Dennis Dodd, a national college football writer for CBS Sports since the late 1990s, believes Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones is an underrated head coach.
Dodd states that Jones has received unfair criticism for his 30-21 overall record at Tennessee and cites “progress” as the main reason Jones is underrated while heading up the Vols.
“You want progress?” Dodd writes, “Josh Dobbs became the highest-drafted Tennessee quarterback since Peyton Manning. The six Vols taken in the draft were the most out of Knoxville, Tennessee, in seven years. Defensive end Derek Barnett was the 25th overall player taken.” (Barnett was actually the 14th overall selection in the draft.)
Dodd goes on to state that Jones “basically inherited 14 years of negative equity since the 1998 national championship” and quotes former Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer when Fulmer said that Jones inherited “an absolute mess” when he took over prior to the 2013 season.
The article goes on to say that Jones is in select company among SEC head coaches. “In the SEC, only Jones, Nick Saban and Jim McElwain have won at least nine games the last two season,” the article states. “In the last three years, only Saban (40) has won more games than Jones (25) among SEC coaches.”
Those fact are correct. No other current SEC head coach aside from Saban has more wins at an SEC school over the last three seasons than Jones. Jim McElwain has only been at Florida two seasons, otherwise his 29 wins over his last three seasons as a head coach would surpass Jones.
But Dodd does point out that Jones does have a glaring flaw according to Vol fans.
“Jones’ ‘sin’ — if that’s the right term — is he can’t win big enough, fast enough for the likes of some at Tennessee,” Dodd writes. “Why can’t people see past that?”
Dodd goes on to say that Jones won’t be fired after this season “unless the bottom falls out” for Tennessee. Yet he claims “the bottom isn’t going to fall out” and points out that only four current head coaches in the country (Saban, Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn, Mark Richt) have ever won an SEC title and only five other coaches (Saban, Meyer, Bob Stoops, Gary Patterson, Chris Peterson) have more total conference titles to their claim than Jones. Butch Jones has won at least a share of four conference titles from his time at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The article then claims that fan expectations for the Vols may be too high by stating Tennessee as a program is “perhaps the sixth-best program in the SEC.” This is despite the fact that UT has the second-most all-time wins by an SEC school and trails only Alabama in that regard. Dodd also states that the state of Tennessee isn’t “a state where a load of high school talent resides” and claims that a source says “there are 8-10 Division I players in the state in the next recruiting cycle.” The current in-state 2018 recruiting class already has 14 players committed to eight different FBS schools, and according to 247Sports, the 2019 class has 13 players projected as four-stars or higher so far.
Dodd mentions the improvement in APR scores and graduation rates as another plus for Jones, but he also concedes that the 2016 season ended in disappointing fashion for the Vols. But that isn’t all Jones’ fault, according to Dodd.
“Jones dealt with an unfortunate rash of injuries,” writes Dodd. “In a line-of-scrimmage league, four top defensive tackles were out. For some reason, tailback Jalen Hurd thought his best route to the first round of the draft was to transfer and switch to wide receiver.”
One of the last things Dodd says in his piece is another fact in Jones’ favor. “Only 23 coaches in the country have as many wins as Jones (80),” Dodd writes. “There is still upside, plenty of it.”
Before Jones took over at Tennessee, the Vols were a staggering 2-14 in conference play the previous two seasons. Jones was the Vols’ fourth head coach in six years when he was hired in 2013, and the football program was in the midst of a historic low. The Vols were a mere 28-34 in the previous five seasons before Jones was hired. The Vols have gone 30-21 in Jones’ four years including 18-8 the last two seasons combined.
Jones has certainly shown progress in his time at Tennessee. But that progress seemed to hit a wall last season when the Vols collapsed and fell short of winning the SEC East. If Jones can right the ship this season and continue upon the progress he had made before the second half of last year, fans will climb back on board.
But if Jones and the Vols disappoint again this season, those claiming he is an underrated head coach will be even fewer in number.