KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee athletic director John Currie says the “hot seat” talk surrounding Vols fifth-year football coach Butch Jones is “really quite silly.”
Currie, appearing on the Sports Source television show on WATE-6 in Knoxville on Sunday, made it clear he supports Jones entering the 2017 football season.
Most recently, Fox Sports personality Colin Cowherd said Jones was on the hottest seat in America, and suggested that if Tennessee loses one of its first three games — vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Indiana State or at Florida — Jones could be fired.
Asked his thoughts on the latest attacks on Jones, Currie referred to recent comments from former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.
“I think I would defer to our Hall of Fame head coach who lives in town, Phillip Fulmer,” Currie said. “He had some very descriptive comments that maybe a sitting athletic director can’t make about that kind of talk.”
Fulmer, the special advisor to university president Joe DiPietro, told SEC Country in an exclusive interview last week that any hot seat talk was nonsense.
“People ask, ‘If he doesn’t win nine or 10 games do you get rid of him? Are you kidding me?” Fulmer said. “Have y’all paid attention the past four or five years?”
Chances are, many in the national media and in other news markets have not.
Last season Tennessee was a sexy preseason Top 10 pick before finishing 9-4 and ranked No. 22.
Those playing close attention recognized the Vols were hit with a historically high injury count, losing 17 starters and fading to second place in the SEC East Division after a 5-0 start to the season that saw them defeat four FBS division champions.
Currie suggested Sunday that Jones’ recent success on the recruiting trail has others concerned, as some media with Florida and Georgia ties have been among the most vocal stirring the pot.
“I think it’s making people around the country nervous how well we’re doing,” Currie said, referring to Tennessee currently having the top-ranked 2018 recruiting class in the SEC per 247Sports.
“I’m really excited about this season, but more importantly, I’m excited about what I’ve seen from how Butch Jones has developed a foundation of a long and successful, sustainable, high level program.”
Currie, as is his policy, said he would not discuss individual contract negotiations when asked why Tennessee wasn’t able to reach terms for a contract extension with Jones.
“Whether someone has a contract that’s five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20 years, there’s always going to be someday who thinks it’s too short or too long,” Currie said. “We’re not going to worry about that public talk right now, we’re focused on the fundaments of our program, and I can tell you how excited I am by the discipline and organization that I see Coach Jones and his staff building.”
Jones inherited a Tennessee program that was 2-14 against the SEC the two seasons before he took over, and the Vols were on probation and dealing with a very public Title IX lawsuit that damaged the program’s image.
Tennessee has finished in the Top 25 in consecutive seasons for the first time in nine years, and the Vols have won three straight bowl games for the first time in 20 years.
Fulmer said Jones inherited “an absolute total mess” at Tennessee, and has publicly supported the job he is doing for the Vols.