Tennessee fans are tired of their team losing.
The frustration of watching a team that was supposed to be a competitive threat in the SEC East put together a winless record through its first five SEC games has made head coach Butch Jones public enemy No. 1.
Athletic director John Currie isn’t far behind.
Currie, who was hired by the university this past spring, has drawn criticism for keeping Jones employed this long, despite a current four-game losing streak that included two blowout losses, two losses to historically inferior rivals and a 15 quarter offensive touchdown drought.
But Currie told reporters on Thursday that he understands why fans are angry and is focused on making improvements to the program, although his main objective is the Vols’ game on Saturday against Southern Miss.
“Certainly I understand our fan frustration,” Currie said. “We’re not where we want to be. It’s unacceptable to be 0-5 in the Southeastern Conference, but we are where we are. As I said Monday night, our focus is on our student-athletes, and I know that’s what Coach Jones is thinking about right now, is getting our team ready to play Saturday.
“I think about Kendal Vickers, from Havelock, North Carolina, who came west four or five years ago, who played his heart out on Saturday night last week. He’s got three more chances to play in Neyland Stadium. I know we’ll have a lot of great fans there on Saturday supporting our student-athletes. That’s our tradition.”
Currie also announced updated renovation plans to Neyland Stadium, which are projected to cost $180 million. The timing of the announcement is suspect given that there are a large number of Tennessee fans on social media attempting to “Empty Neyland” as a protest against the athletic department keeping Jones employed.
On Wednesday, a report by Outkick The Coverage said 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.
This followed Tuesday’s report by The Read Optional 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.”
Jones has also been accused of “bullying” by former VFL coordinator Antone Davis during his resignation email, although that was reported by WNML’s Jimmy Hyams on Friday after Currie’s comments had already been made.
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.
Coincidentally, Jones claimed that he believes Currie will “absolutely” support him through the remainder of the season following the Vols’ loss to Kentucky one day prior.
Well, there you have it.
John Currie is as self-aware as Butch Jones — which means he’s not at all. If he understood fan frustration, he would have fired Jones weeks ago, or at least given fans some reason why he has kept him for so long.
Currie has been doubted by many since his hiring earlier this year. Critics have painted him as a “lame duck” AD considering he came from a program that was satisfied with mediocrity and had the same coach, Bill Snyder, throughout his entire tenure.
There’s also skepticism that UT’s Board of Trustees doesn’t care about football and are solely based on academics. When I attended college, the plan was to make UT a “top 25 academic university.” It’s worth noting that my last assignment as a student journalist was Jones’ introductory press conference after three years of covering Derek Dooley.
UT has enough money to undergo a $180 million stadium renovation because of football. Nothing that the university does otherwise creates as much revenue as football. It’s time that the other big wigs start acknowledging that instead of punishing fans for liking the most popular sport in the United States.
Tennessee is, was, and always will be, a football school regardless of how bad the higher ups want it to be something else. However, their decisions in recent years have turned one of the best programs in SEC history into a national joke.
That’s why few Tennessee fans have faith in Currie being anything more than an extension of the Board of Trustees, someone who will focus on just about everything else but completely overlook UT’s biggest financial machine.
When Currie tweets about tennis matches and soccer games, he is bombarded with “FIRE BUTCH JONES” tweets from fans who actually care about the program. That’s because the program has been overlooked for more than a decade, which doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Florida fired Jim McElwain after two SEC East Division titles and a three-game losing streak once there was a “reasonable cause” otherwise.
Jones has been reported to have played concussed players multiple times — Jalen Hurd last season and Brett Kendrick almost exactly one year later — allegedly told Drae Bowles that he was a “traitor” for helping a woman accusing two teammates of rape, bullying a former player and colleague and years of failing to live up to expectations on the field, among other incidents.
That should all equal a termination with just cause, yet Currie claims to “understand fan frustration,” despite seemingly allowing Jones to coach out the remainder of the season.
If he did, a move would have been made weeks ago. That leads me to believe Currie is almost as big of a detriment to the program as Jones, only he’ll likely be a long-term threat given that he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.