Tennessee Football is Finding Stability


Mar 16, 2014; Bristol, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones before the NASCAR Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

College football is a game of constant change and turnover.  Players and coaches come and go with so much frequency, seemingly you can blink and you have a new coach and a whole new roster.  The University of Tennessee football program has been the epitome of constant change over the last half decade or so.  With so much change, the Vols have experienced an era of instability that UT fans have never seen before.

The major turnover began during the last few years of Phillip Fulmer’s tenure as head coach.  A tremendous coaching career ended with two losing seasons in four years and inconsistent play.  In 2005, the Vols finished 5-6 and lost to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1982.  After the 2005 season, Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders was forced to resign.

They bounced back to go 9-4 in 2006 and 10-4 with an SEC Championship Game appearance in 2007.  The rebound coincided with the return of David Cutcliffe as Offensive Coordinator.  Under Cutcliffe’s tutelage, QB Erik Ainge became a valuable signal caller after his disasterous sophomore season in 2005.  Following the 2007 season, Cutcliffe took over as the Duke Head Coach.

In 2008, UT struggled to score points and finished with a 5-7 record.  Following a loss to South Carolina, Coach Fulmer was notified he would not be returning for the next season.  The Vols would go on to lose their Homecoming game against Wyoming the next week.

The ensuing coaching change brought in Lane Kiffin and his staff.  After what was considered a fairly successful season in which the Vols finished 7-6, Kiffin bolted for USC in unexpected fashion.  As Kiffin and his staff left, they attempted to deter the early enrollees that were due to be on UT’s campus.

Kiffin’s impromptu departure necessitated a hurried coaching search and Derek Dooley was announced as the new UT Head Coach with two weeks before national signing day.  The next three seasons would become the most dysfunctional and disappointing seasons in Tennessee’s illustrious history.

In December 2012, Butch Jones was announced as Tennessee’s newest Head Coach.  Jones immediately embraced UT’s tradition and connected with the Volunteer fanbase.  His tenacity and never quit attitude has brought new life to a depleted program that is rich on tradition.  Before he even coached a game for the University of Tennessee, Jones had already begun rebuilding the program with elite talent.  His staff’s recruiting efforts in their first season were relentless, as they pulled in a top 5 recruiting class.

Team 117 went 5-7 in 2013, but progress was evident.  Despite the obvious talent gap between UT and other SEC programs, the Vols defeated a top 10 South Carolina team and nearly defeated a much more talented Georgia team.

Going into season two under Butch Jones, the win-loss results might not be any different than last season.  Another 5-7 season is very much a possibility for a team that is welcoming in 30 freshmen including breaking in a brand new offensive line.  However, the talent on Team 118 is much greater than it has been over the past half decade and is going to continue to get better.

The tireless work ethic of Jones and his staff has been a breath of fresh air for Volunteer fans that have been craving a sense of excitement and stability for a program that has desperately needs it.  Coach Jones came into a program that had a losing culture and a bad aura around it.  This culture and aura have been changing and the program is being rebuilt “brick by brick.”  If a team does indeed take on their coach’s personality, then the Vols will be back on top very soon.