEC East in any of his first four, and it appears very unlikely it will happen this year. To not win the SEC East in five years at Tennessee — the second-richest athletic department in the country in 2016 - is simply unacceptable.
And under Butch Jones, Tennessee hasn’t just lost. It has lost games like this one. If Butch Jones was using his colloquialisms and clichés while winning double-digit games, everyone would love it. But he’s not.
Five years is more than ample time to make a judgment on anything. Butch Jones has been given time, and he has done nothing to make Tennessee fans think he is the man for this job.
Chris Petersen took Washington to the College Football Playoff in his third year. Urban Meyer won a national championship at Ohio State in his third year. Lincoln Riley looks poised to take Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff in his first year as a head coach.
Tennessee is a program which has the resources, fan support and recruiting base to be on par with Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington or any other program in the country. Changing coaches would not affect the quality of player coming to Tennessee.
When there is a clear disparity in the level of talent on a team and what that talent is able to accomplish, there’s a disconnect somewhere.
I met Butch Jones at a high school football game in 2014. He came over and took pictures with my friends and myself for several minutes and took some time to talk with us about Tennessee football, something he didn’t have to do. I believe Butch Jones is a good man and I believe he genuinely cares about his players outside of just football.
But I simply don’t believe he has the acumen as a football coach to be the head coach at Tennessee.