By David Bradford for VFL Insider.
Recently, CBS revealed its list of the Top 65 coaches in college football, picking from a pool of 64 Power 5 conference coaches, plus Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
As with everything in the sports ranking realm, there’s controversy. Maybe not at the mountain top, where Alabama’s Nick Saban still comfortably observes the mass devastation he’s caused over the sport’s landscape. The rest of the top five is reasonable, as Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) round it out.
No qualms there.
The controversy comes further down the list at multiple spots, but no selection was the catalyst for more conversation than Tennessee’s Butch Jones being positioned at No. 52.
Some notes before I absolutely tear that ranking to shreds. The article was written by Tom Fornelli, but he didn’t construct the list alone. CBS used a panel of five college football “experts” — Fornelli, Dennis Dodd, Ben Kercheval, Chip Patterson, and Barton Simmons — and based its rankings on their blasphemous votes. Fornelli simply wrote the article and vaguely described the reasoning behind each pick.
Here’s what he said about Jones:
A Champion of Life, but not a champion of our rankings. Still, in my opinion, this is a pretty steep drop considering all the injuries Tennessee dealt with last year. Raised expectations will do that, though.
Another article, another unimaginative jab at Butch Jones, which is surprising considering the source. Nobody will confuse Fornelli for a wordsmith, but his unique personality lens itself to more creative jokes. Tom, I love you, but you’re better than that.
However, the second part of Fornelli’s statement is noteworthy. In the introduction of the article, Fornelli stated that he couldn’t speak for his colleagues, but here, he reveals some insight into his opinion on Butch’s position, which he feels is too steep of a drop after the Vols’ CEO was ranked No. 33 by the same list heading into last season.
It’s a fair assessment coming from a guy who believes Butch sits on the nation’s hottest seat. Butch is a flawed coach, but placing him in the bottom tier of Power 5 coaches is absurd. It especially gets loony when you look at some of the names these five voted ahead of Butch. Dino Babers? Steve Addazio? Dave Clawson? Are you kidding me?
Here’s how the votes for Butch allegedly broke down:
Hearing there is some consternation out there about our ranking of Butch Jones. It was unanimously low. Ballots: 46-49-50-53-54.
— Adam Silverstein (@SilversteinAdam) May 10, 2017
I wish each voter would’ve provided their reasoning behind Butch’s low ranking, but given the trends of sports media, it’s safe to assume that the voters lost perspective of what transpired during the 2016 season in Knoxville. There’s no need to fully rehash it, but in the simplest terms, the Vols’ season was derailed by catastrophic injuries along the trenches on both sides of the football. It’s the reason why their offense was sporadic, and why it appeared every running back they faced set program records in rushing.
Butch’s shortcomings aren’t worth a 19-spot drop after resurrecting a program from the dead while competing against the nation’s toughest competition. A slight tumble from No. 33 would’ve been acceptable
Coaches who haven’t proven themselves
List: Syracuse’s Dino Babers (No. 51), Boston College’s Steve Addazio (No. 50), LSU’s Ed Orgeron (No. 48), Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson (No. 46), Oregon State’s Gary Anderson (No. 41)
Of the five coaches in this tier, name one who has accomplished more than Butch.
Babers is fresh off a 4-8 2016 campaign at Syracuse, Addazio’s ceiling appears to be the 7-win mark at Boston College, Orgeron (despite his status as the G.O.A.T. interim coach) was a dumpster fire at Ole Miss, Clawson has been respectable, but unspectacular at Wake Forest, and Gary Anderson is 6-18 so far at Oregon State.
And while expectations at Boston College and Wake Forest are massively lower than the expectations at Tennessee, that can’t be the only argument in this situation. At the end of the day, Butch has back-to-back 9-4 seasons under his belt and multiple 10-win seasons after successful stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
Lack Power 5 experience
List: Purdue’s Jeff Brohm (No. 47), Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck (No. 35), Oregon’s Willie Taggert (No. 31)
Brohm dominated at Western Kentucky, Fleck nearly pulled off a perfect season at Western Michigan, and Taggert witnessed an endless stream of touchdowns at South Florida. Their Group of 5 success is admirable and justified the opportunities each has today, but this is a classic case of projection over production.
That’s a perfectly acceptable practice, but you know what coach has already proven he can successfully transition from the Group of 5 to the Power 5?
The one-year wonders
List: USC’s Clay Helton (No. 45), Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (No. 40), Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre (No. 30), Auburn’s Gus Malzahn (No. 19)
After a 1-3 start (which included a 46-point loss to Alabama to open the season), did anybody expect Clay Helton and a freshman quarterback to reel off nine straight wins and win the Rose Bowl? The turnaround would’ve made for an entertaining film, but while his lone season in Southern California is more successful than any season Butch has ever had in a decade, Helton still only has one year of coaching under his belt.
Kevin Sumlin rode the co-tails of Johnny Manziel’s 2012 magic all the way into 8-5 purgatory. Mike MacIntyre turned Colorado around last season, but he has a career losing record, and the Buffaloes did get crushed by quality competition (45-28 by Michigan, 41-10 by Washington in the Pac-12 championship, and 31-8 by Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl). Gus Malzahn has Jesus to thank for Auburn’s miracle run to the National Championship in 2013. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag for War Eagle.
List: Arizona State’s Todd Graham (No. 42), Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze (No. 33), Washington State’s Mike Leach (No. 25), Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson (No. 24)
What else do these coaches have to offer? Arizona State is in decline under Graham, which is especially concerning considering the Pac-12 is only getting stronger. Freeze sold his soul to the Devil so his Rebels could beat Alabama twice but not win the SEC West. Leach’s offense is somewhat fun to watch, but imagine how it would all fall apart in the SEC. Johnson runs the triple-option offense, which automatically should put him at No. 65 on this list.
At least with Butch, there’s still some upside remaining. His 2018 recruiting class has only skyrocketed since the Orange and White Game, and Tennessee was two plays away from having at least 10 wins last season.