Tennessee fired head coach Butch Jones after a 50-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday. The Vols were 4-6 this season and winless in the SEC.
Now Tennessee begins another search to hire its fifth head coach in 11 years, after having only two coaches for the 32 years before then with Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. With those parameters in mind, it might seem like firing Jones was premature. Here are five reasons it wasn’t.
5. Will Muschamp
For years, Tennessee’s foil was Steve Spurrier, who tormented and angered fans by spoiling their seasons and taunting them while he was doing it whether it was at Florida or South Carolina. He has since been replaced by Will Muschamp, who is just as obnoxious but nowhere near the coach that Spurrier was. Sadly, Tennessee and thus Jones, is winless (0-4) against Muschamp. I can’t believe I am writing this, but to compete in the SEC, the next head coach at Tennessee has to beat Will Muschamp... consistently.
With 17 starters returning from a team that went 9-4 the previous year, Tennessee was most writers' and analysts' pick to win the SEC East and be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff. When the season started, it looked like the Volunteers would prove them right, as they started 5-0 and beat Florida for the first time since 2004. However, they were winning in a dramatic – not dominant – fashion that culminated with the Hail Mary pass against Georgia. The fairy dust came off the next week against Texas A&M when Tennessee had seven turnovers and lost 45-38. They proceeded to lose to Alabama, South Carolina and Vanderbilt and ended up in the Music City Bowl. All in all, what should have been Jones’ best season ended up being his most disappointing.
3. Losing close games
Jones had a tendency to lose close games against big-name opponents. This was never more apparent than in 2015, when Tennessee lost four games by a total of 17 points. In three of those games, Tennessee blew fourth-quarter leads. Granted, two of those losses were to Oklahoma and Alabama, who made the playoff that season, but those defeats also brought Jones’ late-game coaching acumen into question and he never alleviated those concerns.
2. Dismal SEC record
Jones’ record in the SEC this year was 0-6, which was simply the worst in a five-year run where Jones only had one winning conference record in five years. In the end, he finished with a 14-24 record in the SEC. With its storied history and state-of-the-art facilities, Tennessee expects more.
1. Program had come full circle
After losing eight key starters, it was expected that Tennessee would experience some drop-off from 2016. What was not expected was that Tennessee would be winless in the SEC and not score an offensive touchdown for more than a month. That is not the sign of a program that is moving forward; it is of one that was coming back to the point where it was when Jones was hired.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.