9-4 nice, SEC East title preferred
HOOVER, Ala. — It’s been 10 years and four head coaches — if you count interim Jim Chaney — since Tennessee won its last SEC East title.
The drought looked like it would end last season when the Volunteers started 5- 0 with victories over division rivals Florida and Georgia.
Butch Jones was on his way to being the first Tennessee coach to take his team to Atlanta since Phillip Fulmer in 2007.
Instead Tennessee faded to a 9-4 finish, including losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, as Florida won the division for the 12th time since 1992.
The Vols capped the season with a 38-24 victory over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
It was the Vols’ third consecutive bowl victory — a first since Peyton Manning led them to three in a row from 1994-1996 — and allowed Tennessee to join Alabama and Florida as the only SEC teams to win at least nine games each of the past two seasons.
But despite the Vols’ improvement from a 16-21 record in Derek Dooley’s three seasons, including former Arkansas offensive coordinator Chaney one-game stint as the interim coach in 2012, Tennessee’s players at SEC media days found themselves being asked about Jones being on the hot seat.
“When I got here, we were 5-7 and I was redshirted,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said of Dooley’s last season. “Things were bad.”
Things at Tennessee definitely have been better under Jones, who has a 30-21 record.
“He’s changed this program so much,” Vickers said. “He’s done everything he’s possibly been able to do to change the culture at Tennessee.
“So yeah, I think that is [ hot seat talk] a little bit disrespectful, but we don’t worry about that in the locker room.”
Fifth-year senior guard Jashon Robertson said the Vols don’t focus on negative talk about how the program hasn’t improved enough under Jones to win the East.
“We aren’t really paying much attention to the outside noise, but as far as Coach Jones goes, he really appreciates all of the things we’re doing day in and day out,” Robertson said. “We feel the same way about him.”
Tennessee was picked to win the East last season, but Jones said he doesn’t consider the Vols’ 4-4 SEC record a disappointment.
“This is a results-oriented business and we fell short of our goals,” Jones said. “But I don’t like to use the term ‘disappointment,’ because when you look at it, it’s hard to win in this conference.
“We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better. But I’m still proud of the way our team responded.”
Tennessee isn’t a popular choice to win the East this season after losing quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who had 35 career starts.
Dobbs’ 9,360 yards of total offense rank third on the Vols all-time list behind Manning’s 11,020 and Casey Clausen’s 9,577.
“Josh did a great job for us,” Robertson said. “He stood in there and took some shots and threw some strikes and made a lot of plays.
“But we have two great quarterbacks right now battling it out, and regardless of who it is, we’ll protect him.”
Junior Quinten Dormady, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 148 yards last season, and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano are competing
to replace Dobbs.
“I think the competition at that position has really elevated the level of play of everyone else around them,” Jones said. “We will not name a starting quarterback until the time is right. I can’t tell you when that is. That will be decided obviously on the field when we start training camp.”
Jones didn’t rule out the possibility of playing two quarterbacks, at least early in the season.
“I’ve been in systems where we’ve been able to do that, and really Quinten and Jarrett’s skill sets are very similar to each other,” Jones said.
Robertson said it doesn’t make any difference to him as an offensive lineman who starts at quarterback.
“My job isn’t to pick between the guys,” Robertson said. “My job is to block for them.”
Robertson is among 14 returning starters on offense and defense for the Vols, who are ranked in some preseason Top 25 polls.
“There’s so much more out there to be accomplished, and we’ve only started,” Jones said.
Jones said a key to building a successful program is winning consistently.
“We want more and we expect more,” he said. “I know our fans want more. That’s the great thing coaching at Tennessee are those expectations.”
Tennessee averaged 100,968 fans per game at Neyland Stadium last season to rank seventh nationally in attendance.
“Of course fans are going to be disappointed sometimes,” Robertson said. “But just because your mother is disappointed in you, does that mean she doesn’t love you?
“It’s easy to point out the negatives as far as fans go, but let’s think about what they do. They fill a stadium that has over 100,000 seats. Week in and week out, they’re showing support.”
Coach Butch Jones is 30-21 in his four seasons at Tennessee and led the Volunteers to their third consecutive bowl victory last season, but questions about his job security were a topic of discussion during the first day of SEC football media days Monday in Hoover, Ala.
Tennessee offensive lineman Jashon Robertson (right) said Monday at SEC football media days it’s not his job to decide who the Volunteers’ starting quarterback will be when the season opens. “My job is to block for them,” he said.
Tennessee defensive lineman Kendal Vickers told reporters Monday at SEC football media days he is a big believer in Volunteers Coach Butch Jones and no supporter of those who think his job is in jeopardy. “So, yeah, I think that is a little disrespectful,” Vicker said.