Butch Jones’ job security has been a divisive topic for debate this offseason as he enters his fifth year in Knoxville.
On Monday, Rick Neuheisel — a former head coach at Colorado, Washington and UCLA — made it clear that he firmly sits on one side of the fence in that argument.
While speaking with Jimmy Hyams of SportsRadio WNML in Knoxville, Neuheisel left no mystery that Jones has plenty more to prove if he’s going to keep his job as coach of the Vols.
“I think obviously he’s on the hot seat,’’ Neuheisel said. “You’ve got a new AD [athletic director John Currie] who’s listening to all the noise and is going to be watching very carefully. … You’ve got a 100,000-seat stadium that needs to be rocking and rolling, and that first game against Georgia Tech will be huge.’’
Of course, the athletic director he mentioned didn’t share that sentiment when sitting down for a Q&A with columnist Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
During that session, Currie said he thinks Jones “is on the right trajectory.”
Nonetheless, Neuheisel was very complimentary of Jones, who he credits for helping revive the Vols’ recruiting efforts. Neuheisel believes the tables will completely turn for Jones with another sweep of rivals Florida and Georgia while staying healthy.
“You watch that contract extension,” he said. “You watch how big it will be.’’
In Neuheisel’s assessment, Jones has hurt himself with being overly positive and not tempering expectations at times.
“When he says things like ‘champions of life’ and ‘five-star character (actually hearts)’ or whatever, when you say things like that, it can inflame the fan base,” Neuheisel said. “They don’t want to know about the pain, they just want to see the baby and the baby is a championship because the Tennessee fan base considers themselves the blue blood of college football.”
During Jones’ time at Tennessee, the program has shown gradual improvement. The Vols are coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons after not winning more than seven games since 2007, and the school has won three straight bowl games.
However, the Vols’ failure to win the SEC East last season despite several returning several standouts and winning those two aforementioned games against the Gators and Bulldogs was a disappointment to those in Rocky Top.
That being said, the base as a whole still has a renewed sense of optimism lately, which is a credit to Jones.
Tennessee has sold about 68,700 season tickets, the second most since 2007. Last year was the most in 10 years: 72,000.
— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) July 17, 2017
Tennessee opens the season against Georgia Tech on Monday, Sept. 4 in Atlanta.