Wiedmer: Is Vols' Butch Jones talking his way out of his job? [video]

Wiedmer: Is Vols' Butch Jones talking his way out of his job? [video]

September 26th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones shows his displeasure. Behind him is quarterback coach Mike Canales. The University of Massachusetts Minutemen visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in NCAA football action in Knoxville on Sept. 23, 2017.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

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KNOXVILLE — "Enough is enough."

That was Tennessee football coach Butch Jones's passionate response Monday to what he perceives as unfair media coverage of his team. Or maybe he was inadvertently repeating the Big Orange Nation's sentiment after last Saturday's narrow victory over winless UMass.

But don't take my word for it. Merely turn to one of Coach Cliche's favorite sayings — the one that states, "You put your identity on video" — because our newspaper's David Cobb did just that in posting much of the fifth-year coach's moderately tepid tirade on our website.

"Are we focused on Tennessee football from a recruiting standpoint, from all the positive things we've done, from all the positive things this football program brings to a community, this great fan base?" Jones asked during his weekly media conference. "(Or) are we in the reality world of TV?"

Not that he stopped there.

"Sometimes we have to check ourselves," he continued. "What are we here for? What are the values and principles that guide our life every single day? If everyone is Vols fans, how do we let our opponents use this in the recruiting process with fake news?"

So much for never letting them see you sweat. Beyond that, since when is it the job of media or fans to consider how every word or action might impact Big Orange recruiting? If we're that important to UT's football success, shouldn't we all get some royalty check in the mail from Jones each time he lands a prized recruit?

There was also this when Jones was asked whether Shy Tuttle's latest injury had been caused by a fight with a teammate: "Football is an emotional game. It is a competitive game. The injury was caused not by a teammate. (Tuttle) landed on a helmet, and that's the truth. And I think we have to understand, what do we want out of our media? This place, with the drama?"

So how did a powerful, accomplished athlete such as Tuttle come to land on said helmet in such a way that might damage his orbital bone around his eye, as is rumored to be the case? Could he have been pushed or shoved or decked by a teammate? Surely not. And to think we've come to think of a helmet as a player's best friend.

It also would be fair to argue that the $4 million Jones will be paid this year is more than fair compensation for dealing with such drama. These players — almost all of the players at Power Five conference schools — are overgrown kids with overblown expectations of making millions for themselves and their families if their college coaches will just give them the exposure needed to impress NFL scouts enough to draft them in an early round and sign them to a guaranteed bonus.

Any coach who can't foresee the drama associated with that should stick to Pop Warner football or working with the cross country team.

Yet you also can't half-blame Jones for his frustrations. His teams have suffered an inordinate number of injuries both last season and this one. He entered the 2017 campaign with two unproven quarterbacks and without a bucket full of almost irreplaceable leaders from last year's defense: Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton, to name but three.

About the only real break he's gotten since he's been at Tennessee is that the SEC East's other supposed marquee programs — Florida and Georgia — haven't been at their best of late. Even then, he's won only once against the Gators and twice against the Bulldogs.

But Jones is also 18-8 total over his last two full seasons and the Vols have won their three bowl games under his watch by an average of 23.3 points. Let UT beat Georgia for the third straight season this Saturday and at least some of the angst and anger over Team 121's uneven performances to date is sure to be forgiven. Or at least put on hold until the next loss.

Still, at least 15,000 empty seats inside Neyland Stadium at the start of last Saturday's UMass game — and three times that many vacant by the start of the fourth quarter — scream of a fan base that has had more than enough of their head football coach.

Yet Monday's presser also gave a hint or two of a coach who's quite possibly had more than enough of the Big Orange fish bowl.

Asked to assess quarterbacks Quinten Dormady's and Jarrett Guarantano's UMass work, Jones tersely replied, "I think there's a lot more pressing topics than the quarterback situation."

When someone wondered why injured wideout Jauan Jennings hadn't been seen on the sideline recently, the coach shot back: "You guys look for everything. I think you're running a reality TV show that runs off of drama."

In a sense, sports is the ultimate reality show, often filled with more drama than any Hollywood script writer could imagine. And if Jones thinks that "sometimes the negativity (around the program) is overwhelming," it might double if UT loses to Georgia.

With his time at the podium almost done Monday, Jones said, "All of us as human beings need to self-check ourselves," then added, "and you may not like that answer."

Come late November, if there have been many more performances like the Vols' showing against UMass, or more defeats to mirror the Florida loss, Jones almost assuredly will not like the answer UT athletic director John Currie gives regarding his football future with the Vols.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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