By David Bradford
Butch Jones doesn’t want to be a meme
When he approaches the podium – whether postgame or throughout the week for updates – his intention is clear: Reiterate the same list of clichés over and over again to avoid any controversy. He’s also hammered this approach home to his players, who buy into the vague, seemingly oblivious-to-reality language their coach is infamous for on a national scale.
Yet, in his journey to say nothing, Butch’s words are almost always turned into an overplayed joke on social media.
Champions of Life.
These “catch phrases” are still consistently recycled on social media despite being months old. Honestly, it’s time to stop.
This isn’t a declaration for Tennessee football fans – most of them are level-headed and understand what Butch has accomplished in four short seasons. This is more directed at a certain segment of Knoxville media, whom I have two simple words for: Move on.
By continuously mocking Butch, you validate the most toxic portion of the fan base (Vol Twitter). Furthermore, this “I’m only doing this because the fans deserve better” angle is completely fake. It’s a clear ploy to gain Twitter followers and convince yourself that you’re some sort of champion of the people. In reality, it’s just classic fanboyism, and when the Tennessee football program legitimately deserves criticism, your credibility is non-existent.
Let’s just all come to terms with how Butch operates. He’s clearly attempting to build a Belichickian infrastructure, at least when it comes to transparency. Butch doesn’t care about being transparent to the media, which is perfectly fine. A journalist – if they have the creative depth to do so – can cover a program without interesting quotes. If it were impossible, then the New England Pariots would’ve be covered by some of the nation’s top beat writers.
It’s completely fair to criticize Butch’s coaching mishaps. He’s mismanaged timeouts on more than one occasion – 2014 vs Missouri, 2015 at Florida and 2016 at Vanderbilt. Tennessee’s level of unpreparedness against South Carolina following a bye week – which meant the Vols didn’t control their own destiny in the SEC East race – is an unacceptable offense.
But here’s the problem: Those miscues having zero to do with one-liners during a press conference.
Yet, the media – at times – treats both as if they are parallel to one another. How about, maybe, just maybe, try breaking down the x’s and o’s? Analyze what Butch could do better as a coach? Provide your audience with thoughtful pieces, rather than continuous jabs at his clichés?
Let’s focus on what actually matters: Performance.
We can all agree that Butch has catapulted Tennessee out of the depths of Derek Dooley hell. Three straight bowl wins and back-to-back nine-win seasons prove that.
On its surface, the 2016 season — where Tennessee was pegged as the overwhelming favorite to capture its first SEC East title since 2007 — was a failure. But imagine you were given the following scenario for an unknown team before the season started and were asked to predict what reasonable expectations should be.
You know this team plays in the SEC, unequivocally the strongest conference in college football. While playing in an absolutely unforgiving conference, offensive linemen drop like flies, four interior defensive linemen are lost due to injury or suspension, two of the team’s top linebackers miss the majority of the season, the No. 1 corner fractures his ankle during the third game of the season, and the potential all-time leading rusher in program history transfers midway through the season.
Wouldn’t 9-4 be considered a success?
It would, but when preseason expectations are applied, the reality of the regular season is sometimes lost. Tennessee didn’t live up to expectations, and a strong case can be made that when the team was relatively healthy, they still underperformed. But when three of a team’s four captains all miss time due to injury, and a host of key contributors also miss time, there are too many backup pieces on the field to expect success.
Quick detour: The player development argument against Butch is asinine beyond comprehension. Given the restrictions placed on practice by the NCAA, it’s almost impossible for the Vols’ backups to catch up to speed.
Counterpoint: But what about Alabama?! Their backups come in and the team doesn’t miss a beat!
What about Alabama? Oh, you mean the once-in-a-lifetime dynasty navigated by the greatest coach in college football history? The team everybody agrees cannot be emulated? That Alabama?
Every Tennessee fan will admit that Alabama-level expectations are ridiculous, so we should never expect the Vols to replicate the Crimson Tide’s success. Although Tennessee is an all-time program – it sits comfortably in the top 10 – in no point in the Vols’ storied history have they ever achieved what Alabama is currently achieving.
I’ll leave on this note: Butch isn’t a great coach, but given the hand he was dealt, he’s established himself as a respectable CEO. After all, a CEO’s job is to make major cooperate decisions, and on that front, Butch is making the absolute correct decisions.
Name one area in Tennessee’s program Butch hasn’t improved?
The facilities are top-of-the-line. The Vols are a power on the recruiting trail. And more importantly, the program has won more games in the past four seasons (30) than it did in the five seasons prior to Butch’s arrival (28).
It’s easy to call Butch a “champion of life” and say he has a “five-star heart,” but while some are creating memes in a virtual world, Butch is making all the right moves in the real world.