Tennessee travels to Alabama as five-touchdown underdogs this weekend. Butch Jones’ seat is scalding-hot. Cool relief will not be found in Tuscaloosa. Barring a miracle, the Volunteers will return to campus as a 3-4 team. One win came against an FCS team; one was a four-point sleeper over UMass.
They’ll quite possibly return as a team without a touchdown over the last 14 quarters with a young quarterback still finding his way. Most importantly, they’ll return with no new answers when it comes to Jones. If the Vols show some competency and lose by 24 points, is it all than different than a hypothetical 49-0 spanking?
My answer is no. I believe Jones’ fate has been fully baked and he’s coaching this game because it would be borderline malpractice for Tennessee to put an interim coach in the same spot. Jones will likely be 33-25 in his Knoxville tenure. His Vols teams have never finished higher than 22nd in final AP voting. He’s turned good recruiting classes into gimmicks and slogans, but not much tangible success.
Saving some face against Alabama may be personally important, but how beneficial is it to Tennessee fans who want to see the program creep back to a higher echelon?
Perhaps the powers-that-be at Tennessee see things differently. But to me, this is a crucial time and a decision must be made. If the internal thought and initial plan is to let Jones go at the end of the season, there’s little benefit to keeping him on for the duration.
The final five games on the schedule are all winnable (at Kentucky, Southern Miss, at Missouri, LSU, and Vanderbilt). That’s not to say Tennessee will win them all. For the sake of argument, though, would it be better for the program if Jones stayed on board to go 4-1 for a 7-5 record and bowl berth or if an interim coach did it?
Would it be better for some new blood to get momentum or for Jones’ situation to become less clear cut with the late success? It’s difficult to answer. There seems to be more than enough evidence available to conclude Jones is not the chosen one to restore Tennessee to a perennial title contender.
There’s a reason Butch Jones is coaching on Saturday. It may be because he still has the confidence of the Volunteers. It may be simply because he needs to take one more beating.
Time will tell.