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Butch Jones to Tennessee: Why This Was the Best the Vols Could Do

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesFrank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 21, 2016

The long and twisted Tennessee coaching search finally came to a close on Friday when Tennessee announced former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones would take over for Derek Dooley as the head coach of the Volunteers, according to a release from the university.

Jones isn't exactly a splashy hire. In fact, considering how the process went down, the announcement of Jones' hiring is probably going to cause more anger than excitement on Rocky Top.

But after Tennessee swung and missed on several candidates before settling on Jones, some Vols fans have directed their anger towards athletic director Dave Hart and chancellor Jimmy Cheek for hurting the perception of the program.

Let's pump the brakes on that.

Tennessee was turned down by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden last month, putting an end to months of speculation that "Chuckie" would land on Rocky Top. It's not the worst thing to swing for the fences and miss. It tells other coaches that the job is prestigious and that the team expects excellence.

But letting the Gruden drama drag on for so long gave a segment of the fanbase a false sense of hope, which is part of what led to the animosity that now exists.

Fair or not, after the annual Gruden frenzy dissipated, it appeared that the Vols were scrambling.

That was the problem. Tennessee's administrators had a false sense of where the program stands in the SEC. Ever since the 2008 season, the program has been nothing more than a middle-of-the road program that has been struggling to find its identity.

Tennessee flirted with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy before Gundy decided to stay at his alma mater.

Tennessee is a better job than Oklahoma State, but can you blame Gundy for sticking around his alma mater with all of that T. Boone Pickens money around? I can't.

Louisville head coach Charlie Strong spurning the Vols' $4 million-plus offer to stay as the head coach of the Cardinals was the haymaker that stunned the program.

This is Tennessee. This is the SEC. A coach at Louisville isn't supposed to turn down an opportunity like this, especially one with SEC ties.

Plans A, B and C all fell through, so Tennessee had to settle on Jones—and don't be fooled, it did settle.

But when the initial embarrassment of the hire subsides, Tennessee should realize it got a pretty darn good coach in Jones.

Jones led the Bearcats to a 23-14 record over the last three years after taking over the program from Brian Kelly. He has posted 19 wins over the last two seasons, and beat Charlie Strong's Louisville teams twice over the last three years.

His Bearcats got smoked by Derek Dooley's Vols 45-23 in September of 2011, which isn't going to help his perception within the program. 

But the 44-year-old is an up-and-coming head coach, has recruited in the southeast (see: Ralph David Abernathy IV) and is a proven winner.

All good things for Tennessee.

Tennessee has brand new facilities, an energetic new head coach and—as we've seen during this process—a visible desire to improve its football program.

Butch Jones may be the best Tennessee could do, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

 

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