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Butch Jones’ Tennessee is an underdog at Kentucky. If he loses, he’s probably finally fired.

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There was a reason the Vols didn’t fire Jones before the Bama game.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee is in the midst of a miserable season. The Vols are 3-4 entering Week 9, the latest loss a drubbing by No. 1 Alabama last weekend.

Losing to the Tide was expected and likely didn’t change much about head coach Butch Jones’ job status. Losing any more games in 2017 definitely will.

SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey reported before the Bama game that UT didn’t want to throw an interim into Tuscaloosa:

Sources indicated that if a move occurs, it would likelier be at the end of the regular season.

However, the trip to Kentucky right after Alabama now looms as a must-win. Essentially, Butch would have to win out after losing to Bama in order to have a chance.

This week, the Vols opened as 5.5-point underdogs at Kentucky. It’s the second time since at least 1995 that Vegas has expected UT to lose to UK. Tennessee is 31-1 against Kentucky since 1985 and is usually a double-digit favorite.

Jones is 33-25 in his five seasons in Knoxville. If he falls to 33-26, he’s out. Jones might not get fired immediately, though it’s certainly possible. But if UT goes down to Kentucky, the writing will be on the wall.

S&P+ projections entering last weekend gave them a 48 percent chance to win.

Jones has done some positive things.

The Vols finished in the top 25 in back-to-back years in 2015 and ‘16, the first time they’d done that in almost a decade. The team made three straight bowls, which is nice. Jones has recruited really well and lined up — for the moment — 2018’s No. 8 overall class.

But Tennessee is no longer moving forward.

The Vols are 3-4. That’s bad, and it looks worse when piled atop a 4-4 finish after last season’s 5-0 start. Jones is in Year 5, which is certainly past the point where if a coach isn’t moving his program forward, he’s moving it backward. Jones will leave Tennessee better than he found it, but that doesn’t mean new athletic director John Currie has to keep him.

Tennessee’s coaching this year has been confounding. Whether they were losing games on Hail Marys because they didn’t have enough defensive backs on the field or losing them because they couldn’t figure out how to score from three yards away, the Vols are leaving the impression that their considerable talent wasn’t translating.

Even the Vols’ wins this year have been underwhelming. One was against Indiana State, an FCS team that’s currently 0-7. Another was against UMass, which just won its first game in Week 8. And another required two overtimes against a less talented Georgia Tech.

Vols fans have already moved on.

“FIRE BUTCH JONES” has become a rallying cry on the order of “GO BIG ORANGE.”

Calls for the Vols to fire their coach are popping up just about everywhere you could imagine. That includes Titans games:

And Grizzlies games:

And Predators games:

And on bleachers:

And at other schools:

And, certainly, on the internet:

Soon, the school is likely to follow its fans’ wishes.

Jones’ buyout is big but manageable — probably a little more than $6 million if Tennessee decides to fire him right after this season. That’s not likely to be a prohibitive cost.

The team’s been all kinds of disappointing, and Jones has repeatedly become a punchline with PR blunders, like the time he awarded his players the Life Championship after last year’s miserable stretch run. There haven’t been enough wins to counterbalance that, even with all the good stuff he’s done.

The Jones era now feels played out. Any losses from here on out will ensure that it doesn’t last much longer.