The sight of Butch Jones smoking a victory cigar after the Tennessee Vols lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide last weekend was extremely unsettling for UT fans.
But to understand why it was unsettling, you have to understand how it ended up happening.
For five seasons, Jones fruitlessly led the Tennessee football program. For five seasons, Jones was all Vol — especially on the third Saturday in October.
At one point during his tenure at UT, Jones refused to even say Alabama’s name, opting instead to call them “the red team”.
During Jones’ time in Knoxville, he recruited the bulk of Tennessee’s current roster, promising they’d be part of the turnaround on Rocky Top. He was their coach. Their guy.
But all of that came crashing down last November when Jones was fired because he couldn’t return UT to greatness (or anything remotely close to greatness).
After getting fired from Tennessee, Jones took a job as an analyst at Alabama.
From my vantage point, I think it was a smart move by Jones. He’s getting paid millions from Tennessee. Why not take a job for nothing ($30-35K a year) and learn from one of the best coaches in college football history? Taking the job at Alabama would allow Jones to recalibrate himself as a coach and perhaps pursue another head coaching opportunity down the road.
No reasonable Vol fan should have a problem with Jones’ decision to go to Tuscaloosa. It’s a business. It’s the same reason Jeremy Pruitt left Alabama, where he coached and played, to take the job at Tennessee. Coaches go where the opportunities are.
But Vol fans are absolutely justified in their anger toward Butch for his actions after the Alabama game.
Jones took one hell of a victory lap after the Crimson Tide beat the Volunteers on Saturday in Knoxville. And he absolutely did it on purpose.
— Chris Owens (@BGChrisOwens) October 20, 2018
Let’s be clear — Jones knew these photos would be very public. And these aren’t just photos of Jones in the background with a cigar (which would be fine, it’s part of the rivalry and he’s on Alabama’s staff), this was him posing for the camera, on several different occasions.
The national media seems to think there’s nothing wrong with what Jones did on Saturday evening. But I think it was a slap in the face to the players he recruited to Tennessee.
“I can promise you, having spoken with the Alabama players, it was their mission to smoke that cigar with Butch Jones. Period.”
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 26, 2018
Jones could’ve easily said no to any photo opportunities simply by telling Alabama players that it would’ve been disrespectful to the kids he recruited to UT. That’s what a respected coach would do.
But not Jones, instead he comes across as an amateur. Someone who managed to follow in Brian Kelly’s footsteps and land a job at one of the most prestigious programs in college football history. And then he told a bunch of lies to a bunch of elite recruits to get them to come to Rocky Top. After those elite recruits left Knoxville, Jones drove the program straight into the ground.
So to see Jones jump on staff at Alabama, in a limited role where he’s not allowed to coach players, and then celebrate a win in a storied rivalry like he wasn’t on the losing side of it for the previous five seasons is absolutely sickening.
I’m sure a lot of folks will read this and say “move on already”. And look, I get it. The Jones era at Tennessee is over. It’s in the rearview mirror.
But the effects of Jones are still being felt at Tennessee. And they’ll likely be felt for a while. It’s going to take a while to wipe away every trace of Jones from UT.
Jeremy Pruitt is doing his best to clean up the Vol football program in a hurry. It’s going to take some time, but he’ll get there eventually.
And on his way there, Pruitt can hold his head high, knowing he has more character than Butch Jones ever dreamed of having.
The first thing Pruitt did after Alabama won the national championship last January?
He immediately sought out Georgia players, like Jake Fromm, that he helped coach and/or recruit while he was in Athens.
Jeremy Pruitt went over to speak to Jake Fromm after the game. Classy gesture.
— zach ragan (@zachTNT) January 9, 2018
That’s what a coach with character does.
Featured image via Randy Sartin/USA Today