March 3, 2024

Opinion recap: Vols’ collapse against Florida isn’t beginning of downfall for Jones

There are thousands of people in Tennessee who want Butch Jones fired right now. Have they lost their minds, or will Saturday’s loss to Florida signal the demise of Tennessee’s favorite bricklayer?

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The Florida Gators finished off Tennessee, 28-27, Saturday night after a monumental fourth-quarter collapse by the Volunteers. The Gators have now won 11-straight in the series, despite giving up 254 rushing yards to the Vols.

As everyone probably knows by now, Tennessee blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma just over two weeks ago. For the last two weeks, all talk has been about the Vols bouncing back from that game and finding a way to finish the Gators and end the streak. That ‘bounce back’ couldn’t possibly have gone any worse.

Saturday’s game ended up being eerily similar to the one against the Sooners. The term “epic collapse” was pretty standard when describing the loss to Oklahoma, but this collapse was even worse. It was monumental. The reason being, that Butch Jones is now officially on the hot seat in the eyes of the Tennessee fan base.

Jones’ conservative play calling was a popular topic after the Oklahoma loss, and for good reason. Tennessee’s offense became predictable and there was zero creativity when it came to trying to move the ball late.

However, in the first half against Florida, it appeared Jones had learned from his coaching mistakes in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma. The Vols came and executed a multitude of trick plays in the first 30 minutes against the Gators, and maintained a halftime lead of 17-7.

Tennessee extended their lead to 20-7 in the third quarter, then, after allowing Florida to score a touchdown, capped off a magnificent fourth-quarter drive to take a 27-14 lead presumably sealing the game. That’s when trouble erupted, as Florida drove it into the end zone, cutting the gap to 27-21.

The Vols’ next drive was a quick three-and-out, and probably the most criticized aspect of Jones’ coaching tenure thus far, as Tennessee conservatively ran the ball and tried to chew the clock. Florida got it back and scored a touchdown on fourth down. After Tennessee trailed 28-27, people began to point to the fact Jones didn’t go for two, instead of the extra point, when it was 26-14.

This ultimately did Tennessee in. But as if Jones’ questionable play calling couldn’t get any worse, he burned Tennessee’s final two timeouts on the last drive to avoid ten-second runoffs. Clock mismanagement led to kicker Aaron Medley being forced to attempt a 55-yard game-winning field goal, which he narrowly missed wide right.

Twitter basically exploded after the game and thousands of supportive Jones fans suddenly changed their minds. ‘Tennessee’, at one point, was the nation’s No. 1 trend on Twitter. According to those behind the #FireButch movement, it has become clear that Jones clearly has no idea how to manage a lead in the fourth quarter. Another popular criticism made in the last 24 hours is that Jones can recruit, but his “x’s and o’s” aren’t good enough to get the full potential from his talented players.

This criticism is roughly the same one Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles have faced for years. The difference is that unlike Georgia and LSU, Tennessee hasn’t won anything of significance in the past ten years.

Jones is only in year three, yet his leash has already been shortened. Maybe not by the administration at this point, but by the fan base. And that, indeed, can make a difference. But are Vol fans jumping to conclusions too early? Surely that isn’t possible, right?

Tennessee is four games into the 2015 season and currently sitting at 2-2. Oklahoma is ranked No. 14 in the latest coaches poll, while Florida is ranked No. 23. The Gators and Sooners are a combined 7-0 this season and Tennessee led both teams by double digits in the fourth quarter.

Yes, the Vols collapsed in both games. It was disturbing to watch and fans have a right to be angry. But who in their right mind really thinks firing Jones is a good idea? Would Derek Dooley ever have Tennessee in this position?

Despite these early-season blunders, one fact remains for Tennessee: The Vols have a very talented roster. Even Jones’ biggest detractors agree that he can recruit top talent. So, assuming he gets time to develop his players (and no, he hasn’t had enough time), wouldn’t one think the roster would be even better? Isn’t it logical to think a roster comprised primarily of juniors and seniors vs. one made up of freshman and sophomores would be better, if the initial talent level were roughly the same?

The point is, if you think it’s time to fire Jones, you’ve lost your mind.

It is 100 percent fair to criticize him and question his play calling at this point. But after all the good Jones has done for Tennessee in every possible area besides the win column, wouldn’t it seem possible that he will review his fourth-quarter decisions in the Oklahoma and Florida games? Jones isn’t incompetent. He knows there is room for improvement on his part and he will evaluate his performance, just as he does with his players.

Plus, even if he does make a late-game mistake here and there, what’s the big deal? Maybe sometimes a Jones-coached team finishes 9-4 instead of 10-3. Is that reason to start over from the beginning in search of Vince Lombardi? I’ll guarantee anyone that Jones’ replacement won’t have as good of a roster in year three. So, what is a fan on the #FireButch train looking for? There aren’t that many Jim Harbaugh’s and Urban Meyer’s out there.

Only one team wins the national championship every year. Fan bases like those from Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and Nebraska have been spoiled in the past, so now some of them believe there is that one guy out there who can return them to decades past. It doesn’t work that way. Jones is a good coach and Tennessee fans should be happy with that.

But anyway, back to this year. A team that is used to losing keeps losing. That’s just an old rule of football. Teams, with players and coaches included, have to expect to win. In order to do that, they must learn from their mistakes and find a way to break through in a close game. A great coach once said, “first you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close.” It is a process, one in which takes time. Every program that has ever faced rebuilding has gone through the same thing.

Folks are tired of hearing about the ‘process’, and that is understandable after watching the Vols be completely irrelevant for nearly a decade. But patience is still key here, Tennessee is on the cusp of breaking through. The roster is ready talent-wise and there is continuity on the coaching staff. Everybody just has to learn, collectively, how to execute late in the game. That time will come, very soon.

That is, if the radicals let it.

Edited by Jordan Dajani

Featured image by Tennessee Journalist


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Sports Editor, Cody McClure, has been with TNJN since January 2014. He is passionate about SEC football and basketball. To him, there's nothing better in life than game day in Neyland Stadium. Cody covers the SEC for Athlon Sports. Additionally, he co-hosts Rock Solid Sports for WUTK 90.3 FM on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. ET. Cody is also interning at Sports Radio WNML working under Jimmy Hyams. In his spare time, he plays golf, travels the country, and plays guitar, badly. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.