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Who Should Replace Butch Jones?

By Jim Johnson
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With Butch Jones’ firing at Tennessee, the talk on Rocky Top now shifts to his replacement.

With Butch Jones’ firing at Tennessee, the talk on Rocky Top now shifts to his replacement.

With #GRUMORS flying, it’s important, in times like these, to step back and evaluate the best candidates whilst weighing what is best for the program against what the fans want.

This can also be a sort of reality check as to what kind of a job a given program actually is. In regards to Tennessee, on the one hand, it is, theoretically, a blue-blood SEC program with great historical relevance. On the other hand, the Volunteers haven’t won the division in a decade and, aren’t ideally situated in the recruiting landscape. Sure, Knoxville is reasonably geographically close to a handful of talent hotbeds, but state lines matter.

So, bearing all of that in mind, who are some of the top candidates, how feasible is it to get them, and why or why shouldn’t fans want that to happen?

Jon Gruden

The case for: He’s a Super Bowl winning head coach that was a GA at Tennessee.

The case against: He hasn’t had anything to do with college football since 1991 and hasn’t coached at all since 2008.

Verdict: While it seems like Tennessee may make a serious run at Gruden, this doesn’t seem like a good decision, nor something that will come to fruition, which may be for the best. Fan happiness is important and this hire would do more in that regard than, arguably, any other, but it’s too much fan service to the point of impracticality. He’s never been a college head coach, has said himself that he would rather be in the NFL, and it’s hard to imagine him giving up his Monday Night Football gig, anyway.

Dan Mullen

The case for: He’s probably the second best coach in the SEC, right now, and had Mississippi State ranked #1 in the country at one point.

The case against: Hard to make one. This would be a home run. It’s just a matter of whether or not he would take the job.

Verdict: There’s probably not a better option, but can Tennessee lure him away? The job is really not all that enticing, given the instability within the program, especially considering his situation at Mississippi State. His job security is as high as anyone in college football’s, and Tennessee would have to throw the house at him. That said, if the money is right and Mullen can’t refuse, this could be the best case scenario. From Alex Smith to Tim Tebow to Dak Prescott, and now Nick Fitzgerald, Mullen is a college quarterback guru that knows how to make the most out lesser talent.

Mike Bobo

The case for: He knows the SEC, how to recruit the region, and would bring some offensive excitement to a team that could use some.

The case against: He’s in only his third year as a head coach, but his record is underwhelming.

Verdict: This is absolutely a feasible hire. It’s not super flashy and there are other names to go after before reaching out to Bobo, but he would bring some modicum of consistency to the table. Offensive, under Bobo, Colorado State has gone from 47th in the nation for total yards, in year one, to 30th in year two, and currently sits at 14th. Tennessee is 125th. His experience under Mark Richt is invaluable. Bobo shouldn’t be the first call, but if he ends up with the job, that’s not a disappointment.

Tee Martin

The case for: He’s a Tennessee legend with some success as USC’s offensive coordinator, albeit in a small sample size.

The case against: He’s in just his second year as an offensive coordinator and has never been a head coach.

Verdict: Martin’s regard amongst Tennessee fans, having led the team to the 1998 National Championship, would buy him some extra leeway that may not be afforded to many hires. However, if things go south, it could tarnish his legacy, in the eyes of the fan base, long term. This is high-risk, high-reward for both parties. That extra time he can buy may be the difference between success and failure, especially in this hair-trigger college football landscape, though. John Currie, are you feeling lucky?

Lane Kiffin

The case for: He’s an offensive genius that has probably matured (maybe?) since his first go ‘round in Knoxville.

The case against: This could be hard to justify to the fans.

Verdict: Just how Gruden is too fanservicey, without being a good football decision, this is a good football decision without enough fan service. Kiffin would thrive in the SEC, as a head coach, these days. He can recruit, he’s an offensive mastermind, and he’s got FAU 6-0 in conference play. Still, while he shouldn’t be faulted for leaving to take the USC job, last time, he will and that matters. Kiffin deserves a second chance in the SEC, but Tennessee probably can’t be the team to give it to him.

Mike Norvell

The case for: Similar to Bobo, Norvell knows the region and would liven up the offense.

The case against: No SEC experience, limited head coaching experience.

Verdict: Norvell is similar to Bobo in that both could work immediate wonders in the short term, offensively, and he knows the area. Norvell does have an edge in the sense that he’s been more successful, as far as wins and losses, but he’s never coached or played in the SEC and, whether it should or not, that matters to people.


Ultimately, while Tennessee fans think they can get Scott Frost or Chip Kelly, that’s probably not happening. They may think they want Jon Gruden, but they don’t. Lane Kiffin would be fascinating and probably successful, but that’s too difficult to justify to the fan base. Tee Martin is just too risky.

Dan Mullen is the absolute best case scenario. Offer him all the money. That, however, may not be enough.

When it’s all said and done, while it may be difficult to stomach another group of five hire, Bobo or Norvell is likely the reality. That may not be a bad thing, either. If the Vols want to win a press conference, sure, go for a splash over substance.

If they want to win football games, those two could pay dividends in the long-term.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP