KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones is on the verge of completing what many fans would consider a successful college football season at 8-4 and ranked in the Top 25.
The University of Tennessee, however, has a much, much higher opinion of itself than most, so only some of the Vols’ fans are seeing the glass half full.
Jones has made the mistake of trying to approach the unrest with logic — pointing out the uncharacteristically high amount of injuries to starters (19) and ultra-competitive schedule (five FBS divisional champions).
Just about the time Tennessee fans were accepting of the circumstances, a website better known for fan-friendly stories and spoon-fed recruiting tips went rogue on the hand that often feeds them.
A slanted negative article quoting anonymous sources questioned Jones’ program.
The back stab infuriated the Vols’ head coach, putting him in such a sour mood that he let it affect other media dealings, thus leading to a flat bowl build up to this point.
Perhaps the holiday break and a change of venue to Nashville starting on Monday will lighten Jones’ mood.
If Tennessee beats Nebraska in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, Jones will have led the Vols to three straight bowl wins for what would be the first time since Peyton Manning accomplished the feat (1994-1996) under first-ballot College Football Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer.
Here are 5 things Butch Jones should wish for in 2017:
1. David Blackburn being hired as athletic director
Blackburn was instrumental in Jones getting hired following the 2012 season, serving on the search committee and helping to vet potential candidates.
UT President Joe DiPietro has made mistakes before, most notably allowing his unqualified friend from Florida (Jimmy Cheek) to oversee and bungle the athletics department from the chancellor position for years.
Surely, Tennessee won’t mess up this slam-dunk hire for the athletic director position.
2. More reasonable fans
There’s a loud minority of critics that will always exist — it’s the 10 percent rule.
Ten percent will hate you no matter what, 10 percent will love you no matter what, so it’s the 80 percent in the middle.
Vols fans are ready to win big, and 2016 was supposed to be the year with a senior quarterback in Josh Dobbs and a tailback on the verge of becoming the all-time leading rusher in Jalen Hurd.
But some things happened, and some things changed, and some of it was just downright bad luck.
The more knowledgeable fans realize this, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, nor does it mean they have to be happy about it.
But they should be reasonable and recognize that Jones is more a part of the solution for the program at this stage than the problem.
3. Rock Gullickson strength coach
That’s right, the Los Angeles Rams strength coach needs to be brought in to help build up the Tennessee football program.
Gullickson was the NFL’s 2007 NFL Strength Coach of the Year in Green Bay, winning the award by vote of his peers.
Gullickson worked the college ranks before the NFL, and while he’d cost a pretty penny, the Vols drastically need improvement in this area.
4. A contemporary SEC
Is there a good reason the Tennessee-Florida game hasn’t been moved back to November?
See, when the Big Ten had four teams ranked in the Top 10 at the end of this season, and the SEC had only one, it was worth taking a closer look.
The Big Ten has refined its divisions and its schedule in the past couple of years, while the SEC is still stuck on a 1993 model and divisions that have less and less to do with East and West and more to do with lazy and complacent administrators.
Greg Sankey will need to be more than a figurehead commissioner if the SEC is to stay atop — or get back on top, depending on how you view things — the college football world.
It’s stupid to have Florida play a non-conference game with Florida State in November — serves as no benefit to the SEC — and play the Vols in September.
Tennessee, meanwhile, played a murderer’s row of league games in September and October and was so beat-up that it couldn’t benefit from its softer portion of the schedule in November.
5. Terry Fair and Kevin Simon, on staff
The Vols have interest in Fair, who’s at Colorado State, should a change take place on the defensive staff.
Simon, meanwhile is a scout with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons even though he still resides in Knoxville.
Jones is smart enough to recognize a winner when he sees one, and in Fair and Simon, these are a couple of intelligent young men in the football business who could bring some old-school mentality back to Tennessee.
That’s old-school as in, play for the “T” on the helmet, and not the name of the back of the jersey.
And, old-school as in, players don’t wear green no-contact jerseys to practice unless they actually need to be in them.
Watching captains and star players lead calisthenics and drills while wearing green jerseys — even though they were playing each week — sent the wrong message.