Tennessee football needs Butch Jones to get it right

By Steve Williams

Butch Jones is definitely not on the hot seat, but the honeymoon is over.

I say that on Friday afternoon, a little over 24 hours before Chattanooga plays Jones’ Tennessee Vols for the first time since 1969.

Tennessee was trying to snap a three-game skid, including a 10-9 loss to Florida at Neyland Stadium that was terribly upsetting to the team and its fans.

If something crazy did occur in that game Saturday – like “little brother” did beat up UT – a divorce from Jones would be the talk of the town today.

I would hate for that to happen. UT’s football program still needs stability.

Is Jones the right guy for the long term?

It’s too early to tell, but there are many more positive signs than negative ones at the midway point of his second season on the job.

Since Phillip Fulmer, the second winningest coach in Tennessee football history, was forced to step down in 2008, the Vols’ climb back has been a struggle.

Lane Kiffin, the first replacement, was young and brash, and probably could have won big here, but in the process might have gotten the UT program in serious NCAA trouble. Tennessee was just a stopover, anyway, for the West Coast guy.

I liked the fact that Derek Dooley had SEC ties. But we found out, he wasn’t one of us. He damaged relations with former players and many in-state high school coaches. I’m not sure if Smokey even liked him. And it seemed all of his luck was bad.

Enter Butch Jones. Good first name, with a Power T in the middle of it. Looks a little like a young Bob Neyland. The Michigan man genuinely seems like he is proud to be here and wants to be here.

Jones mended those broken relations. He’s well-liked by current players, former players and fans.

Butch has done an outstanding job thus far in recruiting. He works hard. You would think he has slept only eight hours since he’s been here.

He even has a scowl that rivals Pat’s famous stare.

I just sort of wish he would cut out some of those one-line, over-used coaching cliches when he talks to the media and the fan base, and speak more off the cuff and like he’s carrying on a one-on-one conversation.

I also wish he would be more flexible in his offensive thinking. As I’ve written here before, I feel he’s using a system – the zone-read – that’s not best suited for his personnel.

High school coaches can not recruit and have to put their players in an offensive system that best fits them. In his first season at Tennessee, Jones was in that kind of situation. His best and most experienced players were already here on the team and some, like quarterback Justin Worley, a natural pro-style, dropback quarterback, simply didn’t fit the zone-read system.

I must admit, after following the Vols under the direction of Johnny Majors and Fulmer for 30-plus seasons, I had become fond of the pro-style offense. I also like having a fullback as a lead blocker, and I’ve heard others this season say that freshman running back Jalen Hurd would be a more effective ball carrier running down hill in that kind of system.

I would love to see Tennessee change up its offense in the second half of the season. I really believe they must, if they are to have a chance to win at least six games and qualify for a bowl.

I’m not opposed to a zone-read system in the future, particularly when Tennessee has an athletic quarterback that can run and throw. It can be a fun attack to watch when its working, as well as very successful.

Pounding the rock was fun to watch, too.

Let’s just hope Butch gets the right players to run the right system that’s going to return Tennessee to its rightful place in college football soon.

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