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Another rival processed: Tennessee fires Butch Jones a year too late

Firing a time was a year ago.

Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You have to hand it to ‘Bammer Sleeper Agent Dave Hart. The Alabama alum and former Assoc. Athletic Director at the Capstone was brought in by Tennessee to turn some programs around, and boy did he. From the ill-conceived and highly-public botched football search, to hiring the show-cause magnet Donnie Tyndall, to settling upon and then granting absolute license to Butch Jones, Hart took care of his alma mater’s rival. Arguably, he did Alabama no greater solid than retaining Butch after last season.

After a rebuilding plan where the Vols’ record had not improved nearly-commensurate with the talent, 2016 was the year: Preseason Top-10, legitimate SEC title hopes, veteran defense, senior star QB, deep running back corps, manageable schedule with the heavy lifting at home. All for naught. Ultimately Butch, who would prove to be one of the worst in-game coaches in the biz, simpy didn’t get it done. Another 9-win season for the Volunteers followed; a clear underachievement beset by scandals, rumors, Title IX lawsuits, and sometimes-ugly losses. Yet once again, Hart did nothing.

Hart’s replacement, new Athletic Director John Currie, seemed to also have some compunctions about doing the deed this season. Injuries, youth, close losses early and a preliminary Top-10 NSD class helped the case. But, with Butch playing concussed linemen in a loss to Kentucky, hemorrhaging commitments, getting passed by rivals Georgia and Alabama, and then the final indignity -- losing 50-17 to woeful Missouri, even Currie had seen enough. The Vols finally pulled the plug. While many will rightly say that Currie did so a few weeks later than he should, I think we all know Tennessee did so a year too late.

"Unfortunately, we are not where we need to be competitively," Vols athletic director John Currie said in a statement Sunday afternoon. "For that reason, I have asked Coach Jones to step down as head football coach. I know Coach Jones will be successful moving forward, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors."

On the monetary and replacement front, 86ing Jones and staff is going to break the bank. Butch is owed about $8.25 million, and, with all of his staff under contract, that number rises closer to $13.7m for one year. This says nothing of buyouts for active coaches thought to be on the Vols’ short list (Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, $20m) nor does it speak to the salary that an elite, or supposed elite, coach (and an elite staff) will command. And, yes, there are very real #Grumors out there, and a lot of information indicates that John Gruden will listen this time.

For now, the man “leading” the program is none other than disgraced Michigan Man and fellow head trauma enthusiast, Brady Hoke. NBD: Just LSU this week, coach!

While it will be fun watching the disaster unfold in Knoxville for a third time under Saban’s watch, there is a more immediate, pressing opportunity for ‘Bama: That No. 8 recruiting class began dropping like flies today. With so many quality gets on the horizon, this is a chance for Alabama to shore up its thinner 2018 class, while uniting with Clemson, Georgia, and others in a poaching effort that leaves the Vols with a talent hole that will take another half decade to emerge from.

Here’s the short list, Coach Saban. See if there are any defensive lineman you like.

We all know the drill at this point. Unhinged hillbillies pouring libations on Gen. Neyland’s grave, John Gruden masks, day-drinking phone calls to Finebaum, overestimation of how good of a job Tennessee really is, and other mountain people pathos.

But, for the Vols, this is a tremendously pivotal hire. Whatever grip Tennessee had on the East was relegated nearly two decades ago to — at-best — a three-way tie with Florida and Georgia in some years. Those years are over, long over. With the Gators first on the board for a splash hire and having all of the allure of easy recruiting that Knoxville does not; with Georgia having staked its claim to being the new monster in the East; with Muschamp slowly building a nice program in Columbia; Tennessee cannot afford another miss.

Arguably, they couldn’t afford this one.

Selfishly, for the fate of the Third Saturday, I hope the next guy is a little more competent than the thin-skinned MAC bully taking the fast train out of Knoxville today. But let’s not let them get good too soon, eh. I’m still enjoying this ride to the basement a little too much.

And so has fallen the second domino.