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Why Butch Jones was fired as Tennessee’s head coach, in a 90-second read

The man who coined the phrase “Champions of Life” is out at Tennessee.

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee is transitioning head coach Butch Jones after a 4-6 start to the 2017 season, AD John Currie announced Sunday morning. Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, a UT defensive assistant, will step up as interim.

The last straw, evidently: A 50-17 loss at Missouri that gave UT a loss in its most recent game against every single other team in the SEC. At the end, it was so sad that Vols fans were raging online as their band played “Rocky Top” to celebrate a blocked extra point, down by 33 points. Meanwhile, SEC Network goofed around in a helmet car.

Why’s he out?

It wasn’t so much Jones’ overall record (34-27 at UT) as a lack of progress, a list of especially embarrassing losses, and then a 2017 collapse. He improved the Vols to two straight nine-win seasons in 2015 and ‘16 and boosted recruiting, but his team went backwards in 2017.

It was also the way Tennessee lost, from its infuriating, come-from-ahead losses in 2015’s big games (the Oklahoma result is still hard to believe) to the string of hideous results in 2016 and 2017 that included blowout losses to Alabama and Georgia, yet another close loss to Florida, and losses to the allegedly inferior South Carolina and Kentucky.

He also failed to connect with fans, with his endlessly earnest slogans making him sound like he was in denial. Jones claiming his players were “champions of life” after the Vols were out of the SEC title race, and that he was only looking for recruits with “five-star hearts,” didn’t put him in the best spot heading into 2017.

Under Jones, Tennessee became more competitive on the field, for a while, but the Vols just remained a national punchline anyway.

Was this the right move?

Yep, and most saw that this was coming. Stabilizing the program doesn’t count for much when you constantly blow winnable games, whether that means giving up leads, failing to capitalize, or losing to teams with less raw talent.

Where was he before Tennessee?

From 2010-12, he was the head man at Cincinnati where he achieved some success, compiling a 23-14 record with nine and 10-win seasons. Before that, he was the head coach at Central Michigan and led the Chippewas to two consecutive bowl berths.

It wasn’t all bad, right?

Nope. One thing Jones did do well is drastically improving the recruiting classes brought into Knoxville, producing a pair of top-10 classes in 2014 and 2015. He also successfully cleaned up the roster damage that former Vols coaches Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley did to Tennessee. As Rocky Top Talk puts it:

The Butch Jones era shouldn’t be remembered like the Derek Dooley era. The program reached some high points and was much more competitive overall. But unfortunately for Butch, the program hit a near all time low in his final year. In fact, this team has a shot to go winless in the SEC and reach eight losses — both of which would be firsts for this football program.

Also, this moment he had after beating Georgia on a Hail Mary in 2016 was unforgettable:

We’ve put up a couple polls on who the Vols should target next. Jon Gruden wins every time, which means we’re making our fourth trip through the GRUMORS mill in the last decade.