Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ever since Phillip Fulmer was dismissed as
Tennessee's head coach following the 2008 season, the program has been
searching high and low for the right man to lead it back to national
First it was Lane Kiffin, who showed plenty of promise in 2009 after going
7-6, but it turned out to be his only season in Knoxville as he abruptly
departed to fill to open head coaching position at USC.
Then the school turned to Derek Dooley, who had enjoyed tremendous success at
Louisiana Tech, but the decision proved to be an unmitigated failure. In three
seasons (2010-12), Dooley finished with a sub-.500 record three times, a fate
that Fulmer suffered only twice in 16 years.
These have been dark days for the once-proud and mighty Tennessee football
program, a team that between 1989 and 2007, proved to be a national mainstay
by winning eight or more games in 18 out of 19 seasons, with the peak coming
in 1998 when Fulmer led the squad to a 13-0 mark and the national
After a few failed experiments at head coach, the school hopes that Butch
Jones can provide a much-needed turnaround.
Jones is relatively new to the head coaching game. After spending the better
part of two decades as an offensive assistant at several schools, Jones was
hired at Central Michigan in 2007 and led the Chippewas to a 27-13 record in
three seasons. His success in the Mid-American Conference landed him a gig in
the Big East, being named Brian Kelly's successor at Cincinnati in 2010, and
after struggling in his first season (4-8), he went a combined 19-6 in 2011
and 2012, earning shares of the conference crown each time.
Jones has moved quickly through the FBS ranks, as he is now situated in the
most prominent college football conference in the country with a chance to
prove his worth against the many powerhouse programs that make up the SEC, and
although transforming the Vols back into legitimate player surely won't happen
overnight, Jones is up to the challenge.
"It is truly an honor and a privilege to be the head football coach at the
University of Tennessee," Jones said at his introductory press conference back
in December. "I understand the values, traditions, and level of expectations
that come with this position, and I look forward to being a part of the Vol
Nation. I look forward to the Vols achieving excellence both on and off the
field for many years to come."
Now that the program believes its has found its man to get the team back on
track, the big question that remains is how will Jones turn around a squad
that looked so lost for most of last season? The good news for the new coach
is that any new life breathed into the program will be a step in the right
Tennessee's biggest issue last season was its porous defense, which ranked
among the worst in the FBS in allowing 35.7 ppg and 471.4 ypg. Although his
roots may be in offense, Jones established an outstanding defensive mind-set
at Cincinnati over the past couple of seasons, as the Bearcats ranked in the
nation's top-20 in scoring defense in both 2011 and 2012.
Despite the Vols' lackluster defense from a year ago, they still possess
plenty of talent on that side of the ball, giving hope for significant
improvement. Linebacker A.J. Johnson was one of the nation's top tacklers a
season ago with 138 total stops. Byron Moore is a playmaking safety attempting
to improve upon an outstanding sophomore campaign (86 tackles, five INTs),
while Jacques Smith (seven TFL) and Justin Coleman (59 tackles) also bring a
veteran presence to the unit.
Unlike the defense, the offense had little problem shining in 2012, as it
tallied more than 36 ppg, but oddly enough, the unit remains an even bigger
question mark than the defense heading into the 2013 season following the
early departures of quarterback Tyler Bray (3,612 yards, 34 TDs) and wide
receivers Justin Hunter (1,083 yards, nine TDs) and Cordarrelle Patterson (778
receiving yards, 308 rushing yards, 10 total TDs).
Jones has spent the spring evaluating the prospects trying to replace Bray
under center, and it appears to be a two-horse race between sophomore Justin
Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Neither took full advantage of
their opportunities during the team's spring game back in April, however, with
each completing less than 50 percent of his passes.
"Just like every position, (the QB competition) will be wide open," Jones
said. "The growth that a football team can make from May to the end of July
can be monumental, if they buy in and work exceptionally hard."
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will have a host of inexperienced
receivers to throw to - Alton Howard (13 receptions in 2012) is the top
returning outside threat - but at least he will have a veteran crew to lean on
in the backfield, as Rajion Neal (708 rushing yards, five TDs) and Marlin Lane
(658 rushing yards, 29 receptions) both proved to be reliable options at
Expecting Tennessee to make a significant splash this fall is foolish,
especially considering its brutal schedule that includes an away matchup
against two-time defending national champion Alabama, as well as several other
contests again bowl-caliber foes (Oregon, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina,
After a couple of hiring missteps, the Vols have rebooted once again and they
can only hope that, unlike the last couple of new hires, Jones will bring
about better results for 2013 and beyond.
The Sports Network