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Tennessee commit says fired Butch Jones told him to find another school

Even if the comment comes from spite, it’s not wrong.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee announced Sunday that it fired head football coach Butch Jones. The Vols got blown out at Missouri on Saturday, and Jones reportedly told his assistant coaches sometime around 11:45 a.m. ET Sunday that he was out of a job.

Right around that time, one of Jones’ Tennessee commits in the class of 2018 talked with him on the phone, the player says. Here’s Tanner Ingle, a three-star defensive back from Orlando, talking to the Orlando Sentinel about how he heard of Jones’ firing:

“I spoke with Coach Jones about 30 minutes ago,” the Orlando Dr. Phillips defensive back said about 12:30 Sunday afternoon. “He said he didn’t really expect that to happen, but it did so he told me to find a place to go, quickly … and that if he gets anything he will contact me.”

The recruit says Jones told him to look for another school on his way out the door. That’s contributed to an early sense among Tennessee fans that Jones is angling to sabotage the Volunteers as he departs. UT blog Rocky Top Talk writes:

Jones' tenure will already be remembered with mixed reviews, but how he leaves the program will ultimately define him and right now he is not off to a good start. His decision making during tough times has always been questioned and this does not help his case at all.

In fact, it gives credence to all of the theories that when the pressure is up, he falls down.

If Jones continues down this path then not only will he be remembered as The Used Car Salesman Who Couldn't, but any positive that he brought to Tennessee will be thrown out the window. The negative always over rules the positive.

A leading Tennessee writer who covers the program’s recruiting says:

When coaches get fired, they can handle recruiting in different ways.

It’s an awkward thing in general. Firing season stretches from November into December, and National Signing Day is in February. (This year, there’s an early signing period in December, when teams are expected to sign most of their commits.)

So the timeline’s always been tight between coach firings and recruit signings, and it’s even tighter this year. A similar tension exists when a coach leaves to take another job. Recruiting is any program’s lifeblood, but the non-binding nature of pre-Signing Day commitments means chaos happens when there’s a head coaching change.

When coaches wind up at new schools, it’s common for them to take their recruits from their last jobs with them. Ingle’s retelling of Jones’ words — “if he gets anything he will contact me” — suggests that Jones is already thinking about taking Tennessee recruits with him if he lands somewhere else for 2018.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might have a coach like Mark Richt, who kept recruiting five-star QB Jacob Eason for Georgia even after the Dawgs fired him in 2015. There are a million variables that could affect how a coach handles the recruiting aspect of his job change, including the caliber of the player, the scholarship math at the coach’s new school, and how good the new team’s class looks.

It’s easy to read Jones’ reported comments as spite against Tennessee. That could be accurate, but it’s also not a bad message to give a player.

Later in that Sentinel interview, Ingle, the recruit, says:

“I’m going to take my visits and see what happens from there. I’d also like to see who the new coaching staff will be and if they will honor my commitment or not.”

Whoever Tennessee hires next won’t be under any obligation to honor Ingle’s verbal commitment to Tennessee. Nothing’s binding until financial aid papers get signed, and Tennessee could hire a coach who brings legions of commits from his current school. We hear stories virtually every year about a new coach at some school pulling a kid’s offer from a previous staff. This happens all over the country, and it’s no fun.

So, sure, you can read the recruit’s recollection of Jones’ comments as an attempt by the coach to hurt the school that just fired him. But even if it is, there’s nothing inherently wrong with telling a player to create as many options for himself as possible. Recruiting is a cold world, and nobody wants to get left outside.