Jones ‘dis­ap­pointed but not dis­cour­aged’

Rome News-Tribune - - SPORTS - By Steve Me­gargee As­so­ci­ated Press Sports Writer

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.”

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