The Butch Jones era is over at Tennessee.
Jones was fired Sunday, hours removed from Tennessee’s 50-17 loss at Missouri Saturday night. A team meeting is expected to be held at 1 p.m., according to sources that spoke with GoVols247, and Brady Hoke is expected the be named interim head coach.
Tennessee will owe Jones a max of $8.2 million in buyout money, but that figure will be mitigated by any salary he makes from his next job. His contract states that buyout money is owed through February 2021, unless both sides agree to a different structure.
In just under five full seasons in Knoxville, Jones went 34-27 and had a 14-24 SEC record.
Tennessee’s 29-26 loss at Kentucky at the end of October, a game Tennessee had every chance to win, sealed Jones’s long-term fate as the coach of the Vols, and the 50-17 blowout loss at Missouri in which Tennessee was outscored 26-0 in the second half and outgained by nearly 400 yards was the final nail in his coffin.
Jones worked tirelessly to return Tennessee’s ailing football program to relevance, and though increasing win totals from five to seven to back-to-back nine-wins seasons coupled with three straight bowl wins and consecutive top-25 finishes were signs of progress to which Jones could point, he was unable to guide the Vols to the top of the SEC East and get them back to Atlanta.
His first two seasons were about recruiting success and building for the future, but once the talent was good enough for the Vols to compete in the SEC and win the East, the past two seasons were about the games Jones didn’t win and often lost in frustrating and inexplicable ways.
The missed opportunities made the 2017 season a pivotal one for Jones, who had to replace six NFL draft picks, hire five new assistant coaches and change offensive coordinators, which he did by promoting Larry Scott despite him having zero coordinating experience on his collegiate coaching resume.
The Vols were fortunate to beat Georgia Tech 42-41 in double overtime after allowing a program-worst 535 yards, then Tennessee lost in calamitous fashion a winnable game at Florida thanks to multiple missed opportunities as coaching mistakes negated the Vols’ edge in talent and a putrid performance in a 17-13 win against winless Massachusetts felt more like a defeat.
Jones’s fate seemed inevitable after Georgia handed Tennessee its worst loss in the rivalry in more than 30 years, a 41-0 blanking that was the Vols’ first shutout loss since 1994, and narrow losses to SEC East rivals South Carolina and Kentucky sandwiching a 45-7 rout at No. 1 Alabama cast his future further into doubt.
When he took the Tennessee job in the wake of the disastrous Derek Dooley era, the first step for Jones was upgrading the talent on a roster that had sunk toward the bottom of the SEC.
The 2014 signing class ranked seventh nationally and included 16 four-star prospects as part of program-changing class including the likes of stars such as Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone and Evan Berry and solid contributors such as Rashaan Gaulden, Jashon Robertson, Ethan Wolf, Emmanuel Moseley, Cortez McDowell, Owen Williams and Von Pearson.
Tennessee’s 2015 signing class ranked fourth nationally and included one five-star and 15 four-star players.
The headliners of that class were Alvin Kamara, Kahlil McKenzie, Kyle Phillips, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Jauan Jennings, Drew Richmond, Micah Abernathy, Justin Martin, Shy Tuttle, Preston Williams, Darrell Taylor and Quart’e Sapp in addition to strong three-stars like John Kelly and Chance Hall.
The past two classes for the Vols ranked 14th and 17th nationally.
The Vols went 5-7 in their first season under Jones, the highlight a signature 23-21 win against a South Carolina team that went on to finish in the top five. Despite facing a schedule featuring six top-11 opponents, Tennessee nearly made a bowl game, but missed out on the postseason after heartbreaking losses to then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime and Vanderbilt.
The Vols were 3-5 midway through the 2014 season after close losses to Florida and Georgia and a blowout at Ole Miss. An injury to Justin Worley, though, paved the way for Joshua Dobbs to take over at quarterback, and he guided the Vols to a 4-1 finish memorably started with the incredible rally late in regulation in an eventual overtime win at South Carolina.
That win got the Vols to six wins, and in the program’s first bowl since 2010 Tennessee enjoyed a resounding thumping of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Tennessee took the next step in 2015 by going 9-4 and finishing in the top 25, but Jones’s third season could have been so much more had the Vols not blown leads of 17 and 13 points in losses to Oklahoma and Florida, respectively.
The Vols also couldn’t hold on to a 14-point first-half lead on Arkansas and a late fourth-quarter lead at Alabama and lost both games, but in between those defeats the season was saved by a huge rally from a 24-3 second-quarter deficit against Georgia.
After losing four games by a total of 17 points, the Vols won six straight to end the 2015 season and crushed Northwestern in the Outback Bowl to enter the 2016 season ranked in the top 10.
The 2016 season featured enough ups and downs for three seasons as Tennessee opened 5-0 despite rallying from double-digit deficits in four games.
The Vols escaped Appalachian State in overtime, beat Virginia Tech in the Battle at Bristol after trailing by 14, scored 35 straight points in the second half of a streak-snapping 38-28 win against Florida (the Gators had won 11 in a row in the series) and rallied from 17-0 down at Georgia and won on a Hail Mary after allowing a go-ahead touchdown bomb with 10 seconds left.
The 5-0 start served as the high point for Jones’s tenure at Tennessee.