John Adams: An SEC coaching leap isn't for everybody

John Adams

Dave Hart didn't overlook the obvious in hiring Butch Jones as his football coach. Tennessee's athletic director was impressed that Jones "had won wherever he had been."

Jones' winning record might have been even more appealing because of how UT's last two football-coaching hires worked out. Both Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley had losing records when hired by Tennessee.

A winning record is always meaningful. But it's more meaningful if those wins were achieved in the SEC.

Why was Nick Saban such a surefire hire for Alabama? Because he already had won a national championship at LSU.

Why could South Carolina feel so good about hiring Steve Spurrier? Because he already had built and maintained an SEC dynasty at Florida.

And why was Auburn confident that Tommy Tuberville would be successful? Because he already had won at Ole Miss.

Going from another conference to the SEC isn't as big of a step as going from college to the NFL. But it's steep enough to raise doubts as to whether a coach can successfully make the transition.

And it's steep enough to raise questions about each of the four head-coaching hires made by SEC schools this week. None of the new coaches have SEC head-coaching experience.

Kentucky made the most questionable hire. It hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, a longtime assistant coach with no head-coaching experience.

Stoops' track record suggests he could upgrade Kentucky's defense. All that's left is the offense, which — according to this season's statistics and eyewitnesses — was even worse than the defense.

Kentucky's best chance for winning and filling up Commonwealth Stadium: an up-tempo, entertaining offense. Take a hint from basketball. The Wildcats didn't build a basketball dynasty by running the four-corners.

Arkansas turned a few heads by hiring Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, whose Badgers are headed for a third consecutive Rose Bowl. There's nothing wrong with his record. There might be plenty wrong with his power-ball approach in this league.

Question: How's he going to beat Alabama and LSU at their own game in the SEC West? Another question: How's he going to build an offensive line up to Wisconsin's standards at Arkansas?

At Wisconsin, you can go to the Rose Bowl with five losses. In the SEC, five-loss teams spend their bowl weeks in Nashville or Memphis.

My guess: Bielema's BCS-bowl days are behind him.

I'm not so sure about the Gus Malzahn hire at Auburn. He's a terrific offensive coordinator and went 9-3 at Arkansas State in his first season as a head coach. You still have to

wonder if he can manage a higher-profile program and assemble a staff capable of holding its own in the SEC.

He's off to a good start, though. He hired Ellis Johnson as his defensive coordinator. Never mind that Johnson bombed in his one season as Southern Mississippi's coach. At South Carolina, he was regarded as one of the nation's premier defensive coordinators.

Malzahn might have the biggest upside of the four hires. But he faces an enormous challenge, given Auburn's winless season in the SEC and its burgeoning problems with the NCAA.

Jones' biggest problems concern a defense that practically escorted opponents into the end zone and an upcoming schedule that includes Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. As ominous as that schedule might be, there are advantages to coaching in the SEC, most notably recruiting.

High school players aren't just attracted to the SEC because it offers them the best opportunity to win a national championship. It's their best path to the NFL.

Jones sounds like a salesman. And this salesman now has a better product to sell. Instead of Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he's got the Power T and the SEC.

If he can capitalize on that, he might turn out to be the best hire of the four.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 117

rockytopwestone writes:

I guess we will find out John !

orangehippi writes:

Go recruit coach Butch,Your not in cincy anymore,know you have alot bigger ship to real them five stars with.lol GBO

eduardo writes:

ie Tuberville....whom cincy hired!!!! Fire bama dave and gator cheek now!

thevoice writes:

John is eluding to something I think is noteworthy: not all coaches aspire to a HC position in the SEC (Crash and Burn Conference). Glad we have one who will take the challenge head-on. Welcome, Mr. Jones, to Tennessee.

Razor784 writes:

Gus Malzahn will put Auburn back near the top in the west. He's been successful at every stop. Jones is a nice hire too, he wasn't my first choice, but like Malzahn he's been a winner wherever he's been.

signalcorps writes:

good read,,thanks john

atnvol#283282 writes:

Yea, the SEC leap was way too steep for Charlie Strong....and am I ever glad.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

It's fun to speculate, good read..GBO!!

CoverOrange writes:

in response to Razor784:

Gus Malzahn will put Auburn back near the top in the west. He's been successful at every stop. Jones is a nice hire too, he wasn't my first choice, but like Malzahn he's been a winner wherever he's been.

At the very least, it won't be as easy for Saban anymore.

budd#207344 writes:

This is a point we all need to remember. Not everyone can cut it in the SEC. I think that CBJ is a winner and will work to get us back. There is talent on this team and it can improve(see offensive line & rb). But that takes coaching. The major hire here will be DC. If CBJ can get the right guy we will be competing in the East again next season. But the wrong guy can/will kill us. Of course, after a couple of years CBJ can get 'sick" and leave coaching for a year. Then turn up in a lesser league pretending to be healed. Musta been Obamacare, huh urbie?

MarbleCitySon writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Charlie strong would rather look good in the crappy acc than come and get his eyes dotted in the SEC.

govolsdid writes:

Say what ever you want about "DREAM JOB" I dont know what C. Strong was thinking how is Louisville going to put 110,000+ in a stadium thats not in KNOXVILLE- I will tell you he CAN NOT IN KENTUCKY!! BUT BUTCH CAN!!!

CarlChilders writes:

Wow! What's gotten into Mr. Adams?

AlexAndersonAAradio writes:

You know we really lucked out getting a fine coach like Butch Davis if you consider how bad we botched the hiring process. Hart should be fired. I have no doubt who should be our athletic director. Tony Basilio. Tony has great loyalty and passion for the University and he's very intelligent. He has ways of digging up facts, so he could respond to situations before they happened. I think we should hire Tony as athletic director and give him complete control. In other words, Cheek could not interfere.

BeaFanNotaFanatic writes:

in response to atnvol#283282:

Yea, the SEC leap was way too steep for Charlie Strong....and am I ever glad.

Yeah! The only guy UT was after that has actually been in the SEC and done anything significant, would have had a hard time taking the leap to the SEC. BUT, the guy that hasn't built anything, and has ZERO SEC experience, he is ready for the leap??? You a clearly high!

Charlie Strong was UT's best shot at becoming relevent. The AD swung and missed. Live with it! Don't try to shift your dissapointment by throwing out idiotic statements when the new coach isn't nearly as prepared for the leap he is about to take.

PUL4VOLS writes:

Hey Folks our Head Coach is Butch JONES not Butch Davis. Please get it right. Yeah old know it all Adams he calls it, like he wants it. No matter about any of the others, I am glad we have Coach Jones and the approach he is beginning with. We have to wait and see how the recruiting goes and how the players develop next year. I wonder when we hear who all is going to the NFL from last year's team.

snafu14u#241639 writes:

After a day to reflect I believe we got as good a coach as we can afford and who wanted to be here. And sure there is the money, but I believe he wanted the challenge. Seems like a smart guy and understands the recruiting drill. If he buys in then its a good hire. If he hires a great (and I mean SEC great) DC and makes some smart moves with the current staff and we, as fans, let him coach and show some patience then this can turn out very well indeed. I agree with Adams critique. Not only that I would have taken our new coach over Gundy and Tuberville (past his prime). Strong was a risky hire, but promising. The Stanford coach would have been nice as well. The rest of the names, Fisher/Gruden/Mora were just fantasy "stuff". They had no reason to really leave their current positions. And at least Jones is not a discount on-the-job training project. Right now it's all about the staff and the recruits. Time to reopen the pipeline to American Samoa for some linemen. And the article about how Dooley blew off the local coaches and recruits made my blood boil. I couldn't believe that. As a side note Chavis is not coming home. But I would, and I know it's coach Jones's decision but keeping Graham/Pittman/O-line would be a solid start. I think Chaney is gone, not because of bad coaching but different approaches to the offense. I look forward to the new offensive style (Bray won't stay). The defensive coordinator position is just as important as the new head coach at this juncture. And I don't think Jones's Cincy DC is the answer. Anyway, enough has been said. Let coach Jones fill in the blanks. All that being said I think we did pretty well with this hire. As good as we could. BTW jury is still out on Hart. BonzaiVol

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to BeaFanNotaFanatic:

Yeah! The only guy UT was after that has actually been in the SEC and done anything significant, would have had a hard time taking the leap to the SEC. BUT, the guy that hasn't built anything, and has ZERO SEC experience, he is ready for the leap??? You a clearly high!

Charlie Strong was UT's best shot at becoming relevent. The AD swung and missed. Live with it! Don't try to shift your dissapointment by throwing out idiotic statements when the new coach isn't nearly as prepared for the leap he is about to take.

I disagree, Charlie (a great Coordinator) hasn't proven anything as a HC. CBJ on the other hand has proven he can win at two different stops. If UT lands a top notch DC they will be two steps ahead of where Charlie Strong could take this program.

spvol writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Butch took two out of three from Charlie in the Big East.

Vols_fan_27 writes:

Our first big upset in a LONG time will come next year... Don't know which of the 5 mentioned it will be but I feel confident that Coach Jones will get a signature win in his first year... Good luck Coach...GBO!

lguy (Inactive) writes:

in response to MarbleCitySon:

Charlie strong would rather look good in the crappy acc than come and get his eyes dotted in the SEC.

You're right. I think Jones is a better hire than Strong. But it's going to take a tough approach for Jones to prove himself. Recruit, build discipline and put your team in a position to win.

ashvol7 writes:

This is one of the most stupid statments that I have ever read. How do you possibly know what leaps he is prepared for. Sounds to me like he is well prepared for it. He looks like someone with alot of fire in him which Fulmer in his last years lost and Dooley never had. I am going to back coach Jones until he proves me wrong, I certainly wish him well.

peppo writes:

Charlie Strong chose to stay in the ACC because he didn't want to compete against the best. When you want to compete against the best, you know you won't win every battle, but those that you do win are sweet. I am glad we got someone that wants to compete against the very best and has the confidence to put his team up against anyone. We will see one or two signature wins next year. Book it!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

Only Jay Graham will be retained from UT's coaching staff, according to Volquest.

AllforTenn writes:

"None of the new coaches have SEC head-coaching experience."
Since when did "none" become plural, John? It's about as singular as you can get. None is the subject of the sentence. Try "none has" - not none have. You are a journalist?

govolsdid writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well when there is I hope you are not number 109999,GO BIG ORANGE!!!!!

TKO writes:

Need some pizz and vinegar on the hill. Sounds like Coach Jones is bringing a few gallons. I wish him the very best
GBO!

volschick22 writes:

John, why must you always be negative? Whenever you ask Coach Jones a question, he should ALWAYS just say "Next Question." It's really frustrating when you ignite the ignorance of some fans with your meaningless, negative columns. As for everyone else posting, Thank you for your support of our new coach.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Only Jay Graham will be retained from UT's coaching staff, according to Volquest.

That makes the whole team a question mark for next year. Can't see how Pittman isn't part of that theoretical "best staff in the country." Don't see how Graham is.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

So why didn't they call him before Muschamp? I would be surprised if Strong doesn't have a grudge against the Gators too.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

not sure why you continuously troll this site

apriliaracing writes:

in response to signalcorps:

good read,,thanks john

Well said. I agree.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The record is 109,061. So, umm, more than a decade.
What's the most by the Swump? 89? 90?

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

That makes the whole team a question mark for next year. Can't see how Pittman isn't part of that theoretical "best staff in the country." Don't see how Graham is.

Apparently putting together the best staff in the nation means Dooley was way off base.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Who "you?" The AD's name is Hart and he doesn't read this board.

Snapshot writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And why exactly do you care, gater turd?

CoverOrange writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Apparently putting together the best staff in the nation means Dooley was way off base.

I think Tuberville getting hired meant CBJ's coattails OC, et al, was available. That made Chaney expendable and everyone else unless they had recruiting acumen. Graham is just that continuity factor with the team and recruits. He may be gone in a year or two as well.

volunteerintexas writes:

Well no kidding.

So much press has been made out of Butch stating that this was his "dream job"... and "Butch is willing to rise to the challenge of coaching in the SEC"

So did Dooley. So would I. So would you. If a moron was offered a job to coach Tennessee with a GUARANTEED compensation of multi-millions... REGARDLESS OF PERFORMANCE, who wouldn't dream of that job? Butch just doubled his compensation from $1.5M/year to $3.0 million/year ... and Tennessee fans are hailing him as a hero? as if he's falling on his sword for us? I wish I could find a job that would pay me $3M/year for guaranteed 6 years REGARDLESS of performance!!!!!! I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe to the movie "Groundhog Day"... Three years ago Dooley was touted with as much fanfare as our saviour as is this fine gentleman, only to our ultimate dismay. Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me. Butch Jones = Dooley 2.0.

Talk you you suckers in another 3 years when we're on to the next mediocre poser... who is getting a "dream job" at $3M/year guaranteed at the Tennessee Taxpayer's expense. You're sheep. Demand more. Demand Gruden.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to OrangeAndBlueWaffles88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Oh, is there something happening on January 2? Couldn't be too important. Syrian government falls? Egypt's government is overthrown? US credit rating reduced? Israel attacks Iran? China seizes island off Japan?

CoverOrange writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Again, not our choice. And that is not exactly the whole story.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

All of this is PURE speculation!...Nobody (including Jones himself) knows what will happen! The TRENDS are that he's able to elevate programs to new heights...Great! He has a very detailed system and is very confident that it will work...Super! He wants the players to succeed on and off the field...Yes! But, the top 10 is loaded with SEC teams on our schedule year in and year out, so the step up is quite substantial! He MUST return us to top 10 in recruiting to get to top 10 in ranking! So far, I am very impressed with everything that he has said, but the proof will be what happens on those glorious Fall Saturdays! GBO!

hikerdude writes:

in response to thevoice:

John is eluding to something I think is noteworthy: not all coaches aspire to a HC position in the SEC (Crash and Burn Conference). Glad we have one who will take the challenge head-on. Welcome, Mr. Jones, to Tennessee.

"eluding"?

cloudodust writes:

Common sense dictates that states with large populations will have the lion's share of recruits. Georgia, Florida, Texas and Californ-i-a need to be in play. The Rust Belt and the Corn Belt are recruitable for Tennessee if'n we're willing to get up there and poke around a bit. If the Notre's can bring 'em in from coast-to-coast, Tennessee can too. Use to and can again. Be that as it may, West, Mid and your own backyard in Tennessee has kids that want to be Volunteers. Bring them in and don't overlook the Randall Cobb's or the Berry Twins in your travels...

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to volunteerintexas:

Well no kidding.

So much press has been made out of Butch stating that this was his "dream job"... and "Butch is willing to rise to the challenge of coaching in the SEC"

So did Dooley. So would I. So would you. If a moron was offered a job to coach Tennessee with a GUARANTEED compensation of multi-millions... REGARDLESS OF PERFORMANCE, who wouldn't dream of that job? Butch just doubled his compensation from $1.5M/year to $3.0 million/year ... and Tennessee fans are hailing him as a hero? as if he's falling on his sword for us? I wish I could find a job that would pay me $3M/year for guaranteed 6 years REGARDLESS of performance!!!!!! I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe to the movie "Groundhog Day"... Three years ago Dooley was touted with as much fanfare as our saviour as is this fine gentleman, only to our ultimate dismay. Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me. Butch Jones = Dooley 2.0.

Talk you you suckers in another 3 years when we're on to the next mediocre poser... who is getting a "dream job" at $3M/year guaranteed at the Tennessee Taxpayer's expense. You're sheep. Demand more. Demand Gruden.

Gruden would cost a tad more than 3 mil a year. What drugs are you smoking?

CoverOrange writes:

in response to OrangeAndBlueWaffles88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No, I didn't.
I have nostalgia for New Year's Day starting off with the Cotton Bowl, then running through the Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowl, all in one day. This stringing them out over a week or more for slots in primetime until midnight makes me less interested.

SeminaryVol writes:

in response to titletownz:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Actually Charlie and Dan Mullen are both miffed at Florida for overllooking them in favor of Muschamp.

BeaFanNotaFanatic writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

I disagree, Charlie (a great Coordinator) hasn't proven anything as a HC. CBJ on the other hand has proven he can win at two different stops. If UT lands a top notch DC they will be two steps ahead of where Charlie Strong could take this program.

I respect your right to disagree. But, Butch has yet to build a program on his own, and win. Brian Kelly built both of Butch's winning programs. Now, Butch is in charge of resurrecting a program, in the toughest conference in the country, with no track record of being able to pull the job off.

killervol69 writes:

in response to OrangeAndBlueWaffles88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Go Away, Stinkin Gator Troll!

VolunteerLifer writes:

Adams, if we restricted ourselves to only those who have successfully been a head coach in the SEC, we would have almost no one to choose from, because those who are successful now in the SEC aren't going anywhere. I agree I'd rather have someone who is a proven winner in the SEC. I wanted Dan Mullen, at least to be considered. I don't see any evidence why he wasn't, and don't understand that. Petrino was out there, but he hasn't recruited since his fall from grace. Other than them, we would have had to make a very expensive run at the most successful and established SEC coaches. Only a contract of 8 million per year for 10 years would have gotten Saban or Miles or Richt or Spurrier or Muschamp or Sumlin, so they were off the board from the get-go.

In an earlier column, you were advising us that the sobering reality is that Strong and Gundy turning us down indicated our program has a stinky rep these days. Also, you argued that the fact that Jones did take our job indicates the job has a stinky rep.

But now you tell us that Gundy and Strong likely couldn't make it either, cause they don't have SEC HC experience. So, by your logic, only an existing or recently successful SEC coach would be a can't-lose hire. If SEC HC experience is so necessary, why were the only ones of those theoretically available - Mullen or the Vandy coach or Tuberville or Freeze or Petrino - not high on our list? Why were none of them the first to be considered or extended an offer?

You are always stating the obvious as if it is news to your readers. Why don't you try to answer the questions above that your logic demands answers to and make yourself actually useful.

killervol69 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Gruden would cost a tad more than 3 mil a year. What drugs are you smoking?

Beare, you should know all too well you can't rationalize with idiotic TROLLS from Texas! I could give a phooey less what their username is, maybe the idiot will start supporting the "other" UT..., hopefully!

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