Butch Jones stepped before the Big Orange masses Friday, the new University of Tennessee football coach, carrying a history of success into a centrifuge of frustration among one of the country's most passionate fan bases.
It's been a tough 20 days for Volunteers fans everywhere -- heck, it's been a rough 20 months -- and the last week was so tumultuous it could have been measured on the Richter Scale. Coaches from smaller schools in lesser leagues had passed on the chance to revive a Big Orange program that has endured three consecutive losing seasons and four in the last five.
Enter Jones, who has a 50-27 career record and four conference titles in his six combined seasons at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. And the reception ranged from anger to malaise to a somewhat dejected optimism about the announcement.
Maybe it was the 7:30 a.m. news that Tennessee had made the hire. Maybe it was the sudden and somewhat flat end to the craziness that bounced from rock star coaches to obvious attempts at power plays to everything in between. Maybe it's from a lack of familiarity of Jones' work -- the guy has won at every stop and has an impressive list of football folks singing his praises. Maybe it's from an expectation of something more -- remember, UT athletic director Dave Hart promised a home run and they moved a ton of cash around for this hire -- or maybe it's just the universal and absolute uncertainty of whether this guy or any guy can compete with the hired guns and home-run hitters who roam across the SEC.
The initial angst will fade, of course. Remember that the initial reaction to Lane Kiffin was excitement; the reaction to Derek Dooley was a quiet confidence. And we all remember how those stories ended.
In truth, each of the last two hires was as much about being the opposite of the previous coach. Kiffin was the anti-Fulmer; Dooley, the anti-Kiffin; and each seemed anti to sustainable success.
Coaching searches can be painful -- and this Tennessee one has been a doozy -- and the unknown and the uncertainty can consume you. This is not like losing a game on Saturday or missing on a big recruit. Those are the daily dealings of being an SEC fan and invite and deserve heckling from other fan bases.
Coaching searches are more personal, and more emotionally draining. It's like your kids going through the dating process -- there are going to be candidates you like and those you don't, and there are a litany of things you hope you see (Are they polite? Do they have a good job? Are they defensive-minded? Can they recruit?).
But in the end it's someone else's decision and you're forced to accept it and try to convince yourself it's a good call and it will work out for the best. It's not like you can break up with your kids or your school. So you deal with it and hope for the best, knowing that Christmas dinner and Saturdays in the fall depend greatly on finding the right match.
So are Jones and Tennessee the right match? Jones has had success, but can he replicate that in the SEC? Of course, that's the million-dollar question for any new coach, whether he was the first guy approached or the last guy to arrive.
And maybe the circumstances of this search created the malaise that's covered a Tennessee fan base that took to social media asking Jones not to come in the wee hours Friday morning. Think of it this way: If Jones had been target No. 1 and they landed him, this hire would feel tons better, right?
And you can't blame the circumstances on Jones.
So take a deep breath and adjust your Power T cap, Johnny Vols Fan. You have a coach, and he has a history of winning. What will that mean on the recruiting trail or come next September? It's impossible to know.
But know this: No matter what you, your co-workers or even the entire Hart family thinks about this hire this morning, it will ultimately and justly be graded by wins -- be them on the field or on the recruiting trail. If Jones wins, he'll be embraced; if he doesn't, he'll be gone. As will Hart.
Regardless of anyone's first impressions.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...