KNOXVILLE — In his six seasons at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, Butch Jones experienced very little turnover with his coaching staff.
The first-year Tennessee coach doesn't expect that to change this year.
Though the Volunteers have slid into a four-game losing streak after upsetting South Carolina last month and will endure the program's third season without a bowl game and fourth losing season in a row, Jones answered bluntly when asked by the Times Free Press if he anticipated any staff changes after the season.
"No," he said following Tuesday's practice.
With college football's regular season ending Saturday, the "silly season" of coaching changes and movement will begin, and while it's typically unpredictable, it's not been that way for Jones.
In three seasons with the Chippewas, there was only one staff change. That was when Steve Stripling, now Tennessee's assistant head coach and defensive line coach, replaced Mike Kolakowski, who coached at Youngstown State the following year.
At Cincinnati, there was just one change after the Bearcats went 4-8 in Jones' first season in 2010. Jones had to replace Tim Banks, who left for Illinois, and Kerry Coombs, who took a job at Ohio State, entering his final season at Cincinnati.
On his initial Vols staff, there are three coaches (Mike Bajakian, Don Mahoney and Mark Elder) who have spent the last six years with Jones. Stripling and John Jancek spent all three years with him at Cincinnati, and Zach Azzanni spent all three seasons with Jones at Central Michigan.
Still, Jones said he'll fully evaluate his program following the finale Saturday night at Kentucky.
"It starts with me," he said. "I review everything in the program, and now without going to a bowl game, I'll have a lot of time on my hands. I review everything from A to Z in the program, to the way we travel, to not only every coaching staff member, every auxiliary member, every administrative member, every player in the football. First and foremost, it starts with myself.
"We have a program that's been in place and has had much success everywhere we've been, but I review everything."
Following Derek Dooley's first season in 2010, the Vols moved linebackers coach Lance Thompson to Chuck Smith's vacated position as defensive line coach and added graduate assistant Peter Sirmon a full-time assistant. Dooley had to replace seven coaches who took other jobs after the Vols went 5-7 in 2011, so the program would welcome an offseason with some stability.
Since Rajion Neal needs only 10 yards to break the 1,000-yard mark for the season, the tailback figures to crack the milestone on one of his first few carries against the Wildcats.
"It'd mean a lot," he said. "It'd mean a lot to me, the O-line, the guys on the perimeter, this staff. It'd mean a lot to everybody, because we've had a lot of people contribute and help get to where we're at right now."
Neal, who has 11 rushing touchdowns in 2013, has run for at least 70 yards in all but three games (Oregon, Florida and Missouri) this season, and he had 100-yard games against Austin Peay, South Alabama, Georgia and Auburn.
The 14th player in Tennessee history to rush for 2,000 yards in a career, Neal, who struggled as a true freshman and played receiver as a sophomore, can become the Vols' first 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Tauren Poole in 2010.
"He's just busting his butt to get better for us," center James Stone said, "so I feel like we owe it to him as an offensive line to get him to a thousand."
When Tennessee lost its seventh game of the season to Vanderbilt last week, it knocked the Vols out of contention for a bowl game and wiped out the 15 practices that come with a postseason game, but Jones doesn't think the missed practice time will be too detrimental to the development of his younger players.
"It sets it back," he said, "but where we're at in the program, we don't have a lot of young players to develop anyway. The positive side is most of our depth is coming in this year's recruiting class, so they would've missed it. When I step back and look at it, yeah, going to a bowl game is critical to any program, especially when you're in the infant stages of building it.
"Also, in retrospect, most of our younger players have played, and we really tried to work exceptionally hard with the individuals we are redshirting, getting them extra reps [during] the course of the year after practice. But most of our depth is coming in our recruiting class."
North not practicing
Freshman receiver Marquez North (ankle) didn't practice Tuesday, and Jones said Tennessee will use a "receiver by committee" approach to replacing his reps and production.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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