Tennessee may be able to part ways with head coach Butch Jones sooner than anticipated.
According to a report by Outkick The Coverage, the UT athletic department is undergoing an investigation into whether Jones and his coaching staff knowingly kept starting offensive tackle Brett Kendrick in last week’s loss to Kentucky despite suffering a concussion midway through the game:
“At halftime other linemen recognized that Kendrick was woozy, but Kendrick didn’t want to let his team down and didn’t approach trainers to notify them of his injury,” the website reported. “That was because offensive line coach Walt Wells, who multiple sources believe had to know Kendrick was concussed, repeatedly exhorted Kendrick, ‘We need you to go!’ and pointed out that Kendrick’s back up had not made the trip to Lexington.”
On Tuesday, The Read Optional broke a story that claimed Kendrick played through the game’s two quarters with a concussion and was benched in the final minute after vomiting on the sideline. Athletic director John Currie responded to the report with an official statement denying the team had any knowledge that lineman was concussed during the time of the incident.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes is our number one responsibility. Our sports medicine staff and team medical personnel have full autonomy and unquestioned authority during all team activities, including the ability to remove a player from competition and ‘return to play’ decisions. At all football games, the Southeastern Conference has a trained independent medical observer present who also has full authority to stop play and remove a student-athlete from competition for assessment and/or treatment.
“We have a constant and consistently communicated expectation that all coaches, staff and student-athletes remain attentive to ensure that any potential injuries are appropriately addressed—with full intentions that student-athlete safety is never compromised.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, head coach Butch Jones denied knowingly playing Kendrick despite a concussion.
Tennessee’s offensive line has lacked depth throughout the season. Chance Hall, who was projected to start at right tackle, has been inactive since the preseason due to a knee injury. Former starting guard Jack Jones announced his retirement last week due to neck/shoulder injuries. Backup guard Venzell Boulware left the Vols several weeks ago after being benched during the Georgia game and former starting tackle Marcus Tatum missed Saturday’s game due to an undisclosed injury.
If the university can prove that Jones knowingly played Kendrick despite a concussion, the program could seek to fire the head coach with cause. Jones currently holds a $8.48 million buyout, according to the Knoxville Sentinel.
Tennessee officials reportedly discussed the coach’s future with the program on Sunday night, which concluded with Currie passing through the football wing of the Anderson Training Center.
The Vols enter Saturday’s homecoming matchup against Southern Miss facing a four-game losing streak. Many Tennessee fans have been outspoken against Jones throughout the season, which has led to speculation of his termination for weeks.