Tennessee has fired football Butch Jones just shy of finishing his fifth season in what became a calamitous 2017 season in which the Vols have failed to win any of their six Southeastern Conference games.
Athletic director John Currie confirmed Jones was “asked to step down" during a meeting Sunday morning.
Jones was given the chance to coach the Vols’ final two regular season games, but declined.
Jones has already informed his staff of his firing and met with players around 1 p.m.
Currie was asked when the decision was actually made to fire Jones, who took over program that notched three straight losing seasons under Derek Dooley.
“Late last night,” he said. “It was evident which direction we would go. No one wanted to be in this position, but we are in this position. I’m standing here right now because we haven’t won enough.”
Associate head coach Brady Hoke, who coaches the defensive line, has been named as interim head coach and will finish the season. The Vols have two games remaining with LSU and Vanderbilt on Nov. 25.
The LSU game is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Vanderbilt invades Neyland Stadium on The Vols would have to win their remaining regular season games against LSU and Vanderbilt to become bowl eligible.
Currie, released a statement, which read in part:
“We have been fortunate to have coach Jones lead our program for the past five years,” Currie said. “During that time, the program has improved tremendously in the areas of academics, discipline and community involvement.
“Unfortunately, we are now where we need to be competitively. For that reason, I have asked coach Jones to step down as head football coach. Coach Brady Hoke has been interim head coach. I know Vol Nation will rally around this team and support our student-athletes as they compete the remainder of this season.”
Jones’ five-year record was 35-26 overall and 14-24 in the SEC. He had one winning season in the conference, a 5-3 mark that tied for second in the East in 2015. Tennessee hasn’t won a SEC East crown since 2007 when Phillip Fulmer was in his next-to-last season. The Vols haven’t won a conference championship since their 1998 national championship season.
The Vols lost to LSU in that season’s SEC Championship and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
In Currie’s letter of termination to Jones, the athletic director notes the university owes Jones $8,257,580 to be paid in monthly installments through Feb. 28, 2021, with the first payment due on or before Nov. 30, 2017.
In the agreement, Jones has an obligation to use his “reasonable best efforts to mitigate the university’s obligation to pay liquidated damages by making reasonable and diligent efforts” as soon as possible to secure another job.
Jones was head coach at Central Michigan for three years and Cincinnati for three, both times following Brian Kelly, before coming to Tennessee to replace disgraced Derek Dooley, who was 16-21 in three years UT. Dooley posted 3-5, 1-7 and 1-7 SEC marks and left a program in ruins to Jones.
In his time with the Vols, Jones was 6-17 against ranked opponents and 0-7 against Top 5 foes.
Dooley, Johnny Majors, Doug Dickey and Bowden Wyatt are the only Tennessee coaches to endure one-win conference campaigns.
Jones’ squad has been outscored 206-79 in six league games this season. Three times opponents have scored 40-plus points. In those six games, the Vols have scored just six offensive touchdowns. Missouri (5-5, 2-4) scored six TDs Saturday night and the loss dropped Tennessee into a last-place tie with Vandy in the East. The Commodores are also 0-6 and 4-6.
Jones, hired at Tennessee on Dec. 7, 2012, as the Vols’ 24th head coach, after winning four conference championships in his previous six years, and his staff have done a terrific job recruiting players to Tennessee, but the development of many has been widely considered sub-par.
However, Jones did help produce nine NFL draft picks during his Tennessee tenure and his players collected 18 All-SEC awards and 108 received SEC Academic Honor Roll honors.
The 59-year-old Hoke has head coaching experience at Ball State (six years), San Diego State (two years) and Michigan (four years), and after his dismissal at Michigan after the 2014 season, Hoke was out of coaching for a year before spending the 2016 season as Oregon’s defensive coordinator. He was hired at Tennessee in February 2017.
Hoke was 34-38 at Ball State, 13-12 at San Diego State and 78-70 with the Wolverines, including his best mark of 11-2 in 2011.
“An exhaustive search is underway for a person of the highest integrity and character with the skills and vision to propel Tennessee to championships. This search will be my sole focus, and I will be in regular contact with Chancellor (Kim) Davenport. I want to make clear that we are intensely committed to hiring the best coach of Tennessee.
The Vols’ latest setback, and apparently the final straw for athletic director John Currie, was Saturday’s embarrassing 50-17 blowout against Missouri. It was Tennessee’s fifth loss in six games
Tennessee, which started the season ranked in the Top 25, tied the Missouri game with 1:15 left in the first half on a 19-yard pass from freshman quarterback Will McBride to tight end Ethan Wolf.
However, the Tigers needed only 57 seconds to drive 75 yards and retake the lead at 24-17 on Larry Rountree’s 1-yard run. Including that game, Missouri scored the game’s final 33 points, further humiliating a program in distress.
The Tigers amassed a whopping 659 yards of total offense, including a massive 433 yards on the ground. Ish Witter ran for 216 yards and Rountree put up 156 yards.
Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) managed just 285 total yards.
Tennessee has never had a winless SEC record in 121 years playing football, but must beat either LSU and Vanderbilt to prevent that from happening. The Vols also have never lost eight games in a season.
Jones’ death spiral really picked up steam when Florida beat the Vols 26-20 on a Hail Mary as the game ended.
After an unimpressive four-point win against lowly UMass, the Vols laid an egg with a lethargic effort in one of the worst defeats in Tennessee history, a 41-0 crushing at the hands of powerful Georgia, UT’s worst home loss since 1905.
The Bulldogs played to their potential, but the Vols slept through four quarters of futility that greased the skids for their coach.
A third straight home game, this time against South Carolina, fueled the fire. The Gamecocks won 15-9 and the Vols’ offense consisted of three Brent Cimaglia field goals. Tennessee’s consecutive streak of quarters without an offensive touchdown reached 10.
The next assignment was top-ranked Alabama. There was nothing more certain that day than the Crimson Tide would win. They did, 45-7. A thorn in Jones’ side was the fact his team’s only TD resulted from linebacker Daniel Bituli’s 97-yard interception return in the third quarter.
That string of scoreless quarters reached 14.
More grease on the skids.
Cimaglia’s two field goals provided the Vols’ first-quarter points at Kentucky, stretching the streak to 15. In the second quarter, Ty Chandler, playing for the suspended John Riley, ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to lift the burden of no offensive TDs since the second quarter against UMass.
It was just the second Kentucky win in 33 years in the long-running rivalry.
Tennessee, which had won bowl games in each of the last three seasons, escaped with a homecoming win against Southern Miss, but most of the crowd – announced at 95,551, but actually closer to 75,000 – was gone by the time the fourth quarter started. Not many were impressed by the Vols’ performance.
That set up the debacle at Missouri.
Tennessee started Will McBride, a quarterback subbing for injured Jarrett Guarantano. At times, the Vols were playing four freshmen on the offensive line. A vastly improved Tigers’ squad had little troubling containing a weakened offense, piling up 659 yards with running backs Ish Witter and Larry Rountree gaining 216 and 156 yards, respectively.
Missouri’s defense limited Tennessee to 285 yards and relentlessly pressured and harassed McBride, who was intercepted twice, sacked five times and fumbled once.
The Vols limped home and in within about 13 hours of the game’s completion, Currie met with and fired Jones, who was making $4.1 million annually.
That led Currie, on the job for just seven-plus months, to write in a letter to Vol Nation that was posted on the school’s athletic website: “Our commitment to doing what it takes to hire the absolute best coach for the University of Tennessee is resolute.”
With news of Jones’ firing came swift response for two recruits who have committed to Tennessee.
One is Tanner Ingle, a talented cornerback out of the Orlando, Florida, area. Ingle reportedly told the Orlando Sentinel that he was told by Jones to “find a place to go, quickly.”
Said Currie: “I find that speculative stuff silly. I trust Butch Jones and his character.”
Shocky Jacques-Louis and Alontae Taylor announced their de-commitments on Twitter. Jacques-Louis, a wide receiver from Fort Myers, Florida, committed to the Vols in August.
Taylor, wide receiver from Manchester, Tennessee, committed in June 2016.
Offensive lineman Cade Mays, a five-star prospect at Knoxville Catholic, said last week he was de-committing and reopening his recruitment.
It is believe that if Currie makes a solid hire, of if he can relate good news to recruits before the new early signing period on Dec. 20-22, a lot of those players shaky with their commitments could decide to come back to the Vols.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)