Butch Jones has already been tabbed as a potential coaching casualty before the end of the 2017 season by one college football analyst. Now another national media member is saying Jones may not be Tennessee’s head coach before this upcoming season is even over.
Ben Kercheval of CBS Sports stated Butch Jones could be one of a handful of coaches who are fired before the month of November in a “bold prediction” piece a week and a half ago. Fast forward to now, and a prominent SEC analyst is saying almost the exact same thing.
Barrett Sallee, an SEC football analyst and host of a college football podcast and an Sirius XM sports show, said in a recent podcast that he believes Butch Jones will be the first SEC head coach to be fired this season. And it could very well happen before the season is even over.
“When it comes to Tennessee, it’s going to be hard to justify getting smoked by your rivals,” Sallee said in his podcast. “And I think Tennessee is going to get smoked by pretty much all of its biggest rivals this year.”
Sallee states that it will be a “close call” between Butch Jones and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin over which SEC coach is most likely to be fired. But Sallee believes the Aggies are more willing to be patient with Sumlin because of youth at quarterback. Freshman Kellen Mond and redshirt freshman Nick Starkel are two of the favorites to eventually win the Aggies’ starting quarterback position. Sallee believes if Sumlin tabs one of the freshmen quarterback to start and they at least show progress, he can survive even a four-loss SEC record in 2017.
Not so much for Butch Jones, however.
“If Tennessee starts Quinten Dormady and follows that same path (losing four conference games), I don’t know how willing they’d be to keep Butch Jones around,” Sallee said. “Tennessee is in a much more winnable division. That window is still very much open. And if they can’t do it, if they’re just sort of okay in the SEC East this year, that’s going to be enough to get Butch Jones let go.
“And it may happen before the end of the season just so they can get out in front of the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.”
The Vols have gone 8-4 in the regular season in back-to-back years under Jones, but the story of both those seasons has been drastically different. In 2015, the Vols weren’t the favorites to win the SEC East. The second half collapses were hard to stomach for fans, but they at least saw improvement as the season wore on and had hope 2016 would be the season Tennessee finally got over the hump. But the Vols stumbled down the stretch in 2016 after starting the year 5-0 and failed once again to win the division crown.
If Sallee is correct, another 8-4 regular season won’t be enough for Butch Jones to keep his job as Tennessee’s head coach.
Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC East title since 2007, and if they fail to win it again this year, it would mark only the second time any of the “big three” in the SEC East (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee) have gone a decade without winning a division title since the conference split into divisions in 1992. It took Georgia until 2002 to finally win the division after Tennessee and Florida won the first 10. The Vols would own the longest drought among the three if they fail to win it this year.