Jones out as Tennessee head coach

Starkville Daily News - - SPORTS - Rob­bie Joel

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.

(Photo by Lo­gan Kirk­land, SDN)

Mis­sis­sippi State quar­ter­back Nick Fitzger­ald (7) cel­e­brates a touch­down with run­ning back Aeris Wil­liams (22) on Satur­day night.

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