News that Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones was fired Sunday was the conclusion to an inevitable ending.
The writing had been on the wall for weeks that Jones’ time on Rocky Top was coming to a close as the Vols’ season tailspun into disaster. It started with a heartbreaking loss to rival Florida on the final play of the game back on Sept. 16, and sunk deeper as the year went on.
Things reached a low point with an 0-for-October showing during which the Vols had a run of 15 straight quarters without a touchdown. It culminated with the second loss to Kentucky in 30 years.
Saturday’s 50-17 loss to Missouri was the final act that forced Athletic Director John Currie’s hand to finally make a move and remove Jones as Tennessee’s coach. But the issues that plagued Jones this season and cost him his job are the same things that cost Tennessee in his previous four years.
Questionable roster moves, a lack of coaching continuity, an inability to develop players and head scratching in-game decisions are all things that have Tennessee at 4-6 this season and winless in the SEC. The same can be said for the last two years and why UT failed to reach an SEC Championship game under Jones.
The inability to develop players is the most glaring and the largest factor for why Tennessee is where it is this season.
On the recruiting trail, Jones brought Tennessee back to the national conversation by signing highly-touted classes. Over the past four recruiting cycles, UT signed four straight top-15 classes. There was NFL talent on those rosters, but UT managed to underachieve.
Numerous highly recruited players either didn’t live up to expectations, had their careers cut short to injury or just left Tennessee all together. There’s no greater example of that than the 2015 class.
Jones brought in the fifth-rated class that season, complete with four five-star recruits according to Rivals — Alvin Kamara, Kahlil McKenzie, Kyle Phillips and Drew Richmond. As it stands, the only player of the four to meet expectations is Kamara. The other three have contributed, but not the way anyone expects five-star recruits to.
Add that of the 29 commits, 11 transferred. In the 2014 class, 16 are no longer with the program.
The lack of development is why the Vols are in the position they are this season, with limited experience at skill positions and a glaring lack of depth across the board in part due to a starling amount of injuries. When Kamara, Josh Dobbs, Cameron Sutton, Derek Barnett, Josh Malone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin all left, that fifth-rated 2015 class was the next step, the redshirt sophomores, juniors and seniors who would have been there to take their place.
It’s hard to believe all of the players who didn’t pan out or transferred were misses, which leaves the onus on the coaching staff and ultimately Jones.
Jones mantra of brick by brick played well early, and Butch brought in plenty of them. Unfortunately for Jones and a success-starved fan base, he was unable to turn those bricks into the structure that was expected.
To his credit, he did a fine job bringing the Vols back from the mess he inherited coming out of the Derek Dooley area. Academically things could have hardly been worse and Jones stabilized it.
He recruited well enough to have back-to-back nine wins seasons and whoever takes over the program will have some talented players. Tennessee’s program is undoubtably better off than when Jones came aboard, and whoever Currie hires in the near future is inheriting a much better situation than the one Jones took over.
Jones was frustrating, standoffish, combative and at times out of touch with the mood of the fan base he was trying to bring a winner. It could be maddening for fans, but because of Jones there is a solid foundation and an opportunity for the next coach to finish what Jones stabilized and return Tennessee to the place they desperately wish to return.