Vols’ beating at the hands of Georgia puts Butch Jones question on John Currie’s desk

John Currie at least has to game this out in his mind now.

Maybe — probably — Tennessee’s first-year athletic director still concludes that the cost of sudden change is too much for the potential return.

Maybe he decides that Butch Jones still deserves the whole season to right the ship, and that those two nine-win seasons — disappointing as the last one may have been — earn the fifth-year coach enough benefit of the doubt to not be fired in October.

Maybe Currie looks at the potential interim options — associate head coach Brady Hoke, offensive coordinator Larry Scott, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, maybe Robert Gillespie — and concludes that putting one of them in charge can’t save the season anyway.

Maybe he doesn’t want to develop a reputation for having a quick trigger before he makes his first major hire.

Or maybe he decides that $9.2 million is too big of a buyout check to write.

But he at least has to list the pros and cons in his own mind now, because if the trajectory of Tennessee’s season continues, he’ll be asked why he didn’t make a move earlier. And he’ll need an answer.

The last three weeks have foisted the question on Currie much quicker than he would have wanted to have to deal with it.

The conventional wisdom was that the season would have to go extremely poorly for Currie to have to make a decision on Jones, who is under contract through the 2020 season, and that a midseason firing would require an out-and-out disaster.

But if the last three games don’t qualify as a disaster, they at least come close.

The Florida loss was heartbreaking, and contained clear errors on the part of the coaching staff and a massive breakdown in the secondary to allow a 63-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play. The Vols barely appeared to get up off the canvas in their 17-13 win over a still winless UMass team, and barely appeared to be in the game in a 41-0 loss to Georgia in which the Bulldogs clearly established themselves as the class of the SEC East.

In the midst of that, Jones provided comedy material for sports commentators in a press conference rant in which he decried “fake news” and “overwhelming negativity” among Vols reporters and asked the rhetorical question “what do we want out of our media?” as if those reporters should be an arm of the Tennessee athletic department. ESPN’s College GameDay had a lot of fun with that one Saturday morning even before the Vols got crushed. Desmond Howard called it “ridiculous,” and said that the Tennessee football coach is charged with not doing a good job, but a great job.

So it’s impossible to ignore now that the college football world is spending as much time discussing the temperature of Jones’ seat as any other coach in America.

If Currie wants to evaluate Jones over a full season before he makes a decision on his future, he can make an affirmative case as to why he should do that. Jones did in fact bring the Vols back from one of their lowest points, leading them to three straight bowl games including back-to-back nine win seasons after they had failed to reach the postseason for three straight years. Currie could easily argue that the improvement Jones has brought at least earns him the right to coach his way through an entire season before a judgment is rendered.

But this team looks less and less like a team with the capacity to save Jones’ job each week. Its quarterback situation is a mess again with Quinten Dormady coming off a miserable performance against Georgia in which he completed just 3 more passes to his own team (5) than he had intercepted (2) for just 64 yards. The Vols have a talented backup option in Jarrett Guarantano, who has a bigger arm and more speed than Dormady, but he doesn’t have nearly the seasoning necessary. Jones might have to make a move, but it’s hard to tell how much of a difference that could make.

The rest of the offense was also a mess. The offensive line allowed 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss on Saturday, and the Vols managed just 62 yards on 29 carries. The offense’s longest play, a 44-yard pass to the usually reliable John Kelly, ended in a fumble. The wide receivers struggle to get open, Dormady fails to get the ball where he needs to when they do, and they haven’t been winning 1-on-1 battles with defensive backs when they’ve been given a chance.

The defense showed at least some life, holding the Bulldogs to just 84 yards passing, but they were gassed relatively quickly, which made it easier for Georgia to pile up 294 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground.

The Bulldogs’ talent clearly made the Vols look worse than they are, but combining this performance with the one against UMass, and it’s easy to wonder if it’s possible for Tennessee to claim victories over South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and/or Vanderbilt much less LSU. Their chances at an upset of Alabama seem barely worth mentioning after the Crimson Tide won their first two SEC games by a combined score of 125-3. And if the Vols regress from the 9-4 season of 2016, and get embarrassed by both Georgia and Alabama, the case for keeping Jones into 2018 becomes much harder to make.

There is a bye week to come, which means time to regroup. And a win over South Carolina could at least calm some of the rising tension. The loss to Georgia probably cost them their last realistic chance at a signature win this season — beating LSU, after the Tigers’ loss to Troy, probably wouldn’t count — and an SEC East title is out of the question, but there are enough wins possible for the season to be determined to be tolerable by some.

But if things don’t turn around, Currie will have to answer why he decided to delay the inevitable.

The post Vols’ beating at the hands of Georgia puts Butch Jones question on John Currie’s desk appeared first on SEC Country.

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