Jones out as Tennessee head coach
It might have been easier if I searched back through my emails to find last week's Monday Morning Quarterback write up, copy and paste it and make a few minor changes this week.
That's how similar things went for Starkville Academy this week in what was a statement win in the MAIS AAA State semifinals.
This week, the same thing applies to their next opponent that was mentioned about Adams County Christian School.
I wrote about the Volunteers sheer dominance on the defensive side of the football this season and especially in the playoffs. I also expressed how fueled this team was to get a chance at redemption from how its season ended a year ago at ACCS in blowout fashion.
Starkville Academy players and its coach didn't even speak about that game prior to the first kick on Friday. The Vols knew what was at stake and they knew who was coming into their house. All they simply did was dominant the football game for four quarters in a 31-0 beat down that has them playing for a state championship on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
I'm running out of things to say about the SA defense. It's a unit that continues to just be absolutely lights out and the head of the snake is defensive coordinator Brad Butler. Through three games in the playoffs, the Vols are outscoring opponents 102-0. The offense deserves its props but what the defense is doing is remarkable.
It's so remarkable that you have to consider that it's been almost impossible for SA's three opponents to even cross midfield. The Vols have consistently put these teams behind the chains and deep in their own territory while also causing turnovers and giving the offense much to work with in field position.
On the other side of the football, we're also seeing just how tough an out this team can be. With a healthy Ben Owens at quarterback, teams are having to game plan for what he brings to the table as well as Noah Methvin as the two both bring their strengths to the game. It's made it tough on opponents to stop the ground game with the addition of runners like Taylor Arnold, William Wolfe and Nason Heflin and the passing threat with reliable wide outs Raegan and Brady Richardson.
The balance of the team is a credit to what head coach Chase Nicholson has built in his three years as the head coach and with
T| Page 7A here's an interesting dichotomy going on right now at
Starkville High School.
On one hand, the Yellowjackets are thrilled they are still alive in the Class 6A playoffs after a Friday night win over Southaven. On the other, there's a bit of trepidation because for some reason, things just aren't clicking on all cylinders right now for the Jackets.
“We're just not playing well right now,” Starkville head coach Chris Jones said following Friday's 6-0 win.
For three weeks in a row now, the Jackets have struggled. Most of those struggles have come offensively.
Back on Oct. 27, Warren Central shut out Starkville 23-0. The Jackets rebounded the following week with a win over Clinton to claim the Class 6A, Region 2 championship, but it took some late heroics for Starkville to get past the Arrows in the end. This was a Clinton team that finished its season with just a 5-6 record.
Starkville's woes continued this past Friday as the playoffs began. Despite playing a Southaven team that sported a losing record in the regular season, the Jackets couldn't finish drives offensively. Starkville was able to move the football from time to time, but five turnovers and an inability to get in the end zone frustrated the Jackets. Starkville needed a pair of field goals to come away with the win.
“I don't know why, but I feel like we're going backwards somehow offensively,” Jones said. “I thought we were doing pretty good at one point. We just have to get better at the little things. The attention to detail has to get better.
“We have to find a way to fix it. We have to do better as a staff. I put all the ownership on myself. I'll find a way between now and (this Friday).”
The good news for Starkville is, despite its woes, the Jackets are getting wins. That means Starkville is still playing. The Jackets host Horn Lake this week in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs and Starkville has a chance to get one step closer to its ultimate goal of a state title.
The bad news for the Jackets is, the road is starting to toughen
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There are losses, then there are the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking losses like the one Mississippi State suffered on Saturday night when the Bulldogs fell 31-24 to Alabama.
Having not defeated the Crimson Tide since 2007, MSU looked poised to finally once again topple Alabama as State sported a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, then it all fell apart.
The Crimson Tide, as they've done so many times before against the Bulldogs and others, found a way to survive. MSU, which actually moved up to 17th in the Associated Press poll and stand 19th in the Amway Coaches list, is now left to pick up the pieces with two regular season games and a bowl game still left on the schedule.
“This is a true test of your character,” MSU offensive lineman Martinas Rankin said after Saturday's loss. “If you lose a fight like this, you have to find it deep inside to keep fighting and keep pushing and persevere through the tough times.”
Every player is different when it comes to putting tough losses in the past. Some like Rankin, openly admit it's a challenge to get over such an agonizing defeat. Others, like MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, emphasized it wasn't how MSU lost that got to him. It was simply the fact the Bulldogs lost period.
“We lost and that's the reality of it,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn't matter who you lost to. It doesn't matter how much you lose by or anything like that. We lost a football game we feel like we should have won. I feel like we could
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee began the season in the Top 25 and is ending it with a coaching change.
The Volunteers fired Butch Jones on Saturday as they enter their final two regular-season games searching for their first Southeastern Conference victory, a stunning fall for a team that had won bowl games each of the last three seasons.
Athletic director John Currie said defensive line coach Brady Hoke would serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Jones' firing comes one day after Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) fell 50-17 at Missouri for its fifth loss in its last six games.
"Late last night it was evident this was probably the direction we needed to go for the best of all concerned," Currie said at a Sunday press conference. "We have two games left to play. We wanted our student-athletes to have the best possible chance for success. We want Coach Jones and his family to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. We want to be able to focus, from my perspective, on the search going forward. have won, so I'm disappointed and sad, but you can't lean on it too much. You have to keep moving forward.”
In the moments following Saturday's defeat, Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen seemed to be in the same state of mind as his signal caller. Mullen's body language told the story of a man who was frustrated after coming so close, yet finishing so far from toppling the Tide.
Like Fitzgerald though, Mullen's thoughts seemed to already be shifting towards what comes next.
“Every loss is tough,” Mullen said. “We're here to win and we love winning. Our guys come here to win. That's the type of program we have, so every loss is tough, but this is the game of football. You lose sometimes. You wake up the next day and feel awful, then you get back to work and try to find a way to win the next week. It's the same as if we won. You go to (the Alabama) locker room (after Saturday's game) and they (felt) great, but they have to get ready to go play another game (this) week.”
There's no exact formula when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of such a tough defeat. Some rely on reflection and figuring out what could have been done better. Still others prefer to forget the past and move forward. The immediate future for the Bulldogs is a Saturday date in Fayetteville, Arkansas, against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 11 a.m. kickoff will be televised by CBS.
Maybe the best strategy of all is just plain, old perspective. Mississippi State lost a tough game last Saturday, but Mullen knows it's not the end of the world.
“(Saturday was) Veteran's Day and (the Alabama game was) just a game of football,” Mullen said. “There are a lot of people in the world whose losses are a lot worse than this.”
"None of us want to be in this position. But we are in this position, and now we move forward."
Jones went 34-27 overall and 14-24 in the SEC over five seasons. He led the Vols to a Top 25 finish each of the last two years before the program took a giant step backward this fall.
Currie now must begin a coaching search just 7 1/2 months after taking over as Tennessee's athletic director . Currie said he was looking for someone "with the highest integrity and character, with the skills and vision to propel Tennessee to championships."
"We expect our coach to have the dynamics that would enable him to lead us to where we know Tennessee football can and should be," Currie said. "Our coach needs to know what that looks like."
Jones was making $4.1 million annually and has a contract that runs through Feb. 28, 2021. According to the letter of dismissal Currie sent Sunday, the school owes Jones a buyout of $8.26 million. Currie said Sunday that the buyout for the entire staff is in the "$13 million range," though that figure could be mitigated depending on when and where Jones and his assistants are able to find work.
Jones inherited a program that had posted three straight losing seasons under former coach Derek Dooley. The Vols went 5-7 for a fourth straight losing season in Jones' debut year but followed that up by going 7-6 in 2014 and posting consecutive 9-4 records the last two years.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) celebrates a touchdown with running back Aeris Williams (22) on Saturday night.