LEXINGTON, Ky. — Butch Jones occupies the hottest seat in college football, but Kentucky’s Mark Stoops defended the Tennessee coach Monday — a rather unpopular thing to do for a man who seems destined to be fired during or after this season.
A large faction of Tennessee fans are on the Fire Butch Jones bandwagon, and Jones is a weekly target of internet mockery.
“We know what Tennessee can do,” Stoops said at his news conference. “I know the way people pile on people when they’re not doing so well. I know how that goes. I’ve been there.”
Just two weeks ago, Stoops complained about negative coverage of his Kentucky program. While Alabama coach Nick Saban was dealing with the “rat poison” of positive coverage, Stoops said on his weekly radio show that “it’s just so negative.”
Stoops’ job is secure after taking Kentucky to a bowl game last season for the first time since 2010, but he was empathetic when it comes to the criticism Jones is facing.
“I have friends all over this conference, and so it goes with the territory. We’ll just keep it in the fraternity, because if you say anything, honestly, in two weeks you’d just be using it against me. It just is what it is. We’re all big boys, we can handle it, but it doesn’t mean you like it. We’re friends with people in the business.”
Kentucky hosts Tennessee at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kroger Field. The Wildcats are favored against the Volunteers for the fist time since 2007. The line for Saturday opened at 5.5.
It’s an unusual spot for Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC). The Cats have been consistently crushed by the Vols. Kentucky has lost 31 of the last 32 meetings, the lone win coming in a 10-7 Kentucky win in 2011. That was Kentucky’s only win in the series since 1984 — a series Tennessee leads 79-24-9.
It’s also an unusual spot for Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC). It’s long been an expectation that Tennessee beats Kentucky. Now, the Wildcats fan base would likely be in uproar if the beleaguered Vols came to Lexington and notched their first conference win of the season.
Stoops said Tennessee is better than its record suggests, pointing to close games against South Carolina and Florida.
“You could either choose just to look at the bottom line or look at reality,” Stoops said. “The reality is, they have a bunch of good football players and Butch Jones is a very good football coach and they’re playing hard for him.”
Watch: Mark Stoops’ press conference