KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – At his introductory press conference in December 2012, Butch Jones announced his intentions to do things the right way.
“I really believe, if you win off the field, you will win on the field.”
The Vols didn’t win nearly enough on the field. That’s why Butch Jones is no longer the head coach at Tennessee. But in his nearly five years at the helm, Jones deserves credit for lifting the program back into relevance and scrutiny for a variety of alleged missteps.
When he arrived on Rocky Top, Tennessee was at rock bottom, coming off three straight losing seasons under Derek Dooley. To make matters worse, the Vols were dead last in the SEC in Academic Progress Rate (APR). The team gained ground quickly in the classroom, posting a perfect 1000 in 2013 to reach the qualifying score needed to keep the program off further sanctions. At the time, Jones called the academic success “one of the greatest victories we’ve had in Tennessee football.”
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“This is an issue, since day one when we walked in here as a coaching staff, that our opponents have used against us in the recruitment process,” he said.
In May of this year, the team recorded a 978 – the best APR score in program history.
Jones elevated the team’s exposure, with dramatic wins in the national spotlight and back to back top ten recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015. But he also surveyed a national hit to the program’s reputation when six women sued the university, claiming it fostered a culture that enabled sexual assault by student athletes. According to the lawsuit, Jones told former receiver Drae Bowles that he “betrayed the team” by helping one of the women involved in the lawsuit on the night of her reported rape. Jones denied the allegations and called them “false attacks on his character.”
In wasn’t the first time Jones got into a reported altercation with a player. The year prior, reports surfaced that Jones had gotten into a physical confrontation with former offensive lineman Mack Crowder over the latter’s multiple missed days of practice, claims Jones refuted, calling “absolutely ridiculous.” Crowder was later arrested in a child sex sting operation after his graduation.
Just weeks ago, The Read Optional reported that Jones knowingly played right tackle Brett Kendrick with a concussion for at least two quarters during their loss to Kentucky.
“We would never knowingly put a student athlete in harms’ way,” said Jones.
In recent weeks, VFL Coordinator Antone Davis resigned after six years in the role, claiming he suffered “constant intimidation, bullying and mental abuse,” from Butch Jones.
Though it’s difficult to measure the standard rates of attrition from a college roster, there’s something to be said about the number of players that left the program under Jones – 32 from the class of 2013 or later. Quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Riley Ferguson both flourished elsewhere, while Jalen Hurd transferred to Baylor 18 months after rushing for nearly 1,300 yards as a sophomore. Distractions are part of every major college program, but when teams win, those things are forgiven.
As John Currie said on Sunday, the change happened because the team “simply hadn’t won enough.” And it’s on the athletics department now to find a coach that will.