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Butch Jones: The Choice to Conduct Yet Another Rebuild at Tennessee

This morning, the University of Tennessee announced that Butch Jones, the University of Cincinnati’s head man for the past three seasons, is the choice of Dave Hart.

As of the time of the announcement, Jones was not the choice of the majority of the Vol Nation.

Even with the lucrative price tag of $18 million over six years, he likely wasn’t Tennessee’s first choice, or second choice, or third choice. He likely wasn’t in the top twenty of desired candidates for the vast majority of fans.

But, regardless of the secrecy of the actual process, executed priorities, and actual timeline of the search, Butch Jones is now the head coach of the Vols.

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Is it Time to Push the Panic Button?

Not yet.

But that depends on what actually is going on.

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The Dave Hart Show

Today at 2:00pm EST, Tennessee AD Dave Hart took to the microphone. Then with his words, during an introductory statement and followup answers to questions from the media, Mr. Hart made it clear that he is his own man and is in control of the current coaching situation.

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Dooley Fired

After last night’s disaster, the only surprise is that nobody knew at what time this would be announced.

An official announcement was released by the university this morning after 11:00 am EST.

Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart released this statement:

Derek and I met early this morning, and I informed him that I believed a change in leadership, despite the positive contributions he has made to the overall health of the program, was in the best long-term interests of Tennessee football. We will immediately begin the search for the best possible candidate to assume this leadership role.

The university’s statement also indicated that Dooley will not coach this coming Saturday against Kentucky. Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney will be the interim.

A press conference will be held in Knoxville at 2:00pm EST. It is widely reported that Dooley will not be in attendance.

More will be posted later today, including a requiem on last night’s embarrassment.

Is the Dye Cast?

Troy Trojans vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Saturday 3 November 2012 | 12:00 pm EDT
Neyland Stadium (102,455) | Knoxville, TN | CSN/ESPN3

***

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This Gruden “Thing”

On Wednesday, the rumor mill regarding the imminent hiring of Jon Gruden as Tennessee’s next head football coach vortexed into a category 5 tornado.

But, why would Jon Gruden want to be the next head football coach of the Vols?

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I’m Going to Miss the Dooley Pressers

This week in the Vol Nation, apart from being a Jon Gruden Worship Marathon, there was featured quite the weekly press conference hosted by Derek Dooley.

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Rebuilding and Recovery In Knoxville

The public response to the Vols’ loss in Starkville last Saturday at Mississippi State was swift. It was also predictable since that game, before kickoff, was christened a crucial game in the career of head coach Derek Dooley.

I’ve stayed out of the Dooley-Must-Go vs. Dooley-Must-Stay debate, because I think it premature for a number of reasons. Highly entertaining, but premature.

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to take some long drives (for work) accompanied by broadcasts of various talk shows on the two major sports radio stations in Knoxville. A lot of hysteria. Some reasoned discussion. Mostly food for further consideration.

It all made me think about the time that the Tennessee Volunteer football program underwent a full-fledged rebuilding program, how the dark days of the last 2+ years are part of a genuine rebuilding phase requiring more than simply a ‘reloading’ effort, and most importantly how hiring even the best coach in the land to stem the tide of decline is not a sure recipe for a quick recovery.

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Preview of Tennessee vs Some Team Coached by Bill Curry

Saturday’s home opener against Division II school Georgia State holds little appeal. The interesting games this weekend are Florida at Texas A&M and Georgia at Missouri for two reasons. First, these are the first conference games for the two newcomers to the SEC. Second, the visiting teams are the Vols next conference opponents. Nonetheless, there are a few interesting tidbits about Tennessee’s opponent on Saturday.

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The Receivers: A Little Depth with Little Experience, but Lots of Promise

Less than a week ago, Vols fans were walking around almost embarrassed regarding the bounty of riches Tennessee possessed at the receiver positions. That changed on Thursday morning when it was announced that junior receiver Da’Rick Rogers was suspended indefinitely due to a violation(s) of team rules. Dooley recently commented that it was “recent events” that led to the decision for suspension. It appears likely that Rogers will never play in an orange jersey again, but nothing has been announced as final at this moment. [UPDATE: It appears that Rogers will transfer to Tennessee Tech.]

Losing a top player is always a tough thing to deal with (note the injuries to Justin Hunter and then Tyler Bray in 2011). But when that player is the ONLY player at a skilled position that has ANY semblance of SIGNIFICANT experience – plus having led the SEC last season with 67 receptions and 1,040 receiving yards – it causes observers to rethink their predicted W-L balance for the upcoming season.

But there is the chemistry factor.

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The Backfield: No Where To Go But Up

The Vols might have to take a somewhat backfield-by-committee approach, looking to improve on last season’s dismal performance (90 yards per game, 2.8 yards per carry, ranked 116th in the nation). Gone is Tauren Poole who had earned to be the Vol workhorse in 2010, achieving 3rd Team All-SEC honors even though he ran behind a freshmen offensive line, but who regressed dramatically last season to the point where everybody was scratching their head while muttering to themselves, “Is it the line, or the running backs? Is it the line, or the running backs?…”

Or perhaps it was because there was no position coach for the running backs.

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The Offensive Line: Coming Into Their Own

Finally, to the offense.

No, we’re not going to address the Da’Rick Rogers soap opera. Yet. Instead, we will begin where you should always begin with: the salt of the earth; the offensive lineman.

Where to begin? Last season, so many expectations were put on this O-Line before any of them stepped on Shields-Watkins Field for the opener. Those expectations were either over-inflated or just simply not achieved in any way, shape, or form. It all depends on how you look at it. One thing is certain – their collective performance was an embarrassment. I don’t know how else to put it.

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The Special Teams: Not So Special So Far

We’re done with the daily defense previews. Now before we move on to the offense – and yes, we’ll get to the Da’Rick-less receivers – let’s peek into the backroom closet where we keep our kickers and returners.

New special teams coach Charlie Coiner comes to Knoxville to lead what is now becoming an old story: a woefully underperforming kicking game compared with the standards set over the last 80 years of Tennessee Vols football. Coiner’s coaching experience related to special teams comes from both the NFL (Bears and Bills) and the college ranks (including LSU and Vanderbilt).

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The Secondary: Quality and Experience

There is a new flavor in the secondary this season, with among other things the arrival of new cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley who was a graduate assistant under then linebackers coach Sal Sunseri at Alabama, and Josh Conklin who was a defensive coordinator at The Citadel. Also, the new 3-4 defensive philosophy being instilled by Sunseri will bring with it a more aggressive feel in the secondary compared with the bend-but-don’t-break defense of the last couple of seasons. The DBs will be called on to blitz more with the safeties coming further toward the line as well as to jam receivers at the line more often and more aggressively.

Almost everybody from last season’s secondary returns. That squad was better statistically than in reality. The Vols ranked 12th in the nation (178 yds per game) against the pass (remarkably only 6th in the SEC), but part of that can be attributed to playing run juggernauts that relentlessly pounded the pigskin against the overmatched Vols defense. There was some significant improvement overall in how the defense performed, and the question is how much can that carry over into 2012.

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The Linebackers: Adding Depth and Toughness

This position is the focus of all observers of Tennessee football going into the 2012 season. This is because it is the Starchild of a 3-4 defense, soon coming to a playing field near you.

Gone to Alabama is last season’s LB coach Lance Thompson. Third Team All-SEC MLB Austin Johnson is also gone due to graduation (as well as part-timer Daryl Vareen). In comes new Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri, who characterizes his linebacking corps – he is also assuming the duties of the LB position coach – as perhaps the most talented group of young LBs he has ever coached. Well, it is hard to verify the first part of that statement, but the second part is most definitely true – they are for the most part young. But now there is some semblance of depth, although not nearly enough for a team contending for a conference championship.

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