When Butch Jones was hired to be Tennessee’s new head football coach in December of 2012, many Vol fans were left wondering how to feel. Jones, like most new coaching hires, had a solid opening press conference. But after suffering through the Dooley era, most Vol fans just wanted Tennessee’s ship to be righted and get out of the hole they’d be thrust into.
Vol fans had hope with Jones, but uncertainty pervaded as well.
Fast forward over four and a half years later, and now most Vol fans know how they feel about Jones as a head coach. But how does the national media feel about how the hiring of Jones has panned out thus far?
Athlon Sports recently evaluated every single head coaching hire from every Power Five School since 2012 by putting the hires into one of seven categories: home runs, holding steady, trending up, the thrill is gone, jury’s out, stepping stones, and busts. And according to Athlon, the hiring of Jones is in the “holding steady” group.
Jones is one of 11 coaching hires since 2012 to be listed in the “holding steady” category. He’s joined notably by four other SEC head coaches. Florida’s Jim McElwain, Arkansas’s Bret Bielema, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops are also in this group.
The “holding steady” group consists of coaches who are “on the right track, but have yet to win big” according to Athlon.
Here’s what they had to say about Jones:
“The 2016 Vols were erratic, combustible, and resilient — often on the same afternoon — a combination that tempered disappointment with sheer exhaustion. The result was a missed opportunity in a watered-down division, but also a reminder of how far the Vols have come on Jones’ watch.”
When Jones was hired before the 2013 season, the Vols were mired in arguably the worst era in Vol football history. Tennessee had just suffered back-to-back 5-7 seasons and hadn’t won more than seven games in half a decade when Jones took over.
Jones and the Vols have now won nine games in back-to-back seasons, but that success has also been marred by failure and disappointment.
The Vols were preseason favorites to win the SEC East last season and looked well on their way to doing just that with a 5-0 start to the year. But injuries and poor team chemistry led to Tennessee losing four of their final seven regular season games, including losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt on the road.
Tennessee has still yet to win the division title under Jones, but the Vols have certainly improved under his direction. Hence the “holding steady” ranking for his hiring at Tennessee.