TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tennessee football coach Butch Jones’ career future remains in limbo in the wake of Alabama’s 45-7 victory over the Vols on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) poured it on Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) over the final 35 minutes, breaking open a 7-0 game with two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the second quarter.
The Vols’ lopsided defeat will trigger another week of speculation about coach Butch Jones’ future in Knoxville.
Some national analysts, including Tennessee graduate and SEC Network host Paul Finebaum, have Jones already gone.
A source close to the Tennessee program, however, told SEC Country before the game Saturday that an Alabama win would not necessarily make Jones’ termination imminent.
“The Kentucky game will be critical,” the source said.
The Tennessee coaching staff was told after its 41-0 loss to Georgia on Sept. 30 that it would be evaluated by how the Vols finished the season. Tennessee played with emotion against South Carolina last Saturday, but a potential game-winning drive was stopped at the 2-yard line in a 15-9 loss.
The game Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium marked the second career start for quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. Alabama swarmed the redshirt freshman from New Jersey from start to finish and limited the Vols to just 108 yards of total offense.
Jones is 33-25 in his five years with the Vols and is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons that put Tennessee in the nation’s Top 25 in consecutive years for the first time in nine years.
A regular-season ending loss at Vanderbilt in 2016, however, cost Tennessee a trip to the Sugar Bowl. It also cost Jones a two-year contract extension, according to the source.
The Vols were picked to finish third in the SEC East in the preseason media poll, but an 0-4 start in SEC play has turned up the heat on Jones. Tennessee hasn’t won an SEC title since the 1998 national championship team, nor has it appeared in a major bowl game at the BCS/New Year’s Six level since the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.
First-year athletic director John Currie has been mum on Jones’ job status of late, having discouraged fans from speculating earlier this season.
“I’m very proud of the job that our staff has done in rebuilding our program, and Coach Jones,” Currie told The Athletic on Sept. 21. “People get hung up in speculation before they really know anything about what they’re talking about sometimes.”
However, Tennessee’s offensive performances since Currie’s vote of confidence have been sorely lacking.
The team was sluggish in a 17-13 win over UMass on Sep. 23 and hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown since the second quarter of that game, a string of 14 quarters.
This is uncharted territory for Jones, who has won as many or more games from one regular season to the next at each of this three coaching stops.
Tennessee would need to win out for him to continue that streak, and quite likely, to have any chance at extending his career in Knoxville beyond this season.