KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's 2016 football season fell short of expectations and nudged coach Butch Jones closer to the hot seat that became sizzling in 2017, but this surely was not what Brady Hoke envisioned when he accepted the job as the Volunteers' defensive line coach in February.
On Monday, Hoke addressed the media as interim head coach.
"I think, number one, we lost a good man," Hoke said of Jones. "That I will say."
Hoke declined to share the details of the Sunday team meeting where Jones informed the players that he had been fired.
"That's a football team deal," Hoke said.
Instead, he focused on Tennessee's senior class and the two games they have left. It will take an upset win over LSU on Saturday night and a win over Vanderbilt next week to buy those seniors a third game, which would be the fourth bowl game of their careers.
"These next two weeks are all about coaching our hearts out and coaching for these seniors on this football team, because for many of them this will be the last football they'll ever play in their lives," Hoke said. "It's important, in my opinion, that we've been focused that way the whole year and we've got to finish that."
Hoke, a former head coach at Ball State, San Diego State and Michigan, said Tennessee's staff is "going to work our tails off" and continue recruiting on Tennessee's behalf. He declined to elaborate on what went wrong to put the Vols in this situation and redirected the conversation to the seniors.
"They have been part of 29 wins, three bowl wins and they've laid a foundation for this program that was badly needed," Hoke said. "They're the ones who we play for. The foundation they laid now and for the future, I think is really positive."
Hoke said he will "tweak some things" to be true to himself as head coach. Defensive graduate assistant Nathan Ollie will take an increased role with the defensive line as Hoke handles the day-to-day operations of the program. Tuesday practices, a portion of which had been open to the media during the season, will be closed.
Asked about his discussion with athletic director John Currie and the topic of Hoke potentially having an opportunity to be considered for the head coaching job, Hoke said, "We had a good conversation."
"I was very honored that he entrusted this in us," Hoke said. "We just want to win for those seniors."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.