Tennessee Vols: Is Criticism of Butch Jones Justified?


Just one season into Tennessee Vols head coach Butch Jones time in Knoxville gave Big Orange Country reasons to be optimistic about the future. Instead of not being in the conversation for the nation’s top high school recruits, these highly touted players suddenly gave serious consideration to wearing orange and white for their college careers. And after Tennessee knocked off then No. 11 South Carolina on a game-winning field goal in Knoxville, it was easy to see why the future looked so bright.

Despite the evidence of early progress, both fans and the national media understood the rebuild would take time. However, both pegged the 2016 season as the year where the culmination of Tennessee’s recruiting efforts, wins and experience would bring the Vols their first SEC East title since 2007.

As we all witnessed, the Vols fell short of that goal in 2016.

After Jauan Jennings’ incredible hail mary reception to beat Georgia, fate itself seemed to root for Tennessee. Fate again intervened on Tennessee’s behalf against Texas A&M when Aggies running back Trayveon Williams broke through the middle of the Tennessee defense and charged through for what looked like an inevitable 70-yard game-winning touchdown.

Vols cornerback Malik Foreman had other ideas.

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Five Things Vol Fans Want to See in 2015

Tennessee Vols head coach Butch Jones

(Credit of photo goes to WPSD Local 6)

An air of energy and excitement has surrounded the Tennessee football program going into 2015. Many believe 2015 to be the year Tennessee football ascends back into the national spotlight, and its easy to see why given how the Vols played at the end of 2014: winning three out of the last four regular season games and thrashing Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl. And if those things weren’t reason enough for fans to feel positive about 2015, the loss of only four starters from the 2014 team is sure to add more optimism in Knoxville.

2015 has the ingredients to be a good year for Tennessee, but what would it take for 2015 to be a great year for the Vols? Here is a checklist of five things for fans to watch for in 2015:

1. Keep Josh Dobbs healthy – Quarterback Josh Dobbs proved in 2014 that he can run the kind of up-tempo offense Butch Jones wants to run at Tennessee. A new offensive coordinator in Mike DeBord likely won’t be a stumbling block to Dobbs’ development as Jones opted to keep the offensive terminology the same from 2014. Giving Dobbs the familiarity to the offensive terminology and a talented supporting cast of running backs (sophomores Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara) and deep group of wide receivers (senior Pig Howard, juniors Marquez North and Jason Croom) will give him the best chance to improve on his 2014 campaign, but there is one issue left remaining with Dobbs: injuries.

It’s true that Dobbs’ health has not be an issue during his time with the team, but Dobbs has yet to start a complete season with the Vols. Dobbs thrives on using his athleticism to make plays, and it remains to be seen how he holds up from taking hits from an entire season. Losing Dobbs for any amount of time due to injury could prove disastrous as three true-freshman quarterbacks will be behind him on the depth chart.

2. Beat Florida and Georgia – As exciting as the wins against South Carolina have been for the last two seasons, fans have had to suffer the disappointment of losing close games against SEC-East division rivals Florida and Georgia and are likely more than ready to see this change. The wins against South Carolina have been huge in terms of Tennessee’s road back to the national spotlight, and another win against the Gamecocks would be just as important in 2015, but what would be a better way to signify growth in this Tennessee football program than to snap losing streaks against Florida and Georgia, which date back to 2004 and 2009 respectively?

3. Win the SEC East – Is winning the SEC East a tall order for a team who missed on getting a bowl-game appearance just two years prior? Perhaps, but it’s also true that the SEC East is not as strong as it has been in years past. This means that Tennessee has an opportunity to make a big splash in 2015 by winning the SEC East. Doing so would likely mean beating Florida and Georgia as was mentioned in #2, but it would also likely mean beating Missouri, the SEC East division winner from the last two seasons. Tennessee’s SEC-West opponents include Alabama and Arkansas, two tough conference games. These games, and the challenge they offer, further emphasize the importance of getting SEC-East wins.

4. Land a New Years Day bowl – Making it to a bowl game was the goal for 2014, and Tennessee achieved that goal. So what would be the next step from just making it to a bowl game? How about making it to a New Years Day bowl? While it might be a stretch to say Tennessee could win the SEC Championship or go to a BCS bowl in 2015, playing in a New Years Day bowl like the Outback Bowl is certainly an attainable goal for this team. Playing in and winning this bowl would show continued growth in the program, which is a very attractive quality to high-school recruits.

5. Continue to win recruiting  If 2015 truly turns out to be the Vols’ return to the national stage, it will be due in no small part to Tennessee’s successes on the recruiting trail since Butch Jones’ arrival. Landing top-5 recruiting classes nationally has been a huge part of the Vols’ success on-the-field, but if 2015 is to be anything more than just an anomaly, continuing to win on the recruiting trail is crucial.

Commitment Breakdown 6-10/6-15

As college football recruiting continues to play out, break downs of some of the nation’s best commitments are being given on FUEL Recruiting’s website.  Here is a glimpse of what it has to offer:

Player: DeShone Kizer, QB (Toledo, Ohio/Central Catholic)
Committed to: Notre Dame (6/11/13)

Strengths: Athleticism, Toughness, Arm Strength
Weaknesses: Timing, Accuracy

New Fighting Irish quarterback commitment DeShone Kizer fits everything that head coach Brian Kelly’s system requires: a quarterback with athleticism that has the arm strength to stretch the field.

Kizer’s athleticism is unquestionably his best trait and can gash defenses with his legs.  Opposing defenses must stay disciplined on the field to prevent Kizer from scrambling ahead for a huge gain, but that may still prove to be easier said than done.


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Progress is key for Munchak and Webster

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak sits in one of the hottest seats in the NFL going into 2013.  In fact, a 6-10 finish in 2012 almost ended Munchak’s 30-year history with the franchise.  Despite posting a 9-7 record in 2011, the Titans regressed into a losing season with two embarrassing losses to the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.  With all eyes on him, Munchak will have to do something to save his job.

The question is, what exactly will that be?  Will the Titans need another winning season?  Will they need a playoff appearance?  Or will the Titans even need a division title in an AFC South where the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both look talented enough to win in the playoffs?

Munchak may not exactly need to do any of these, although it would sure help if he did.  If the 2013 Tennessee Titans just show improvement in execution, particularly on offense, that could be enough to save the players’ and coaches’ jobs.

This seems to be what Munchak’s and Titans general manager Ruston Webster’s plan was heading into the offseason: put pieces around quarterback Jake Locker in hopes that he improves.  By adding former Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall selection and trading up to 34th to take former Tennessee Volunteer wide receiver Justin Hunter in the 2013 NFL Draft, Munchak and Webster are doing everything they can to give Locker what he needs to succeed.  Locker looked inconsistent in 2012, and the Titans hope that more protection and weapons will equate to improvement from Locker.

And then, there’s Chris Johnson.

Tennessee wants Johnson to return to his CJ2K days, and the additions of Warmack and Hunter show that Munchak and Webster are taking steps toward that end.  Signing guard Andy Levitre away from the Buffalo Bills and drafting center Brian Schwenke 107th overall from California this past April, along with the signings of guards Rob Turner and Chris Spencer in free agency, continue to display Tennessee’s commitment to offensive improvement.  Tennessee hopes that these additions will result in more running lanes and bring Johnson back to his 2,000-yard rushing days.

It’s no longer a secret that the NFL is a passing league, and that’s why Tennessee’s focus on improving the offensive line and giving Locker another weapon makes sense.  If 2013 is a breakout year for Locker, Munchak and Webster have nothing to worry about.

2013 NFL Mock Draft

In today’s NFL, teams realize the importance of having a reliable quarterback.  It’s no longer a secret.  So even in a draft without a quarterback of the same caliber of an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, is it still a surprise to see quarterback-needy teams take someone earlier than some would advise?

General managers face this issue throughout the entire offseason, and history dictates that G.M.’s will go with a quarterback.  It can be this line of logic that can really skew mock drafts and make for really interesting NFL drafts.

Nevertheless, here is my mock draft for 2013.

1. Kansas City Chiefs – Luke Joeckel/OT/Texas A&M

2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Geno Smith/QB/West Virginia

3. Oakland Raiders – Eric Fisher/OT/Central Michigan

4. Philadelphia Eagles – Dion Jordan/DE/Oregon

5. Detroit Lions – Ezekial Ansah/DE/BYU

6. Cleveland Browns – Dee Milliner/CB/Alabama

7. Arizona Cardinals – Lane Johnson/OT/Oklahoma

8. Buffalo Bills – Ryan Nassib/QB/Syracuse

9. New York Jets – Tayvon Austin/WR/West Virginia

10. Tennessee Titans – Sharrif Floyd/DT/Florida

11. San Diego Chargers – Chance Warmack/OG/Alabama

12. Miami Dolphins – D.J. Fluker/OT/Alabama

13. New York Jets – Tyler Eifert/TE/Notre Dame

14. Carolina Panthers – Star Lotulelei/DT/Utah

15. New Orleans Saints – Barkevious Mingo/DE/LSU

16. St. Louis Rams –  Jonathan Cooper/OG/North Carolina

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jarvis Jones/OLB/Georgia

18. Dallas Cowboys – Kenny Vaccaro/S/Texas

19. New York Giants – Justin Pugh/OT/Syracuse

20. Chicago Bears – Alec Ogletree/ILB/Georgia

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Matt Elam/S/Florida

22. St. Louis Rams – Sheldon Richardson/DT/Missouri

23. Minnesota Vikings – Cordarrelle Patterson/WR/Tennessee

24. Indianapolis Colts – D.J. Hayden/CB/Houston

25. Minnesota Vikings – Manti Te’o/ILB/Notre Dame

26. Green Bay Packers – Eddie Lacy/HB/Alabama

27. Houston Texans – Justin Hunter/WR/Tennessee

28. Denver Broncos – Sylvester Williams/DT/North Carolina

29. New England Patriots – Robert Woods/WR/Southern California

30. Atlanta Falcons – Desmond Trufant/CB/Washington

31. San Francisco 49ers – Zach Ertz/TE/Stanford

32. Baltimore Ravens – Eric Reid/S/LSU


Where will NFL coaching prospects land in 2013?

There is one thing that sports fans can tell you: Conventional wisdom is not always followed.  This can be especially true when teams are interviewing potential head coaching candidates.  And if some NFL franchises are even looking for a new general manager and a coach, things can get even crazier.

While the interviews and signings are going on right now, lets take a look at which coaches would best suit the teams looking for a new coach and teams who might be looking for a coach.

Arizona Cardinals – When the news broke that Arizona interviewed former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, the move made some sense.  The Cardinals quarterback issues continued to pose problems, and what choice could be better than to reunite Reid with quarterback Kevin Kolb? Sadly, Reid has since signed on with Kansas City, leaving Arizona looking for a coach who they feel can develop a quarterback.

CBS analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher would be a great hire for Arizona, but it would certainly be a long shot.  Instead, why not try for Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who has done an outstanding job of developing systems around the quarterbacks that he had been given?  Arizona’s defense has been terrific under defensive coordinator Ray Horton who is also considered a head coaching prospect. If Arizona could somehow bring in McCoy and retain Horton, the Cardinals could have a formidable team.

Buffalo Bills – Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone interviewed with the team recently, and that does seem to be a good fit.  Bills G.M. Buddy Nix will stay with the team this year, and Buffalo has been vocal about bringing in a franchise quarterback this season.  Marrone, who also served as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator during Sean Payton’s first three seasons on the job, knows what it takes to run an offense in the NFL.

Speaking of New Orleans Saints offensive coordinators, why not give Pete Carmichael a look?  While Carmichael does not have the head coaching experience that Marrone does, Carmichael has worked under both Payton and Marty Schottenheimer.  Both Payton and Schottenheimer have found a lot of success in their careers as NFL head coaches.  Either way, Marrone or Carmichael can give Buffalo the coach who can develop the franchise quarterback they are looking for.

Chicago Bears – Lovie Smith’s firing made absolutely no sense.  Despite posting a 10-6 record, Chicago decided to go in a different direction.  The Bears might regret that decision in the years to come, but one thing is for sure: Teams should give Smith a look for the vacancy at head coach.  If by some unforeseeable reason Smith does not get a head coaching job, he will be one of the league’s premier defensive coordinators.

Even though his name has been dropped in San Diego and Philadelphia, Monday Night Football analyst and former Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden would make sense here.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has all the tools to get the job done, even though there have been some questions about his maturity, but he needs better protection if Chicago wants to make a move to be a contender in a tough NFC North.

Gruden will have the offensive know-how to let Chicago’s offense shine, and he will also have a Tampa 2 defensive scheme ready to go.  When Gruden was Tampa’s head coach, the Buccaneers ran a Tampa 2 with Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator.  Kiffin, who resigned from Southern Cal, could make his return to the NFL.  And what better situation than to be reunited with Gruden and a previously made Tampa 2 defense?

Cleveland Browns – Reports coming out of Cleveland are saying that new owner Jimmy Haslam wants University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.  There is no doubt that Kelly is one of the most popular prospects for an NFL head-coaching job. However, there is one candidate that is simply a better fit for Cleveland.

As incredible of a story as it has been for Indianapolis and coach Chuck Pagano, much credit has to be given to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for the Colts’ playoff season. Before arriving in Indianapolis, however, Arians served as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator.  When the Steelers let Arians walk a year ago despite having success there as the offensive playcaller, it was a huge surprise.  And that is why Arians to Cleveland makes so much sense.

Arians is familiar with the AFC North and knows what it takes to be successful there.  He helped develop Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and has also coached Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He’s got the offensive knowledge to help Cleveland be productive against a very defensive division.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid already signed on as the coach for Kansas City, but this fit does not make too much sense.  It’s obvious that getting an offensive-minded coach was definitely the right move, but the Arizona job makes more sense for Reid.  Someone like Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, brother of Jon Gruden, makes sense as he was directly involved in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton. Moving forward, Kansas City needs a quarterback that they can rely on.

If Reid and the Chiefs new general manager (whoever that is) decides that they want to get West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the draft, then this choice makes more sense. Reid developed another scrambling quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who led them to several NFC Championships and even a Super Bowl appearance.  K.C. may be asking Reid to work the exact same magic he had in Philly about a decade ago.

Philadelphia Eagles – Oregon coach Chip Kelly would make for an interesting hire for Philadelphia.  Michael Vick is still on the roster, and it would be fascinating to see what Chip Kelly’s offense with Michael Vick would look like.  Still, reports are that Kelly is getting very close to becoming Cleveland’s head coach.

So if Kelly is out of the mix, who could step in? Despite Philly needing someone who could help them offensively, Lovie Smith could be a great hire.  The Eagles defense has talented players, and bringing in someone like Smith could only help booster their play.

There is no doubt that there will be questions about Philadelphia’s quarterback situation as Nick Foles did a great job as the starter.  With both Vick and Foles on the roster, quarterback controversy will be there. The next coach coming in must see that and know that he has to deal with that from day one.

San Diego Chargers – Bruce Arians’ name has been rumored here, but Ken Whisenhunt would be a terrific hire for the Chargers.  Again, Arizona was plagued by not finding a franchise quarterback.  Whisenhunt wouldn’t have to worry about that with Philip Rivers already on the roster.  If Whisenhunt could find another great defensive coordinator like he did with Horton in Arizona, there is no reason to think that San Diego couldn’t compete with Denver for the division title.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Head coach Mike Mularkey has not been fired.  Well, at least not yet.  A report came out recently that the Jaguars assistants were told to look elsewhere.  That is not a good sign for Mularkey at all.

It all comes down to the hiring of a general manager. If the new G.M. wants Mularkey to stay, he will.  If not, Mularkey goes.

Should Mularkey get fired, the direction of the team from there should make sense.  Jacksonville has expressed interest in acquiring quarterback Tim Tebow.  Tebow’s presence could help Jacksonville get fan attendance back where it needs to be.

So if Tebow does go back home, which coach would be the best choice to lead them?  Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is the obvious choice.

McCoy coached Tebow in Denver in 2011.  That year, Tebow led the Broncos to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.  If Tebow does come back, a reunion with McCoy may very well be the recipe Jacksonville needs to get back on the winning track.

Tennessee’s coaching search crucial to future success

Derek Dooley’s firing comes as no surprise to anyone.  In a conference that has won six consecutive national championships, winning is critical.  Dooley’s SEC record at Tennessee, 4-19, did little to dispute that theory.

Throw in Tennessee’s financial woes in the athletic department and an unavoidable recipe for a head coaching change resulted.

Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart spoke of his department as being at a “crossroads.”  If things are as bleak as they do seem, Tennessee cannot afford to lose anymore.  That is, they cannot afford to lose in the offseason anymore.

Vol fans still try to forget the dark days known as the “Kiffin era,” which continues to bring punishments by the NCAA.  Lane Kiffin’s departure forced Tennessee to hire a new head coach near the end of the hiring window.  Most of the top coaching prospects had already made their decision and moved on.  That left the Vols to find someone who they believed could get the job done as well as bring stability back to the program.

Enter Derek Dooley.  From here, the rest of the story is obvious.  Two head coach searches have not panned out the way that the team and the fans hoped they would.

While both Kiffin and Dooley did contribute to making the program better, neither coaches in Knoxville anymore, meaning that Hart needs to find a coach who can reestablish a Tennessee program that once dominated in the SEC .

So who can be the savior of the program despite Tennessee’s financial troubles?  Ask that question in Knoxville and the most abundant answer you will get is Jon Gruden.

Gruden would certainly be that homerun hire that would not only excite the fan base, but also result in wins.  Yes Gruden would ask Tennessee to make him one of the highest-paid coaches in football, but at this stage Tennessee would find any way to make that happen.

Supposing that Gruden does not sign with Tennessee, hiring someone like Louisville head coach Charlie Strong or even trying to contact Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen could also be good ideas.  Hart wants someone with previous head coaching experience, as he mentioned in his press conference this week, and someone with proven success.

Fans of the orange and white certainly want to see Gruden as the next coach, but not landing Gruden will not be a failure for Hart.  What is important for this athletic director is to get the right hire.  For as many losses as Tennessee fans have suffered in these past three years, they will not tolerate any more.  That means that Hart must bring Big Orange Country its biggest win in years during the offseason.