On this week’s installment of Rocky Topics, Ben Woody and Jake Nichols debate how different the Tennessee and Vanderbilt football programs would be if Butch Jones and Derek Mason switched places.
Woody: Many would assume that if Butch Jones was hired at Vanderbilt, he would have done a much better job than Derek Mason. However, the defensive-minded coach brings a lot of experience to the table and would have been a major upgrade for the Tennessee Volunteers. Most Tennessee fans remember the strong passing game during the Derek Dooley era, but the defense was a complete wreck because of Sal Sunseri. Mason would have provided an instant improvement to a defense that had much potential, but performed badly in the scheme. He finds hidden gems in every recruiting class, like Ralph Webb and Zach Cunningham. If he was here today, the Tennessee program would have the defense to match up with Alabama. Tennessee would officially be back out of the shadow of Derek Dooley and become nationally recognized.
Nichols: If Butch Jones and Derek Mason switched positions, there is no doubt that Jones would have his Vanderbilt Commodores in a better position now than Mason’s alternate-universe Tennessee Volunteers. Nearing the end of his third year, Mason has led the Commodores to a 12-23 record, with his biggest wins coming over then-unranked Ole Miss and Georgia.
Jones, on the other hand, has brought Tennessee to the brink of dominance, but has fallen short by way of a three-game losing skid that caused the Vols to slide back into mediocrity and out of any championship discussions for 2016. Unless, of course, one is referring to Jones’s ever-cliché press conference quip, a “Championship of Life.”Jones’ recruiting skills have not gone unnoticed, as his consistent ability to corral top-tier players to Knoxville has added some serious depth to the Vols roster.
Woody: Even though Jones has been able to get Tennessee back in the spotlight, he still hasn’t been able to get over the hump and live up to expectations. Each year, he has improved his record, but with high expectations this season, many believe that this season was a let down. If Mason were here, the atmosphere around the program would be completely different. The Tennessee fan base is very intimidating at times, but since this would only be Mason’s first head coaching gig, many would have low expectations. The Vols would be able to surpass those expectations each year and quite possibly could be back to being relevant. If Jones was at Vanderbilt, he would pull in top-tier recruits, but would fail to develop them.
Nichols: Despite Jones’s apparent inability to convert promising recruits to on-field results, that recruiting would no doubt create more results in Nashville than Mason’s teams in Knoxville. Mason hasn’t done much thus far for the ‘Dores, but compared to fans’ expectations in Knoxville, dealing with post-James Franklin woes in Music City is a cake walk. A more demanding fan base would eat Mason alive, and although Tennessee’s most rabid followers now seem fed up with Jones’ mantras, his infamous “Brick by Brick” has done a large part in keeping Jones off the hot seat.The same would work even more so for Vanderbilt, who, much like Tennessee, thirsts for the coach that will bring his team beyond the iron curtain of success and into prominence. Jones would thrive in such a role, doing almost as well as he is now on the sidelines of Neyland Stadium, whereas Mason’s time in Knoxville would only result in another firing — something Volunteer fans know all too well.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam