University of Tennessee Head Football Coach Butch Jones begins his fifth year without a single 10-win season under his belt. The question remains, are fans losing patience with Jones or is he losing patience with unappreciative fans?
For a program that dined on a national championship win in 1998, the palate of Tennessee fans has transitioned from gourmet to fast food. Since the 13-0, ’98 season, Tennessee has posted only four seasons of doubt-digit wins, the last one almost a decade ago under Phil Fulmer.
While Jones has posted back-to-back nine win seasons the last two years, it appears he’s bumping his head against an unbreakable glass ceiling. And the question lingers; are UT fans impatient or unappreciative? I believe the former turns into the latter.
We only have to travel across campus to find a suitable example.
When Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl left the program over lying about recruiting violations in 2011, Conzo Martin, who only had three seasons running a much smaller program took control. Mike Hamilton, the athletic director at the time, referred to Martin as one of the most “promising young coaches in the game.”
Three season later, after winning a slue of SEC games, Martin surprised UT officials but leaving for a west coast opportunity. Why? Because fans and key boosters were calling for his head. In fact, 40,000 fans signed a petition calling for UT to fire Martin and replace him with whom else, Bruce Pearl.
But key SEC wins were not enough because Martin was only able to deliver two NIT postseason appearances and one NCAA sweet-sixteen showing. For many fans, greener pastures were no where in sight. And in those same eyes, Martin was never going to be Pearl and football fans are already thinking Jones is no Fulmer.
In a recent column in Gridiron Now, Dave Hooker, a reporter and radio talk show host who covers Tennessee football, makes the point that Jones needs to win at least nine games to keep his job. I disagree. As a life long Tennessee fan, I see another nine win season as the same old, same old. If Jones doesn’t post a 10-win season he needs to go. Or resign and move on because of “unappreciated fans.”
Hooker says the last thing Tennessee needs now is change. Absent a 10-win season, it’s the only thing we need. “Unappreciative fans” may be a good excuse for Jones.
Roan Stanley, a senior at Olathe Northwest High School, contributed to this article.