KNOXVILLE, TENN. – I’m sure if football coaches were truly like the fraternity they purport to be, Will Muschamp would greet Butch Jones at midfield today and give him the secret handshake, clap him on the back and tell him not to worry, the brothers of Linebacka Sacka Rho would always take care of him.
As it is, Muschamp will make some small talk with Jones, wish him luck the rest of the season (not today) and get back to his own sideline. As someone who is part of the code, and someone who has faced the howls of an outraged fan base, Muschamp knows the company line – “Be glad it ain’t you.”
It’s no secret what Jones is going through. The hokey catchphrases (“leadership rep?”) and off-the-field distractions (to clear it up, Shy Tuttle didn’t wind up with a misshapen skull because he fell on a helmet, as Jones claimed) could be understood if Tennessee was winning.
But they’re not, and he’s never beaten Muschamp, and if the Vols lose this one today, I’m not saying Jones will be fired Sunday, but he will be within the next eight days after Alabama finishes falling all over Tennessee’s helmets. Athletics director John Currie can make that move with no shame since there’s always the chance that UT could still make a pretty decent bowl game under an interim head coach.
Muschamp went through this. Even when his second Florida team won 11 games there was grumbling that his offense wasn’t within an interstate of the fill-the-air-with-pigskin style featured by Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. All it took was one bad season – the 4-8 next year, bedecked with half the starting lineup shut down with injuries – for the vultures to circle and in 2014, after Florida coughed up miserable home losses to Missouri and USC, then-AD Jeremy Foley had seen enough.
Jones came into a bad situation and steadily improved it, but when the Vols were picked to win the East last year and stumbled down the stretch, the fact that they still won nine games was ignored. I never picked UT to win the East – I knew even before the year that as talented as he was, Joshua Dobbs couldn’t throw downfield – and the Vols suffered a lot of injuries.
Didn’t matter. To a UT fanbase that stumbled into a national championship 20 years ago and had to put up with three seasons of Derek Dooley, Jones was not a winner. And it didn’t help when he was trying to have his guys’ backs and instead offered quotes that were more laughable than all of Carson’s monologues combined.
Muschamp was asked this week, since he recently went through it, how a coach deals with knowing there’s an axe just waiting to fall. Not surprisingly, a man that barely leaves the football complex during the season said the best approach is to work.
“You’re not going to be able to shut off Twitter and limit or stop that negativity. That’s not going to stop,” he said. “I hate to disappoint all of you, but I don’t read any of your articles, not that I have time or want to, but I don’t. I don’t listen to the radio, sorry, I apologize. You’re kind of in a bunker mentality as a coach.”
Jones’ bunker is being shelled day and night. A loss today, I really believe, doesn’t end his tenure because why not do it next week, when Alabama will do what Alabama is clearly going to do? Tennessee’s final five games are all winnable, meaning there’s a head start on the coaching search and still a chance to save the season.
The “frat brothers” will socialize for a brief moment before kickoff and then try to win the game. Jones will trudge back to his team while Muschamp ambles over to his.
He’s glad it ain’t him.
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.