Over the years I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. It comes with the territory. But I’ve never been more wrong about a game than I was about how Tennessee would play against Georgia last Saturday in Knoxville.
There was some logic to thinking the game would be close. The last six games between these rivals were all decided by one possession. Tennessee had its backs to the wall. Volunteer coach Butch Jones was fighting for his job. The game was at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee under Jones has a habit of playing up—or down—to the level of competition.
I expected Georgia—who is very good, by the way—to win. But I also expected Tennessee put up a fight.
I was wrong. Georgia’s 41-0 win was the worst home loss for Volunteers since 1905. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
When the game was over I remembered something I had told a member of the Georgia Radio Network crew on Monday:
“You know, if you hit them in the mouth early, they may back away.”
So now, what happens to Jones? I don’t believe in firing coaches at mid-season. But how does his team bounce back from this? How does Jones, in his fifth season in Knoxville, bounce back from this with an open date this week?
But here’s the thing: Six of Tennessee’ remaining seven games (Alabama is the exception) are winnable. If you’re John Currie, the new AD, do you let the season play out and then make a decision? Jones has done a lot of good in Knoxville when it comes to rebuilding the talent base. He has won 21 of Tennessee’s last 31 games. Management in close games, however, has been problematic.
If you make the decision now, you'd better be pretty sure who your next coach will be. Getting a proven head coach, even for a great job like Tennessee, is not always a slam dunk. Just ask LSU.
If you wait, and with the new early signing period (Dec. 20-22) in place, you would have to quickly name a successor and get him on the road in order to salvage what experts are projecting is a Top 10 recruiting class for Tennessee.
But there did seem to be an inevitability to this story as I watched Tennessee look helpless against a superior team on Saturday. But I could be wrong. Stay tuned.