Tennessee football coaches have forgettable presidential election years

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Head coaches for the Tennessee football Volunteers have a tumultuous history with such years.

As this election takes place, Tennessee football is desperately looking for a turnaround to take some of the heat of third-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt. If history is any indication, the Vols won’t get it.

In the post-watergate era of politics, presidential election years are some of the worst for Vols head coaches. Of the previous six head coaches before Pruitt, four of them were fired during a presidential election year.

Let’s go back to 1976, the first presidential election after Watergate. Jimmy Carter won the White House, but Tennessee football parted ways with Bill Battle at the end of the year to make room for its favorite son, Johnny Majors.

Carter was the last Democrat to win the presidency until Bill Clinton in 1992. Majors was fired and replaced by Phillip Fulmer thanks to a three-game losing streak in the middle of October. Clinton won the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 3, three days after Majors’ third straight loss, which was on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The next Democrat to win the White House was Barack Obama in 2008. Well, this time it was Fulmer’s turn to see a legendary career come to an end. UT fell to 3-6 on the year, after a loss at South Carolina again. Fulmer was fired the following Monday. Obama won the presidential election the next day.

At this point, a new Democrat becoming president seemed to be directly correlated with Vols coaches getting fired. However, then 2012 came. Derek Dooley, who had replaced Lane Kiffin, was in his third year on the job. His team had just beaten the Troy Trojans to get to 4-5, but he was already effectively fired, and after losing the next two games, he was gone.

Those are the four coaches to lose their jobs during a presidential election year. However, even presidential election years in which Tennessee football coaches kept their jobs often times had a bitter ending.

Take 1980, for example. Majors was entering his fourth year with the program, and he had his second losing season on the job, going 5-6 and starting to feel some heat. That was the year Ronald Reagan won the presidency in a landslide.

Majors would begin to turn the program around, though, and the Vols didn’t have a losing season again until…1988, when George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s vice president and handpicked successor, won the presidency in a landslide. Are you noticing a trend here? Of the 11 times the Vols failed to reach a bowl game since 1976, five, or nearly half, were in presidential election years.

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So now we’re left with five other presidential election years in the post-watergate era that haven’t warranted any mention: 1984, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2016. Most of those seasons had their own issues as well.

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For instance, in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected to a second term, UT began the year ranked No. 2 in the nation. However, the Vols finished 10-2 and lost to the Memphis Tigers for the first time in school history.

In 2000, when George W. Bush won, the Vols went 8-4. That was their first season without a top 10 finish since 1994, and at one point, they were 2-3 and outside of the top 25, also for the first time since 1994. Oh, that was also the first year they had lost to the Georgia Bulldogs since another presidential election year, 1998.

Butch Jones was head coach in 2016. Obviously, that’s one of the best years Tennessee football has had since Fulmer was fired. However, the team began the year ranked No. 9 and favored to win the SEC East. It looked that way after a 5-0 start.

Once the presidential election drew closer, however, the team came apart. UT lost three straight games and didn’t win another conference game until the election had happened and Donald Trump had won the White House. That 5-0 start turned into a 9-4 finish, and the collapse at the end of the season was the beginning of the end for Jones, as he was fired the next year.

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Taking all of this into account, Pruitt has every reason to be worried about the fact that he’s coaching in a presidential election year. The 2-3 start makes it more concerning. Tennessee football coaches would generally like to forget seasons they have had that fall around this time, and things aren’t looking any better for this season so far.