Writers Chase Corder and Jonathan Johnson debate whether Saturday’s game against Florida is a make or break game for Tennessee Vol head coach Butch Jones.
Corder: While a loss to Florida at home would be detrimental to the public’s perception of Butch Jones as a coach, it’s unfair to let the results of one game determine his future. Sure, a loss would make it 12 straight to the Gators, continuing the worst stretch for Tennessee in this historic rivalry, but the season is still young. Even with a loss to Florida, the Vols would be 3-1 heading into October. Imagine Tennessee losing to the Gators, but responding with back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Georgia, followed by the ultimate accomplishment: upsetting Alabama at home. Would fans still be calling for Butch to get the boot? At the end of the day, while a loss to Florida would be absolutely crushing to the Rocky Top’s spirits, there’s a bigger picture to focus on. With this gauntlet of a four-game stretch coming up, Vol Nation should hope to go at least 2-2 over this span, as the remainder of the schedule appears to be a cakewalk. This would likely lead to a 10-2 season. Firing Jones after a double-digit win season would be ridiculous. Now, if the team goes under 1-3 or 0-4 over the next four games, there’s a different argument to be had.
Johnson: This game should mean absolutely everything to Jones. This is the biggest game of his career by far. The season is still young after this game, but to most of the fan base, this game is the season. Alabama is a big rival for Tennessee, but Florida has seemed to overtake them by a large margin. This game has taken a Red Sox vs. Yankees feel for fans. Because of that, Saturday is absolutely a must-win game for Jones. “The streak” has been harped upon greatly the last few years when the games have been close. Jones can say the players don’t pay attention to that all he wants to, but the fact of the matter is that they probably do. Their is a certain psychological factor that this losing streak to the Gators has taken on. Sure, the Vols have had other long losing streaks before (the current one to Alabama,) but this streak feels much different. Tennessee should have won the last two games against Florida easily. A third-consecutive loss to the Gators under Jones with the better team would be tough to swallow. This team would have a difficult time bouncing back with a loss. Sure, the Vols could respond and finish the season in style, but college football is a business based on results against the best. A 12th-consecutive loss to the Gators means the head man in Knoxville will feel more pressure than he could have imagined.
Corder: In today’s sports world, patience has become an afterthought. It’s also widely known the judgement on a new coach should be held off until his third year, especially if the coach was brought into a tough situation like Jones was. This allows time for the coach to incorporate his system and players. It is Jones’ fourth season now. With that being said, his record since the beginning of last year is 12-4, with four losses coming by a combined 17 points, and two of those losses coming to teams that finished in the top five (Alabama and Oklahoma), while Florida finished No. 25 and could have been much higher if not for the suspension of quarterback Will Grier. A loss to the Gators would be quite the blow, especially given the spread, which varies depending on the site. But Florida is another top-20 team full of talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I understand the desire to top the Gators is high, I’m right there with you (CAN THE STREAK JUST END SO WE CAN RELAX?!), but out of fairness, if the result is yet another loss to Florida, maybe Vol fans should hold off on the “Fire Butch” chatter until the end of the year, or even next. It’s too long of a season to allow one game in September to impact one’s whole outlook on a season and a coaching staff.
Johnson: It does take a while for a coach to get his system and style in place on a team. Jones did inherit a tough situation However, this is year four and the time for excuses is over. There is simply no excuse for this Tennessee team to lose to this Florida team. Saturday’s game will have a big role in determining Jones’ legacy on Rocky Top. The overall record for Jones is solid since his first season, but I would put an asterisk beside that record as well. The biggest game to date that Jones has won was the Georgia game last year. And even so, that win took a miraculous comeback to pull off. So, this is another reason why Florida is so crucial. It would be the biggest win of his career. On the flip side, it would also be the biggest loss of his career. Everything will change with the outcome of Saturday’s game. The foundation of “bricks” that Jones has built his program on at Tennessee will either keep “rising to the top” with a win Saturday or come crashing down in an epic defeat.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Ruth Dudley, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics