Tennessee entered 2015 with enough hype to fill Neyland Stadium, but an 8-4 record, an 11th straight loss to Florida and three blown leads of two scores or more rendered the Vols an afterthought by midseason.
Instead of taking a giant leap forward, head coach Butch Jones' crew simply took a small step from the 2014 season in which the Vols finished 7-6.
As a reward for that small step, Tennessee gave Jones a $500,000 raise that ups his salary to $4.1 million per year, according to Josh Ward of WNML in Knoxville.
Tennessee's official Twitter account posted quotes from athletics director Dave Hart on Jones' raise.
Jones commented on the news, according to Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
That's a lot of money for a guy who's just 20-17 over his first three seasons in Knoxville, 10-14 against SEC foes and coached scared with leads in losses to Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma in 2015.
Now that the shock of Jones getting a raise has had time to process, please take a step back, relax and recognize this decision for what it is—a market correction.
At $4.1 million, Jones is the seventh-highest paid head coach in the 14-team SEC, according to the USA Today coaching salary database.
|Tennessee's Season-By-Season Record Under Butch Jones|
|Year||Record||SEC Record||SEC East Rank|
It's a middle-of-the-pack salary for a head coach who has improved every year at the helm but still has plenty of work to do to become an elite head coach in the SEC.
Why shouldn't he be paid as a middle-of-the-pack head coach?
Don't forget, had Florida not converted and scored on a 4th-and-14, 63-yard touchdown by Antonio Callaway with under two minutes to go in the game between the two rivals in the Swamp in late September, Tennessee would have won the SEC East for the first time since 2007 and earned a second chance at toppling Alabama—a team it took down to the final minutes in Tuscaloosa in late October.
"Almost beating Florida for the first time in more than a decade" and "almost winning the SEC East" aren't exactly the first things any coach wants to put on a resume, but considering where the program was when he took over—neglected by former head coach Derek Dooley on the recruiting trail—it's certainly enough to deserve another half-million dollars per year.
Are there signature wins on his resume? The 2013 win over South Carolina was impressive, as was the three-touchdown hole the Vols dug out of against Georgia in 2015—which didn't exactly turn out to be an SEC East power.
But it's not as if Tennessee made Jones one of the highest-paid coaches in America. He's compensated like a mid-tier SEC head coach, which is essentially what he has proved to be over his first three seasons while improving every year.
This is what college football is nowadays.
Contracts are revisited every offseason, and raises are given based on trajectory, potential and to promote stability.
Tennessee's trajectory is still going in the right direction in the down SEC East, the potential is huge based on Jones' success on the recruiting trail and the number of players he has coming back in 2016, and it's as stable as any program in the division.
Jones deserves this raise based on his first three seasons on Rocky Top.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee