Butch Jones was on the cusp of being considered an upper-echelon coach prior to the 2016 season.
After rebuilding a depleted roster and improving Tennessee over the course of three years, the Vols were set to make a push for the SEC East, and potentially more, with an experienced and talented roster.
Thing obviously didn’t go according to plan. The Vols struggled with team chemistry, inconsistent performance, injuries and other issues throughout a disappointing 8-4 regular-season campaign that ended with a Music City Bowl victory over Nebraska. That disappointing year cost Jones in CBS’s updated college football rankings.
After being ranked as the 33rd best coach in the nation by CBS heading into last year, Jones checked in at No. 52 overall in the nation in this year’s ranking, just one spot ahead of Vanderbilt Derek Mason, who beat Jones and the Vols in the regular-season finale in Nashville.
“A Champion of Life, but not a champion of our rankings,” Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com wrote of the ranking that CBS came up with by polling five college football writers. “Still, in my opinion, this is a pretty steep drop considering all the injuries Tennessee dealt with last year. Raised expectations will do that, though.”
Indeed, 8-4 would’ve been perfectly acceptable for the Vols a few years ago coming out of the Derek Dooley era, but expectations in 2016 made the results tough to swallow for Tennessee fans that are aching to get back closer to pre-Dooley levels of success.
With a new quarterback, plenty of new starters and an overhauled coaching staff, Jones will have a chance at redemption in 2017 in what will be an important year under first-year AD John Currie, but last season clearly hurt Jones’ coaching stock.