Jones ‘disappointed but not discouraged’
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones says he’s “disappointed but not discouraged” and believes he still has the support of athletic director John Currie as the Volunteers try to snap a four-game skid.
The Vols (3-5) head into their Saturday homecoming game with Southern Mississippi (5-3) trying to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 1988, when they dropped their first six games before rallying to finish 5-6.
“It’s definitely been a challenging month, but the message has stayed the same,” Jones said. “It’s been unfortunate, some of the things that have happened this year, but this is where your character is really tested. You find out about the resolve and resiliency of yourself and everyone around you. Your character’s on display.”
Jones, who has a 33-26 record in five years, is making $4.1 million annually with a contract that runs through Feb. 28, 2021. According to terms of his buyout, Tennessee would owe him more than $8 million if it fired him now without cause, though that figure depends on Jones making “reasonable and diligent efforts” to get a comparable job and could be mitigated if he does land another position.
Currie, who became AD in April , voiced his support for Jones in interviews after a loss to Florida last month but hasn’t commented on the state of the football program during the last few weeks.
Jones said Saturday after a 29-26 loss to Kentucky that he “absolutely” felt he still had Currie’s support. Jones said Monday that “nothing has changed at all” in that regard and that he and the athletic director talk every day.
“He’s a great person to work for,” Jones said.
After opening the season in the AP Top 25 , the Vols are winless in SEC competition. It’s a major step backward for a program that had won bowl games under Jones each of the last three seasons .
Tennessee’s loss to Kentucky marked just the second time the Vols had fallen to the Wildcats in their last 33 meetings. The skid also includes a 41-0 defeat to Georgia that represented Tennessee’s first shutout since 1994 and its most lopsided home setback since 1905.
Tennessee’s offense had gone 15 straight quarters without a touchdown before reaching the end zone twice against Kentucky. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has been sacked 18 times in three starts.
Three times this season, the Vols have committed a false start from the opponent’s 1-yard line, and they didn’t score touchdowns on any of those drives. Tennessee lost to Kentucky despite having a plus-4 turnover margin.
“In terms of the record, I’m obviously very, very disappointed but not discouraged,” Jones said. “I understand the expectations of Tennessee football. So do our players. It’s been one of those years.”
The slump has taken a toll on a fan base eager for change, particularly now that SEC East rival Florida has made a move by parting ways with Jim McElwain .
Albert Haynesworth, a former Tennessee and All-Pro defensive lineman, tweeted that it was “Unbelievable gators fire their coach but we still got (to) deal with Botched Jones!!!” The hashtag “EmptyNeyland” has circulated on Twitter among disgruntled fans believing they can hasten Jones’ departure by skipping home games.
“There’s been a ton of people that have been supportive,” Jones said. “This is a great community. We have a lot of great friends here. There’s been a lot of people that have been extremely supportive.
“I understand everybody being upset. If I was a fan, I’d be upset, too. I bleed with them, but also I understand we need to win some football games. I’m going to do everything in my power for our players, for our university, for our program to get that done.”