1. 2017: 4-8 (0-8)
Missteps by Butch Jones in the 2016 offseason set the stage for Tennessee football’s disastrous 2017. He mishandled a sexual assault lawsuit against the school that included his program from a PR standpoint, replaced John Jancek with Bob Shoop at defensive coordinator and got rid of strength coach Dave Lawson while having Michael Szerszen run it with no official title.
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Those issues manifested themselves late in 2016, as a team that started in the top 10 was picked to win the East and started 5-0 then lost three straight and finished 9-4. Then, in the offseason, Jones had to replace six on-field staff members, including promoting Larry Scott to offensive coordinator to replace Mike DeBord. He did finally bring in Rock Gullickson as a strength coach.
Still, all this turmoil led to a disappointing recruiting class, one that was initially top five but finished No. 15. He excused that by saying he had players with five-star hearts, just like he excused his team’s 2016 underachieving season by saying they were champions of life.
Adding to all this chaos, Jones was replacing six players who went in the first three rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, most notably quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and he had an open competition between Jarrett Guarantano and Quinten Dormady for the spot. Dormady won it.
Early on, an exciting new era seemed possible, as the Vols beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 42-41 in double-overtime in Atlanta thanks to a late drive by Dormady and the emergence of Marquez Callaway and John Kelly. A season-ending injury to Jauan Jennings went unnoticed.
Two weeks later, though, it began to unravel. The Vols played a Florida Gators team that had over 10 starters suspended. Jones had the best player on the field in running back John Kelly. However, on two trips inside the 10-yard-line, UT gave it to Kelly once, and they got a grand total of three points. Florida then won 26-20 off a Hail Mary because Jones hadn’t installed a dime package yet.
One week later, they only beat a UMASS Minutemen team that would finish 4-8 by a score of 17-13. Both touchdowns were in the first half. They then began a string of seven straight halves and 15 straight quarters without an offensive touchdown. It started with a 41-0 loss the next week to the Georgia Bulldogs, the first of three games without an offensive touchdown.
Coming off a bye, Jones tried to scapegoat Dormady and made Guarantano the starter, and UT lost 15-9 with no TDs. They then lost 45-7 to the Alabama Crimson Tide, their only score being a pick-six. The offense came back to life against the Kentucky Wildcats, but they still lost that 29-26, as injuries began to pile up thanks to all the issues in the strength program.
After beating the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, they lost 50-17 to a Missouri Tigers team that was putting up points with one Josh Heupel as offensive coordinator, and that got Jones fired. Brady Hoke finished out the year as interim head coach, and the Vols lost their final two games to the LSU Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores.
Then came that disastrous coaching search in which Tennessee football tried to hire Greg Schiano, which got John Currie fired and replaced by Phillip Fulmer, who hired Jeremy Pruitt. Although Pruitt was also a disaster, this was a big mess he inherited. The 2017 team beat one team to finish the year with a winning record, Southern Miss, and won no SEC games. It’s clearly the worst in history.