Let me begin by saying I am in no way a Butch Jones apologist. I’m not attempting to make excuses for his shortcomings, nor am I saying he doesn’t deserve criticism. Butch Jones has made mistakes while at Tennessee, and he has earned all the fair critiques he’s received.
With that being said, I’ve noticed that some of both the media and fans alike have been more than a little reactionary to the failures of Jones and the 2016 Vols as of late. And the latest example of this came from a CBS ranking that claimed Butch Jones isn’t one of the top 50 coaches in college football.
The article in question was written by Tom Fornelli. Back in March, Fornelli claimed Butch Jones had the hottest seat in college football heading into the 2017 season, and I took issue with that claim as well. Now Fornelli, and those who made this ranking, say that Butch Jones isn’t one of 50 best coaches among Power-5 schools.
The list ranks the first half of all 65 Power-5 head coaches, and the rankings were determined by a vote of five sportswriters. “We treated it just like we would a top 25 poll,” writes Fornelli, “with five voters turning in separate ballots including all 65 coaches (the 64 in Power Five conferences plus Brian Kelly of Notre Dame). Those votes were compiled into one final poll.”
Although Fornelli points out “there were no set guidelines for any of us to follow” and that the writers could “rank coaches based on what they’ve accomplished already, what you think they could accomplish, or by height, it was your call,” he states that he “went with a blend of the coach’s accomplishments and just who I would want coaching my team if I were an athletic director looking to hire somebody.”
This portion of the list doesn’t give a complete 1-65 ranking, but it shows all the coaches who fell outside the top 25. The names closer to the top of this list make sense, coaches like North Carolina’s Larry Fedora and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema round out the coaches who failed to crack the top 25. But if you drop down several more spots, you’ll find Butch Jones in a somewhat surprising ranking.
According to the CBS article, Butch Jones is the no. 52 overall head coach among Power-5 head coaches. He’s one spot ahead of Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and one spot behind Syracuse’s Dino Babers.
Jones’ ranking alone is enough of a head-scratcher. Yes, Jones underperformed in 2016 and has yet to win an SEC East division title despite the East being down the last two season. But placing him behind coaches like Babers and Boston College’s Steve Addazio make little to no sense when you delve deeper.
As the article itself notes, Babers was brought in to Syracuse to help spark their offense. But the Orange scored fewer points on average per game under Babers in his first year, and the team went 4-8 overall. Yes, Babers led Bowling Green to an 18-9 overall record in his two seasons there, but he’s hardly done enough to warrant a ranking ahead of Butch Jones. And the same goes for Addazio. While at Temple, Addazio burst onto the scene with a 9-4 record in his first season as head coach. Ever since then, however, Addazio has yet to win more than seven games in a season with both Temple and Boston College, going 28-34 in his other five seasons combined.
Even other coaches like Jim Mora Jr. (no. 49) at UCLA and Dave Clawson (no. 46) at Wake Forest are ranked ahead of Jones. Mora started out strong at UCLA, winning nine, 10, and 10 games in his first three seasons respectively. But then the Bruins’ win total fell to eight in 2015 and it dropped all the way to just four wins last season. Say what you want about Jones, but he hasn’t had a losing season since 2013, and that was in his fist season at Tennessee and at the Vols’ lowest point in their rebuilding process.
Clawson, a former infamous offensive coordinator for the Vols, has had even less success as a head coach than Mora. Clawson had a good thing going at Bowling Green State where he went 18-9 in his final two seasons before accepting the Wake Forest job. But his tenure as the Demon Deacons’ head coach hasn’t been anything to write home about. Yes, he helped lead Wake Forest to a bowl berth this last season and finished with a 7-6 record, but he went 3-9 the two seasons before that.
Does Butch Jones deserve to be in the top 30 Power-5 coaches? Probably not, no. But should he be closer to the top 40? In my opinion, he absolutely does.
With coaches like Todd Graham of Arizona State at No. 42 (he’s gone 11-14 over his last two seasons) and Gary Andersen of Oregon State at No. 41 (who’s gone 6-18 in his two seasons at Oregon State after going 30-9 in three seasons with Utah State and Wisconsin), Jones could just as easily find a spot where they are rather than at No. 52. In fact, he could be ranked even higher than that considering there are a handful of first-year Power-5 coaches inside the top 40 as well.
Even if Jones was ranked as a top 40 head coach, that’s still not good enough at Tennessee. The Vols are a top 15 all-time program, and they deserve at least a top 25 coach if not better. Jones isn’t the No. 52 coach in the Power-5, but that ranking shows just how far Tennessee has fallen from a national perspective according to some media members.
Yes, the article on CBS was off about Butch Jones being outside the top 50 Power-5 head coaches. But that article shows where Tennessee’s program is perceived to be by some national media, and that’s a sobering fact for Vol fans.
As Fornelli points out, it’s a “pretty steep drop considering all the injuries Tennessee dealt with last year… Raised expectations will do that, though.”