When Butch Jones took over as Tennessee’s head football coach, the Vols were arguably at their lowest point in program history. Tennessee hadn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2007 when Jones took over in 2013, and they wouldn’t win more than that in his first two years either.
But then Tennessee won nine games in 2015 and looked to be on their way to finally being “back.”
The Vols started out strong in 2016, going 5-0 to start the year with dramatic wins over SEC East rivals Florida and Georgia. Tennessee appeared to be back to their winning ways for the first time in a decade.
But as Vol fans know, things went downhill from there.
Tennessee lost four of their final seven games of the regular season after starting out 5-0, and those losses cost them an SEC East title and also a shot at playing in the Sugar Bowl.
This season the Vols are 3-1 in 2017, but the last couple weeks have done little to give Vol fans something to cheer about. Tennessee lost on a last second play to Florida, and they struggled to defeat winless UMass last week at home.
Right now, Vol fans aren’t exactly thrilled with where Tennessee is from a national perspective. Yes, things could be (and have been) worse, but the close losses and late collapses have overshadowed the successes the Vols have had over the last few years.
But according to Jones himself, the last two years have been some of the best Tennessee football has seen over the last two decades.
Jones appeared on the radio show 3HL on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville this week, and during the interview he was asked about his comments he made toward the media on Monday about the “overwhelming negativity” from the media in Knoxville. Jones replied that he had already addressed that and that he sometimes “has to protect the program.”
That wasn’t all he said, however. He would go on to add that the last few years of Tennessee football have been some of the best the program has seen in recent memory.
“The last two years have been some of the best years in the last 20 years of Tennessee football,” Jones said on the 3HL radio show.
Tennessee went 9-4 in both 2015 and 2016 and have started out this season 3-1. That gives the program a 21-9 record in the last two-plus seasons. That’s not bad, especially considering how bad the Vols were when Jones took over. But if you date back 20 years ago, you’ll be smack in the middle of one of the best eras of Tennessee football.
Exactly 20 years ago this season would be the 1997 season, a year that saw Peyton Manning almost win the Heisman Trophy while leading the Vols to an 11-2 record. The very next season saw Tennessee run through an undefeated season and win the first ever BCS National Championship. Tennessee would go on to win 10 or more games four times between 1999-2007, a feat that Jones has still yet to accomplish.
The Vols also haven’t won the SEC East at any point in the last couple seasons. They won the East six times from 1997-2007 including SEC Championships in 1997 and 1998.
The last two years of Tennessee football have been far better than what fans had to endure from 2008-2014. But they still don’t compare to some of the seasons the program experienced ten or twenty years ago.
If you want to hear Jones’ full interview on the 3HL, you can hear it here.