The Tennessee Volunteers have a huge opportunity to erase lots of negativity, which grew deep roots among the UT fan base after that “Hail Mary” loss at Florida.
An upset win versus unbeaten and top-10 nationally ranked Georgia this Saturday, Sept. 30, in Neyland Stadium might do the trick.
Serving as featured speaker during The Rotary Club of Farragut’s Wednesday, Sept. 20, meeting, Jimmy Hyams addressed head coach Butch Jones’ job performance, job security status, the 2017 team strengths and weaknesses and the general direction of the program.
“I think the biggest game now for this team is Georgia. Gotta beat Georgia,” said Hyams, an award-winning sportswriter, journalist and radio talk show co-host in Knoxville — and 2011 inductee into the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame — who has covered UT Football since 1985..
“If you don’t beat Georgia you’re not going to be in the East Division race and the attendance is going to continue to sag,” Hyams added. “ … If attendance starts to sag, that’s one of the worst things that can happen to a coach.”
Looking back to Florida, “I think four years in a row [UT has] really out-played Florida and they’ve only won one,” Hyams said. “They’ve got to do a better job of closing games. They’ve got to do a better job coaching in key moments.”
As for offense, “I am one who hates going into the shotgun from the 1 yard line or third-and-short,” Hyams said, noting that highly respected offensive coaches such as David Cutcliffe, former Vols offensive coordinator and current head coach at Duke, do this. “… I’ve expressed my opinion to Butch Jones; he doesn’t listen. That’s OK.”
However, “Butch Jones has done a lot of good things. … He took over a program that was 1-7 in the SEC. He’s won a lot of ballgames.,” Hyams said. “… They’ve had nine wins back-to-back years. They’ve won three bowl games [3-0 under Jones].”
Moreover, “They have done really good things off the field,” Hyams added. “The behavior is much better than before he got here. The academics have improved dramatically, more players on academic honor rolls, more players making a [minimum] 3.0 GPA.
“The question for Butch Jones is: can he get Tennessee to the next level? Can he get Tennessee where it wants to be? And where Tennessee wants to be is winning the [SEC] East Division; where Tennessee wants to be is winning the SEC [championship]. Tennessee hasn’t won the East since 2007, hasn’t won the SEC since 1998.”
For those wanting Jones fired, Hyams said the contractual buyout “is between $6 [million] and $8 million. The buyout for the staff is well over $5 million.”
To hire a “big-name” head coach and also agree to pay his staff perhaps more than Jones’ staff currently makes, “when you put all those numbers together, the total cost” to fire and hire “is well over $25 million,” Hyams said.
However, Hyams said he thought Jones “was on the hot seat” entering this season, because “if Tennessee implodes and has a bad year they could make a change.
“But I don’t think John Currie [UT athletics director] wants to do that,” Hyams added.
As for recruiting, “Butch Jones has done a very nice job,” Hyams said, addiing Tennessee currently is ranked No. 5 nationally and No. 1 in the SEC [according to ESPN].
Of those commitments, “nine players in the state of Tennessee are committed,” Hyams said, adding most of UT’s out-of-state commitments for the Class of 2018 are in the states of Georgia and Florida.
If Jones is fired, “That class could very well implode,” he said.
About this season’s team, Hyams said, “Tennessee has talent, but they don’t have difference-makers. They have some good players, but they don’t have guys that could change the course of a game.”
Hyams then said John Kelly, Vols junior running back who led the SEC in rushing after three weeks, “is in that class … I love John Kelly, I think he’s terrific. I think he has a chance to lead the SEC in rushing.”