KNOXVILLE — The message painted on the iconic University of Tennessee campus rock stayed there all day Sunday, with no one bothering to paint over it in the hours that passed after Tennessee's 29-26 loss at Kentucky on Saturday night.
"Enough is enough," it said. "Fire his (butt)."
Two blocks away, the lights were on in the Tennessee football offices, even amid a rising sentiment that it's just a matter of when and not if head coach Butch Jones will be fired.
Speculation on Jones' future ran rampant Sunday in the wake of the Volunteers losing to Kentucky for only the second time since 1984, but athletic director John Currie gave no indication he plans to part with Jones before this Saturday night's homecoming game against nonconference opponent Southern Mississippi (5-3).
A Tennessee athletics spokesperson announced a regular weekly schedule of media appearances for Jones, beginning with a news conference on campus today that will assuredly bring a new wave of questions about the fifth-year coach's future.
Tennessee (3-5, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) forced four turnovers, never turned the ball over and still managed to lose a fourth consecutive game by falling at Kentucky.
"It's one of those years," Jones said after the game. "I've never been through this in 30-plus years with how many games that have come down to the wire. We've just got to keep grinding. There's still a lot of football left to be played. I know it's kind of become redundant, but that's the truth."
After this week, the Vols close the regular season against Missouri (3-5, 0-4), LSU (6-2, 3-1) and Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-5). Even if they win out and add a bowl victory, an 8-5 record would be a regression from the nine-win totals Jones posted in 2015 and 2016 under former athletic director Dave Hart.
Currie followed Hart, starting the job on April 1. Before the season, he praised the job Jones has done. But Currie has been silent in recent weeks as frustration has mounted within a proud fanbase that has not celebrated an SEC East division title since 2007.
Jones' contract runs through the 2020 season. A copy of it shows he would be owed $2.5 million for each year remaining on his deal if fired. Tennessee would owe him roughly $8 million if he were fired this week. But if Jones were to get another coaching job elsewhere, Tennessee's financial obligation to him would be decreased "dollar-for-dollar" by his new income, according to his contract.
Attendance may also be a factor in how long Jones is allowed to continue coaching. An announced crowd of 98,104 attended Tennessee's most recent home game, a 15-9 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 14. Neyland Stadium's capacity is 102,455.
On Saturday night, Jones said he "absolutely" expects to have Currie's support for the rest of the regular season. The coach praised the fight of his team, which has dealt with numerous injuries this year.
Despite playing without star running back and emotional leader John Kelly, who was suspended for Saturday's game, the Vols snapped a streak of 15 quarters without an offensive touchdown in the second quarter.
"Well I think all you've got to do is first of all look, is that a team that had quit? No," Jones said. "That wasn't a team that had given up. That team hung together and that team battled. I think that's a testament to them. But again, we're making way too many mistakes at critical stages of the game. But this team has not given up."
Jones laid out a goal of reaching a bowl game, which would be the program's fourth straight.
"I believe in our kids, I believe in our program," Jones said. "I believe in what we're recruiting. It's one of those years, and the only way I know is to keep working. I will tell you this: there is nobody who takes more ownership in this football program than Butch Jones. I can assure you of that. I take it personal, because I want to win for our fans and I want to win for our players and I want to win for everyone. But you've just got to keep battling, lessons, and moving forward."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who has started the past three games, appears to be emerging as a leader. Guarantano said he addressed the Vols on Friday night, telling his teammates he had failed them by not producing wins in his first two starts.
Guarantano added he believes the players traveled to Kentucky confident in Jones.
"I definitely think that we all still believe in Coach Jones," Guarantano said after the game. "We hear that outside noise, and I think that with that outside noise we play even harder for him. I think he's doing a great job.
"We've just got to win games."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.