Let’s talk about Butch Jones for a second.
The former Tennessee coach will forever live in infamy among the fans on Rocky Top. While a few positives were achieved during his 5-year tenure, the sheer mention of Jones will likely send shivers down the collective spines of Vol Nation.
The laundry list of negatives regarding Jones could result in a book series — the worst season in Tennessee’s storied history, a pair of seasons where the SEC East was wide open for the taking, constant drama with players and the media, and bizarre strategic decisions.
Yet, the aforementioned pitfalls don’t compare to Jones’ head-scratching handling of his personnel, specifically in regards to former running back Alvin Kamara.
During his historic rookie season with the New Orleans Saints, Vol Nation felt both the exuberance of witnessing one of their own succeed at the highest level, while also expressing frustration over what could have been during Kamara’s stint in Knoxville.
It was evident that Kamara was Tennessee’s best offensive weapon, but Jones remained loyal to his prized recruiting possession, Jalen Hurd, who is currently a wide receiver at Baylor.
While loyalty is an admirable trait, in the world of sports, it has become massively overrated. Coaches and players should always position themselves to be in the best situations possible, but a range of factors often keep both stuck in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Although Jones’ mishandling of Kamara (among other players) was to the dismay of Tennessee’s success on the field, Jeremy Pruitt can learn from it and apply it to his coaching style.
In essence, he must stay loyal to winning, not players.
As cold as it sounds, football, at the end of the day, is a business. Even at the collegiate level. Pruitt isn’t volunteering as Tennessee’s head coach, he’s getting paid millions of dollars to help the Vols compete for championships.
What often gets in the way of a championship pursuit is the inability to adapt. To rest on your laurels and stick to a plan that isn’t necessarily working.
In fact, Pruitt didn’t have to learn this lesson from Butch Jones. His former boss, Nick Saban, was also a victim to this issue.
Saban is the greatest coach in the history of college football, but he too was overly loyal to a player who had no business being on a football field — Jalen Hurts.
Sure, Hurts was a “winner,” which is to say, he simply didn’t screw it up for the Crimson Tide. In 2016, Alabama’s defense scored touchdowns as if it was an offense. Last season, Hurts only threw one interception, but showed zero progression as a passer.
Throughout the entirety of the season, it became clear that Hurts wasn’t adequate enough to get the job done. But Saban stuck with his quarterback all the way until halftime of the National Championship, when his team trailed 13-0 to Georgia.
In perhaps the greatest power move ever, Saban benched Hurts for freshman Tua Tagovalioa, who on the biggest stage led Alabama to an improbable comeback.
Pruitt witnessed first-hand the downfalls of not playing your best player. Luckily for Alabama, their infrastructure is so machine-like that it can survive with inadequacies for long stretches of time.
Tennessee isn’t at that level. At least, not yet.
If it wants to get to that level, Pruitt can’t commit to a player playing every simple because he’s a 5-star athlete.
He has to commit to winning.
Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Times Free Press