Every college football coach, if they plan on sticking around, eventually has to get that big signature win under his belt.
For some coaches, it never happens.
Derek Dooley spent three years trying to get that signature win as the head coach at Tennessee. He came close a few times, infamously losing to LSU in 2010 because of too many men on the field, nearly beating Georgia and South Carolina last season, but he could never close the deal.
Dooley’s lack of a signature win was ultimately his undoing as the head man in Knoxville.
Butch Jones, in his first year at Tennessee, has a little more leeway than Dooley had, at least for now. You see Butch Jones has inherited a program that is in shambles and what he’s already managed to do is incredible.
You can’t coach speed, you can’t create talent and you can’t break bad habits over night.
Yet there’s optimism in Knoxville, more so than there was last season when the the Vols had a much more talented roster.
The positive effects of Jones’ coaching are readily visible. The Vols lead the SEC in fewest penalties per game, with a little under three. That’s despite Tennessee playing 14 true freshmen so far this season.
In addition, the Volunteers are tied for the lead in the nation with 11 interceptions (Virginia Tech) and they are third in the country in total forced turnovers (15).
Folks, that’s all coaching right there. Jones promised a disciplined team that was going to force turnovers and even though the talent he’s working with isn’t up to par, he’s delivered on those points.
That’s why the next thing on Jones’ list is getting that signature win out of the way.
What better week to do that than against Georgia?
The Vols are breaking out their fancy new smokey gray uniforms, for a nationally televised game. This is the grandest of stages for Butch Jones, who spent the past three seasons in the Big East.
Nobody expects Butch Jones to put together a 10-win season this year. That’s just not realistic. In fact most fans, that are reasonable, have pretty low expectations for this season. They understand there’s no magic trick that Jones can pull off to suddenly have the talent that teams like Georgia, Florida and Alabama currently have.
But imagine what a win over Georgia would do for Knoxville and Vol nation.
This is a fan-base desperate for a big-time win. A fan-base that has been waiting for far too long to be back among the elite, to be relevant again.
I fully believe Jones will get this program to that point, but I also understand how badly fans need a win over Georgia this week.
Vol nation has been patiently waiting since 2007 to have a team worthy of playing in January.
A win over Georgia likely isn’t going to provide that opportunity this season, but it will perhaps give Vol fans a glimpse into the future.
Mark Richt, the Georgia Bulldogs head coach, didn’t have to wait very long to get his signature win when he took over at Georgia in 2001.
Richt took over for a coach that was fired after four consecutive winning seasons, so he knew the pressure that was on him to win. As I said, it didn’t take him long to get that big-time win. Richt and his unranked Bulldogs went into Knoxville on October 6, 2001 shocked the #4 Tennessee Volunteers, winning 26-24.
Butch Jones is under similar pressure. Tennessee had not waited more than three years between 10-win seasons since 1987, until recently. They are now five years removed from their most recent 10-win season. It will likely be six years after this season.
A win over Georgia would help alleviate some of that pain.
More importantly it would give the Butch Jones led Volunteers an identity to build off.
It’s a tall task, but one Butch Jones embraces.